August 2020 English Transcript

¶ ¶ Live the life you want; nobody can stop you.  Shoot for the sun, and break on through.  ¶ ¶

The following message is brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind.  Live the life you want.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Greetings, fellow Federationists.  Today is Thursday, July 30th, 2020, and this is presidential release 496.  This is our August release, and it's starting to feel like August even though it's at the end of July.  It is hot out there, and I think part of it is the extra activity/excitement of the 2020 convention of the National Federation of the Blind continuing to burn off.

We had a great, a great virtual convention, outstanding participation from nearly 10,000 unique participants all across our convention.  Really exciting.

For those of you who are listening to this release who came to us because of the convention and might be new members of ours, welcome to the National Federation of the Blind.  I hope every member had a great convention.  I know I enjoyed the convention thoroughly, and we're still having many great conversations and following up on a number of things that came out of the convention.  It was definitely our best convention ever in many ways.

I hope that all of you filled out our convention survey that was distributed.  By the time you hear this release, the survey will likely be closed.  It closes on July 31st.  So I hope you did, but if you didn't, you can still keep your convention feedback coming.  We'll be talking, the national board, in the coming months about next year's convention.  And of course we are going to be in New Orleans July 6-11, 2021.  At least that's the plan at the moment.  That plan could change.  We hope not, but it might, and we're going to continue to evaluate it on a regular basis.  But we're going to be planning for our 2021 convention soon.

We are posting the audio content from the convention.  As we get through it, we'll be posting the transcripts that we have and other materials.  So continue to visit www.NFB.org/convention to look at the convention highlights and revisit the content you might be interested in.

And the convention brought in, besides a number of new members who I would like to welcome, brought in a lot of dollars to the organization.  Thank you to each of you who were very generous in your contributions, and to our affiliates in national divisions who are on a roll call contributed a record amount of funds to support our national organization in this important time.

Related to our new members, I want to note that for our new members, first timers, true first timers to the convention, folks that aren't yet members of our organization that are still deciding whether they want to join, we're having a special NFB open house on August 9 -- that's Sunday -- to discuss with those individuals joining the National Federation of the Blind and answering the questions they have.  You can email membership@NFB.org if you would like to get information about how to get into the open house.  Again, this is for individuals who are not yet members of our organization, and we're targeting this specifically for those individuals who participated in the convention that are still considering joining our organization.

Let me talk to you a moment about the presidential release.  I know some of you are saying, hey, we like that presidential release live; why are we going back to the old model.

Well, we're not going back necessarily.  We're going to do a little bit of both.  This month we have a lot of clean up from the convention, and the convention feels like it was just last week, which it almost was.  And so I thought a traditional release would be the way to go.

For the rest of the year, we will be having the presidential release live on the first of the month.  So you can guarantee that on the first of the month at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, there will be a presidential release live.

Now, we want to make sure that we continue to bring national content from the presidential release to our chapter meetings.  And so we will also be talking about producing a piece of the presidential release live that can be played at chapter meetings.  We should be encouraging all of our members to participate in the presidential release live events via one of the means that we make available, but I would also encourage our chapter leaders, our affiliate leaders, to make sure that we continue to bring that content to our chapter meetings.  Making that connection to the national organization in each of our chapter meetings is part of what has made us successful and strong, and we want to continue to do that.  It shouldn't be an either/or situation.  And I encourage chapters to continue to give me feedback.  I've gotten some great feedback from our affiliate leaders across the country about the presidential release live, but I would love to hear from the local chapters and members about how well it works, how well your chapter is implementing it, and what I can do to help it be more successful creating, connecting, strengthening that bond between the local, state, and national organization.

As we move into the late summer and fall, we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 situation, and we want everybody to maintain safety and social distancing.  We need to think carefully about our Federation meetings, and I urge us to continue to have virtual meetings and to figure out how to make our virtual meetings stronger with every iteration of the meeting that we have.  As we're able to have in-person meetings, we should do that, but we should continue to find ways to offer the distanced experience, to do both, and we should figure out the best practices for both.

I know many of our fall conventions, nearly all of them at this point, and I'm sure some others may make the final decision to go that direction, are going virtual, and I want to continue to urge the Federation to be focused on the core business of the organization.  In our virtual meetings, we need to continue to make sure we can conduct the business, determine policy, elect our leaders, hear what's happening with the finances, do planning for fundraising, and all of the core business things we want to do together.

We should also find opportunities to continue to connect blind people together through our meetings.  We want to make sure we bring, continue to bring the personal element of it to our fall meetings.

