Braille Monitor                          July 2020

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President Mark Riccobono Recognized with Baltimore Business Journal Leaders in Diversity Award for 2020

by Chris Danielsen

Chris DanielsenFrom the Editor: Chris Danielsen is our highly talented director of public relations. In this brief article he recognizes a tribute given to a man who works so hard on our behalf. Here is what he says:

Often we express tremendous gratitude for and to the people who come to serve as leaders in the National Federation of the Blind, but it is particularly gratifying when other organizations recognize the character, creativity, and commitment of the people we have elected. The most recent recognition of our President came from a respected weekly paper called the Baltimore Business Journal, affectionately known locally as the BBJ, which bestowed on him one of its 2020 Leaders in Diversity Awards. The recognition included a profile published in the newspaper and also means that President Riccobono will speak briefly at a virtual presentation to be held in September.

The profile that appeared in the BBJ on June 5, 2020, was not the first time President Riccobono was featured in the publication. Our decision to take our 2020 convention virtual was covered by the BBJ in late April as well, and Joanna Sullivan, the paper’s editor-in-chief who covered that news, also penned President Riccobono’s award profile. Ms. Sullivan was certainly impressed that our President is only forty-three years of age, that he leads a civil rights organization of the blind, and that he is undaunted by the challenge of organizing a national convention that, because of the coronavirus, must be held virtually.

Whenever one of us gets an award, that award not only symbolizes the work of the person getting it, but provides the National Federation of the Blind with an opportunity to spread the word about what we do, the obstacles we face, and the work we do to overcome them. As President Riccobono noted in the profile, “One of our challenges is to be recognized as valuable citizens who can contribute to the productivity of the nation and then to land ourselves jobs as part of America’s workforce. We must be included in the diversity initiatives to which many companies claim to commit themselves, so in addition to removing barriers that stem from lack of access, the Federation’s larger job is to change the attitude of society so that we are seen not as takers but as givers.”

President Riccobono also shares in the profile: “As a blind person, I understand at a very personal level the low expectations blind people face, the barriers that hold blind people back. I'm driven by the recognition on a daily basis of how much untapped potential there is about blind people. … Blindness wasn't a barrier to my success. It was people's perceptions about my blindness.”

When asked why blind people are important, President Riccobono said, "Blind people and their talents aren't being fully used in society. They're not being allowed to participate fully. They're not being given the type of training and opportunities they need. You just have a lot of talent that is sidelined.”

When asked about a primary issue for blind people, President Riccobono identified one of the most critical issues facing us during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. "We're focusing on voting,” he said. “A lot of states have paper or electronic ballots. That's hard for the blind person who doesn't have access to a computer. You don't have a way to fill it out. As for the paper, not everyone has someone they trust."

When asked about other ways we are reacting to the pandemic and the problems it presents us, the President said: "I think this situation is going to challenge us to think differently. We're going to come up with some innovative ideas. In addition to the things that work, we are going to come up with things that are going to fail. … We don't know the impact on our fundraising yet. That's kind of a wild card.”

When asked what he has learned about himself and the people he works with in this crisis, President Riccobono said,I guess first and foremost, for me, I already knew it was important to have real personal interaction—the heart you put into the work that you do. To be mission-driven, you have to have your heart, not just your mind in it to protect the rights of blind people. I try to live that, and my colleagues bring it as well."

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