April 2019 English Transcript

Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, April 4, 2019, and this is presidential release number 482. We've just gotten back a day ago from being out on the streets of New York for a protest. 

Protestors: Let us play us. Let us play us. Let us play us. Let us play us. Let us play us. Let us play us.

Yes, the #LetUsPlayUs protest of the National Federation of the Blind. We were in New York in front of the CBS headquarters. Thank you to all the Federation members that joined us from many states for our protest of the CW network show In the Dark, which is scheduled to air today, which has a blind character as the lead in the show, but the CW justified very heavily not casting a blind person in the lead role. Our #LetUsPlayUs campaign is a continuing effort to message that the entertainment industry should be working with the National Federation of the Blind on the messaging and images of blindness in the entertainment industry, and especially in casting blind characters. 

There has never before been a blind character, lead blind character, played by a blind person, and it is now time for that to happen. The excuses are enough. We need blind people in the lead. It does not make sense to us that we can't find qualified blind people to be lead characters, that we always have to be second class. So we're protesting the In the Dark show on CW as a way to bring this to the front and to hold CW accountable for really working aggressively to message that they just couldn't find a qualified blind person anywhere. By the way, they say they worked with thirty organizations for the blind. They never contacted the National Federation of the Blind, which might be why they couldn't find any blind people who might have played this character. 

There's lots of excuses in the entertainment industry. We are spearheading a campaign to change the discussion in the industry to make blind people at the center of these discussions. Of course we want blind people to play both sighted and blind characters, and we hope to get to the point where we have enough blind people in the industry that it's okay to have a sighted person cast as a blind person. But we're not to that point yet. We are completely underrepresented in the entertainment industry and it's time for us to really take a stand and work on this messaging. 

In that regard, we've also reached out to the Apple corporation. You probably saw that Apple announced the Apple Plus television network that's coming out and the show See, S-E-E, which features mostly blind characters. There are two sighted characters apparently. And we've reached out to them to talk about what they have been doing in preparing for this show. They have not previously reached out to the National Federation of the Blind, but we are now talking to them about that show and we will have the same conversations with Apple, CBS, and whoever else is willing to listen to our message, and if they're not willing to listen to our message we'll show up in front of their studios and let our voice be heard. 

So if you are someone who is interested in being a performing artist, I encourage you to get engaged with this and discuss the discrimination that you have faced in trying to get into performance and into the entertainment industry. I encourage you to connect with the performing arts division of the National Federation of the Blind and stay tuned for some interesting things that will be happening at the national convention for the actors in the National Federation of the Blind. 

Speaking of the national convention, it is right around the corner. Pretty much three months from this weekend we will be at the national convention. Hard to believe. You do have a little more time to apply for the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, so Allen Harris wants me to remind you that April 15 is the deadline for the Kenneth Jernigan first-timer scholarships to the national convention. Each person who is interested needs to write a letter indicating why they want to attend the national convention. They also need to submit a supporting letter from the affiliate president or another officer of the state affiliate. 

The information has to be into us quick. You can email kjscholarships@nfb.org for more information and to submit your materials. You can also find information about the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship program in the Braille Monitor or at nfb.org. We're gonna have a great convention in Las Vegas and we want to have a lot of first-timers there. I know of a lot of first-timers who are already planning to come. So encourage members of the chapter who are first-timers to apply as soon as possible. The rooms are going fast at the Mandalay Bay so I'd encourage you to get your reservations in, certainly before the end of May, but I suspect we may run out of rooms before that so I'd get your reservation in quickly. 

We've been talking a lot about membership in the National Federation of the Blind, and I call to your attention the April issue of the Braille Monitor, which is all about membership. It's a good vehicle for chapters to talk about membership, what membership means, why it's important, and to have members of the chapter discuss why membership in the National Federation of the Blind has made a difference in their life. We need you to submit information, especially stories about membership, so that we can continue to share the value of membership with those who do not yet know the National Federation of the Blind. I'd invite you to share those stories with me at my email address, officeofthepresident@nfb.org. I'll make sure that they get shared with our communications team and with the Braille Monitor editor. 