By the way, I was thrilled that so many members stopped by the virtual presidential suite during the convention.  I had some great gatherings there.  I loved it.  I know many others did as well.  We should find a way to replicate that in our local meetings. 

We should also make sure that we continue to share and discuss the philosophy of our organization and how we put it into action.  We had some discussions about that at the national convention.  Of course we have 80 years of history and documents that can be used to facilitate that.  We should continue to further the conversation about advancing our philosophy and how we implement it in a time of social distancing and where we need to use different techniques and innovate different techniques.

Continue to make those personal connections in our meetings and innovate those solutions.  I think that's part of what makes us unique, powerful, and strong.  And I think our fall conventions present a new opportunity to expand the circle of participation as we have this summer with our national convention.

I also want to encourage us to stay focused on protecting the rights of blind people and our priorities.  So discussing our national priorities at our chapter meetings, along with our local and state issues to make sure that we have a cohesive plan and coordinated plan for what we're doing.  We had 29 resolutions considered at the convention.  28 of them passed.  So they're policy of the organization.

We should be discussing those within our chapter meetings.  We had one resolution, 2020-05, which calls on private agencies for the blind to increase and make a real commitment to participation and governance and direction by blind people.  And almost every local community has a private agency for the blind that we can be urging to meet this standard.  And if they don't, I think we should let them know that not being responsive to the real needs of blind people means that we are not going to be helpful in supporting their work to raise money from the public.  We want real accountability, real transparency, and real feedback and guidance from blind people that's actionable.

That's just one example.  There's many others.  And we should be discussing them in our chapter meeting and coordinating plans to move those forward.

As we move into the fall, I want to encourage every member and every chapter to be focusing on helping blind people get out to vote, or maybe helping blind people stay in to vote.  We need every blind person who is eligible to register as a voter.  We need the entities that do voter registration to know their site should be accessible.  We need them to know that all of the forms of voting should be accessible.  We need blind people to vote, and we need our affiliates to continue to raise their voices regarding access to voting at the local level.

We are now working with a lot of affiliates, as you heard in the presidential report.  We're doing technical assistance across the country.  But it's really the grassroots efforts you make to get people out to vote and registered that make the biggest difference, so please continue to focus on that.

As we move into the fall, we'll be strengthening conversations about leadership and diversity and how we build our training program for leaders to facilitate conversations.  If you have ideas about that, please send them along to me, and we will continue to work with our various committees and divisions to make those things happen.

Another thing I want to raise with you is that October is "Meet the Blind" month.  Besides focusing on voting, we should be making plans in our chapters to figure out ways to share our diverse perspectives and understanding as blind people with the general public.  So think about what creative outreach activities your chapter can do to share the perspectives of blind members in the local community and what makes a difference, how you've been impacted or how you have not been impacted by COVID-19 and the innovative things you're doing at the local level.  All of that good opportunities to be reaching out to folks in our communities and let them know about the philosophy and work of the National Federation of the Blind to get support for our organization during "Meet the Blind" month and especially during "White Cane Awareness Day" which we will again be celebrating on October 15.

I have two legal announcements for you.  The first is that at the convention, you heard about the Federation's lawsuit against Walmart for access to self-service checkout kiosks.  We need to hear from members, more members, who might participate in this suit with us.  So we need to specifically hear from members who live in states other than the state of Maryland, because that's where we brought our suit, so people outside of Maryland who shop at Walmart and who would like Walmart's self-service checkout kiosk to be accessible.  So if you live outside of Maryland, you shop at Walmart, and you want the self-service checkout kiosk to be accessible, we need to hear from you.  Please contact Valerie Yingling at our national office.  Her email address is vyingling@NFB.org, or you can call (410)659-9314 and dial extension 2440. 

I also want to raise up to you that we are doing a survey regarding unemployment benefits.  We're investigating the barriers and problems, especially denials, that blind people have had with unemployment benefits.  If you have been terminated or laid off from your job within the past 2 years, we really want to hear from you and ask you to complete our unemployment survey, as it will point us to actions that we should take in this area going forward.  You can reach the survey by going to www.NFB.org/legal.  Find our unemployment survey and please fill it out.

We had a great convention in many aspects, but one of them was our preauthorized contribution plan program.  Thank you to the many, many, many new people we have on the PAC plan as well as our existing contributors who continue to give generously.  We have a number of new chapters and affiliates that I would like to recognize as going on the PAC plan.  Thank you to the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, the Show Me chapter; to the NFB of Ohio; to the NFB of Texas Lonestar chapter; to the NFB of Iowa; the NFB of Maryland; the NFB of California San Joaquin chapter; the NFB of Maine Greater Portland chapter, and our National Federation of the Blind Pennsylvania Association of Blind Merchants all coming on the PAC plan during the past couple of months.  Thank you for that.  You can continue to find information about the PAC plan at www.NFB.org, and we urge everyone to continue contributing.  It gives us a very solid base to do our work from.  So thank you for that.