We need your stories, though, and we also need the innovative things that you are doing to encourage membership and do outreach in your chapter, so we can share those things with other chapters. One thing I do want to encourage every chapter to do is reach out to individuals who have not been to a chapter meeting recently. I've had the opportunity with our current membership coin distribution to reach out to some of the past members of the Baltimore chapter, folks that have not paid dues in the last couple of years, and I've learned  that although they have not been coming to the chapter meeting, nobody in the chapter has reached out to them to check on them to see how they're doing, why haven't they come, and this says to me that we need to do a better job in our chapters of making sure that we follow up with those who have fallen off the radar who aren't making it to chapter meetings for whatever reason and let them know that we still need them to be active members in the National Federation of the Blind. 

I'm sure this is not unique to my chapter. I'm sure it's true in every chapter, and sometimes we make the assumption that people aren't coming for a particular reason. I encourage us to reach out and invite people back into the Federation family and let them know that we still value their participation and would want them to come be with us when they can.

Another important aspect of membership is talking about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, and recently I was at an affiliate convention where a member was saying to me – or this was actually a prospective member. They weren't a member yet – that they were quite disappointed that we spend so much time ignoring people who have some remaining vision, and they said that was true because we always use the word "blind." And I explained our view about blindness, that we use the word "blind" because we use a functional definition of blindness. We don't use strictly a legal blindness definition, and I encouraged them to read the speech "A Definition of Blindness," which I also recommend to our chapters as a jumping off point to talk about why we use the word "blind" to describe everybody who has significant vision loss. 

It's really important to me that we view our members, regardless of how much they can or cannot see, as equals. And I don't spend any time classifying people based on how much they can see. And that's why I use the word "blind," because if you're part of our organization, if you're someone that has vision loss, I want you to identify as a blind person, not that because you can see some you're different than those who might actually be totally blind. I also had that point of view because for a long time I faked it. I pretended like I could see more than I could, and when I was doing that I had the notion that I was different than people that couldn't see at all. 

And in fact, during all of that time I faced the same struggles, the same discrimination, as those who were totally blind, and it wasn't until I met the National Federation of the Blind that I realized that the only person I was faking was myself, and that I needed to learn the skills that blind people use to be successful, and then I could make informed choices about when I could or could not use my vision effectively. After a while didn't become a question because I lost my remaining vision, but I was prepared to do that because I already knew I was a blind person and I had learned the techniques to use, and so it helped to ease that transition for me. So I encourage us to talk in our chapters about the meaning of blindness, why we use the term "blind" to describe all people with significant vision loss.

I have just a couple of other notes here about programs I want to call to your attention. We do have some award programs that we still need applications for as we get close to March. One is our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award program. We're looking for members of the Federation to nominate educators who are working with our blind youth out there as distinguished educators. I'd encourage you to visit our website and nominate a teacher in your community who may be doing outstanding work, who exhibits the philosophy and action of the National Federation of the Blind to really empower blind students to live the life they want. We need applications soon, so find some educators and make sure to nominate them if they are the best of the best. 

We've also just announced, along with the training centers affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind, our training centers in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Colorado, our Blindness Experience Teaching Internship program, which you can find at nfb.org. We're looking for educators that might want to do a year-long internship with a National Federation of the Blind training center to get deep experience in the teaching that we do at our training centers, the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, and the importance of the organized blind movement. This is a pilot program but we hope it will grow into a full-fledged program in the future. 

We're looking for three blindness experience teaching interns to be with us starting in late in the summer and through next summer, so a year-long experience. It will pay a stipend and housing will be provided. This is a very unique training opportunity and we believe it will build an important base for our work in raising a new generation of dynamic educators who have a deep understanding of the philosophy and network of the National Federation of the Blind. I'd encourage you to apply if you're interested. Visit our website very soon as the deadline is quickly approaching. And I would encourage you to find people who might be good candidates, blind or sighted, and encourage them to apply as soon as possible. The deadline is coming up this month. We have a short timeline on turning this around 'cause we want to get them vetted before our national convention, so spread the word and give this some attention in the next couple of weeks. 

I also want to call your attention again to our Blind Users Innovating and Leading Design, our BUILD program, where we're bringing together members of the Federation to do evaluations of technologies and products. We recently had a call for participants in our BUILD program to work on a design evaluation project that paid $100 per person. So I encourage you to sign up for this program. You can again find information on the BUILD program at nfb.org under our Programs and Services section in our Nonvisual Center of Excellence. Look it up and lend your expertise as a blind person to evaluate technologies and help improve them for all blind people. 