We also have our Dream Makers Circle, which allows members and other supporters to create an end of life gift of some sort, a commitment to the Federation to give an end of life gift or contribution of one variety or another.  We have a number of new folks that have joined the circle in the past couple of months.  I would like to acknowledge Jorge Alejandro Pays from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as Alan J. Zoler of Gainesville, Texas, and finally Bonnie O'Day of Alexandria, Virginia.  Thank you to each of you for joining the Dream Makers Circle.

I have a number of Federation family notes that I need to share with you this month.  First of all, regret to tell you of the passing of a number of Federationists over actually the last 2 months.  So our prayers go out to the family of Laura Hathaway from Utah, a longtime member of ours who passed away suddenly on June 21; Bella Johnston of Nebraska; from New Mexico, Adelmo Vigil reports the passing of Hermelinda Miller, who was a long time member and a former affiliate President in New Mexico; Michael Powell from Michigan reports the passing of another former affiliate President, Geer Wilcox, a longtime member of our capital region chapter.  And as I say, former affiliate President in Michigan.  Also from Michigan, Kyra Gibbons, who had recently become active with our Detroit chapter after facing challenges from the state of Michigan.  She was challenged regarding the custody of her son because of her blindness, and that's how she found the Federation.  Also Michelle D’Souza, who was a board member of the Wayne County chapter passed away recently.  Our Iowa affiliate reports the passing of Des Moines chapter member Mike Glynn on June 11. 

And right here in Baltimore, right before our convention, we were sad to lose Charlie Cook, who was a longtime member of the staff here at the national office, made significant contributions to our movement in the technology area.  If you ever used NFB Trans, you had Charlie Cook to thank for that, but also many other technology systems within the Federation.  Many of you got to know him, and we were all saddened by his passing on July 2.  You heard reference to it during the national convention a number of times.

I also want to finally let you know about the passing of Maxine Schrader from Minnesota.  Now, Maxine was a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, having joined our organization in 1941.  She joined our Minnesota affiliate in 1941.  Now, at that time our Minnesota affiliate had a requirement that you had to be 18 years or older to join the affiliate, and Maxine was just shy of her 18th birthday, so she was rebellious from the beginning.  She joined our affiliate before she was 18, just before she was 18, in 1941, and has been a long-time member that has contributed in so many ways.  She likely was the only remaining member from 1941.  I'm not aware of any others.  I know there are some others around the country who came to know the Federation or be part of our local affiliates that became part of the Federation in the 1940s, but I think Maxine was the earliest. 

So special honors to Maxine for her length of service and to Charlie for his depth of service, and to all of the other members who we have lost.  Our hearts go out to their families, and our appreciation to them for the work that they have done to build our movement to where it is today.

I do have one joyful piece of news to offer on this release.  It comes from Amy Ruell of Massachusetts, who reports that Stephanie Valdez gave birth to Isaac Antonio on July 17, right during our national convention.  Isaac weighed in at 8 pounds 1 ounce and is 21 inches long.  Congratulations, Stephanie, and welcome, Isaac, as the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind.

Those are the things I wanted to share with you here in August.  There is a lot happening even right now after the national convention.  We're in the middle of our final Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning in home edition.  We have our biggest group meeting for the next two weeks.  In fact, the Riccobono girls are in this session, so there's a lot of Braille happening around the Riccobono household particularly these 2 weeks as well as other households across the country.  A lot for us to be proud of as we move into the hottest days of summer and get ready for a spectacular fall.

I want to again thank each and every one of you for the tremendous national convention we had and the role that you played in it.  Our job now is to continue the momentum and keep building and using that energy to improve opportunities for blind people.

Before we do that, I'm going to give you some of the customary endings.  This month, from some of our BELL in home edition participants.  Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

SPEAKER:  So what is the most talkative type of cheese?

SPEAKER:  What?

SPEAKER:  Chatter cheese.

SPEAKER:  What did one plate say to the other plate?

SPEAKER:  What?

SPEAKER:  Dinner is on me.

SPEAKER:  Why was the broom late for work? 

Because it overswept.

SPEAKER:  Why did the bird go to the hospital?

SPEAKER:  Why?

SPEAKER:  Because it needed a tweetment.

The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, officeofthepresident@NFB.org, (410)659-9314, www.NFB.org.

Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.