I have a number of chapters to acknowledge for our pre-authorized contribution program this month. Thank you to the chapters from the NFB of New Mexico, including our Albuquerque chapter, our West Mesa chapter for both being part of the PAC plan. In the NFB of New York, thank you to these chapters, the Greater Long Island chapter, the New York City chapter, New York State Inc, the Syracuse chapter as well for being part of the PAC program. And in the NFB of North Carolina, we have a bunch of chapters contributing to the PAC program. We have the Buncombe chapter, the Cumberland chapter, the Mecklenburg chapter, the Edgecomb chapter, the Wilson chapter. Thank you to all of our chapters contributing to this great program. 

I also would like to acknowledge the newest members of our dream makers circle. Our dream makers circle is a way for members and nonmembers to designate an end-of-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. There are dozens of ways to do this. Reach out to Patti Chang if you're interested in being on the list and participating. It helps us with a lot of other efforts that we have underway to encourage people to support the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much to Ryan and Randy Strunk of Minnesota for being the newest members in our dream makers circle. 

I do have a number of Federation family notes to share with you this month, especially members who have passed away during the last six weeks or so, and I'd encourage you to keep all of them and their families in your thoughts and prayers. From Michigan we have lost Ava Johnson, who was a longtime member of the Detroit chapter of the NFB of Michigan. From Utah we've received news of the death of longtime member Chris Yamamoto, a member of the Weber Davis chapter. From Minnesota, I'm sorry to share with you that we lost Roseanne Faber, who passed away early in March. Roseanne was a member of the Federation starting in the 1970s. She was president at one time of our Metro chapter and served for a long time as the chair of the board of directors for Blind Incorporated. 

From Nebraska, we received news just in the last week of the death of Dr. James Nyman, a longtime member of the Federation. He directed services for the blind in Nebraska for a long time, and under his leadership the structured discovery methodology was allowed to develop because of his encouraging blind people to teach travel. This was at a time when blind people were not at all encouraged, in fact were discouraged from being professionally trained to be orientation and mobility instructors, and Dr. Nyman's leadership empowered blind people to be instructors and allowed the structured discovery methodology to come about. 

As he is quoted as saying in the Braille Monitor, it's not that structured discovery was invented there. It's that because blind people were at the center of teaching, structured discovery found them because it was just the natural outgrowth of the way that blind people taught, and it later got the name of structured discovery. I'd encourage you to keep all of these members of the Federation and their families in your thoughts and prayers, and I encourage us to move on and continue to work in their spirit to innovate opportunities for blind people to live the lives we want.

I do have one joyous Federation family note that literally just came into my inbox from Pam Allen of Louisiana, who says that Rex and Cammie Shuttler are proud to welcome Sophia Leigh Shuttler into our Federation family yesterday, April 3. She was born weighing seven pounds and eleven ounces and measuring nineteen and one half inches long. Sophia and her proud parents are all doing well, and Pam tells us that Sophia is looking forward to meeting everybody at her first national convention this summer. We'll probably give her a membership coin, and congratulations to the Shuttlers on the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind. 

I mentioned last month in the presidential release that we were going to begin construction on our fourth floor Barney Street wing, and in fact we have done that. The Barney Street wing, if you were to walk through it now, would feel nothing like it ever has before to you. Almost all of the walls are now down. The carpeting is out. We have done abatement on all of the surfaces that had asbestos on them from decades ago. The ceiling's gone. It's starting to feel like a completely different space. We're still, have a lot to do in the demolition process before we actually begin building the new space up, but it's moving along quite quickly and I'm sure by the time of the May release it'll be a completely empty shell, and we'll be starting to build up the space with the new materials. We expect this project to be done in the second week or so of September. It's gonna be a beautiful space. I'll keep you up to date, but I am confident you're gonna be proud of it and I am glad that it has finally gotten underway. 

Now that it's April, spring is definitely in the air here in Baltimore. It's actually opening day for the Baltimore Orioles here, so we're all excited and feeling the great energy of spring. I hope you are having the same experience where you are and in your local chapter. To encourage that we have a number of the customary endings here on the presidential release from the Riccobono children, but also to start off we have a special appearance, a customary ending from Silas O'Connor. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.