Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, May 2, 2019, and this is presidential release number 483. We are now just two months away from our 2019 National Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I hope you’re making plans to be at our family reunion from July 7th to 12th. Only about ten percent of our hotel rooms are left in the room block. That’s maybe a slight exaggeration, but about 90 percent, very close to of our rooms have been taken up already at this point in early May, so I would encourage you to make a room reservation very soon, at least if you want to be with us at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Also, a reminder that you can save some dollars on your registration and banquet by registering in advance, online, by May 31st; after May 31st you will only be able to register at the convention and you’ll have to pay a little bit more, and you’ll have to wait in the registration line, so I’d encourage you to get a room, get registered, and be with us at our 2019 convention. The plans are coming together and it’s going to be a great time where we will determine the next phase of our work in the organized blind movement, and I know a lot of hopes and dreams will be shared and we’ll find new opportunities to help build our organization.
I encourage you, especially if you’re a first timer coming to the convention, to make sure you reach out to your affiliate president and make sure they know you’re coming and make sure you have folks in the affiliate who can help you know what’s happening at the convention, when it’s happening, and how to make your way through the pile of meetings in the agenda. This year’s convention will be just as busy as all of the others and I encourage those of you who are convention veterans to take that extra time to look out for our first timers, help them to know the ropes, and help them to have a great convention experience. We will have one more presidential release before we get to the convention, but now is the time to get your room and to register.
I mentioned on the Release previously our blindness experience teaching internship. This is a new pilot program that we have launched. The original deadline was April 15th and we’ve now extended the deadline for applicants to May 31st, hoping we have more of a crop of individuals to choose from for this first-time program. This program will provide those selected with an intensive internship opportunity to learn about the structure discovery method and the techniques that we use in the National Federation of the Blind through our affiliated training centers in Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota. It will also provide an opportunity for you to do some work with our national organization as our training centers are and have made a decision to be part of the National Federation of the Blind, and with that comes the advantages of being part of this movement, so certainly, the Federation philosophy and our approach will be part of it, as well as our policy priorities. If you’re interested in teaching in the field of blindness especially, this program might be for you. You can get more information on our website by visiting the Programs and Services section of NFB.org. You’ll look for the blindness experience teaching internship. If you have questions about the program you can call Anil Lewis here at our national office at extension 2374 or send an email to ALewis@NFB.org.
Congress is back in session now after a two-week period of recess because of the holidays. Now that Congress is back in Washington we need to be, for the next four weeks while they’re in session, aggressively seeking co-sponsors for all of our legislation. We are happy that during the recess, while the Congress was back in the districts, we were able to pick up four new House co-sponsors to HR-2086, the Access Technology Affordability Act, so a special thank you to Florida, Utah, Tennessee, and Michigan for getting members of Congress to come on to co-sponsoring the bill. I encourage you to keep on the telephones, keep on the e-mails, keep putting the pressure on members of Congress to support all of our bills, not just the Access Technology Affordability Act, and of course, if you’re looking for background on any of our legislative priorities you can find them at our website.
We’re doing investigations on a number of areas which are of concern to the Federation. One that you may find somewhat timely if you filed your taxes on April 15th is that the National Federation of the Blind is investigating the accessibility of Internal Revenue Service forms and websites, especially we’re interested in communications that you might need to receive from the IRS or forms you might need to fill out. If you have requested or would like to receive alternative formats from the IRS, and if you’ve had experience trying to get them, successful or not, we would like to know about it. Alternative formats might include Braille, large print, or audio. We’re investigating whether the IRS is meeting its obligations to provide equal access to materials. If you have experiences to share, I’d encourage you to contact Valerie Yingling here at the National Office. She’s our legal program coordinator. You can reach her via email at VYingling@NFB.org or at extension 2440. As you know, our number is 410-659-9314. Please share your experiences with Valerie.
As we move toward the national convention we’re going to be doing some more thinking about how to share ideas among our chapters, especially as it relates to recruiting new members, recruiting members with diverse backgrounds that might be underrepresented in our chapters, and how we share techniques for growing leadership in our local chapters. You and your chapter may be doing some innovative things and I would encourage you to make sure those get shared with our national organization so we can think about how we communicate those to other chapters. We will be putting forward some focus groups at the national convention to gather information from chapter leaders about the best ways to do this and where some of the best practices in some of our chapters may be. We should always be looking for new ways to cultivate leadership, spread the word at the local level, and to build capacity within our chapter to have a core of people who are an information source for the Federation on the ground.
I wanted to bring this to your attention and ask you to cultivate the best ideas in your chapters. Now, chapter presidents have a list serve at NFB.net where they share information and I would encourage you to share those ideas with your chapter presidents so that they can share them there. We’ll also be looking for opportunities to gather information at the National Convention from chapters, so please come with your ideas, but also be prepared to share what you’re doing at the local level. We know that we can learn a lot from each other and the innovative things that’s happening in some of our chapters that are working aggressively on membership or other programs. So thank you for what you’re doing and please, think about ways to share it with other chapters of the Federation.
Speaking of chapters, I want to share with you another batch of Federation chapters that are actively participating in the pre-authorized contribution program of the National Federation of the Blind. From the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, we have the Capital Chapter, the Lee High Valley Chapter, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and the Keystone Chapter participating in the PAC Program. From the NFB of Rhode Island we have the Greater Providence Chapter. From the NFB of South Carolina we have the Anderson Chapter, the Belvidere Chapter, the Chesterfield Chapter, the Claridon Chapter, the Columbia Chapter, the Conway Chapter, the Florence Chapter, the Grand Strand Chapter, the Rock Hill Chapter, the Senior Division, the Sumpter Chapter, and finally, the Upper Door Chester Chapter. We’ll have one more month, I think, of chapters to acknowledge who are participating in the PAC Plan and then we will have acknowledged all of the chapters participating in the PAC Program before the national convention, so if your chapter is not on, you’ve got a shot before the June release, otherwise, I’d encourage your chapter to sign up at our national convention.
I also want to acknowledge the newest members of our dream makers circle. The newest participants are Ron and Jan Gardner of Bountiful, Utah. Thank you very much to the Gardners for joining our dream makers circle, and to all other Federationists, who are already part of our circle, for making a commitment to leave a legacy gift to the National Federation of the Blind.
I do have a bunch of Federation family notes to share with you on this release. I have a number of Federationists, who we have lost in the last month, that I want to share with you first. I encourage you to keep each of them, and their families, and their friends in the Federation in your thoughts and prayers. On April 4, 2019 we lost James Moynehan, a long-time leader in our Missouri affiliate. He was also a leader in the National Association of Guide Dog Users.
Richard Grove, a long-time NFB of Maryland affiliate member died on April 14th of this year.
Paul Dressel of Ohio passed away on April 22nd at the age of 81. He was a second generation Federationist. His father was also a member of the Federation, so he grew up in the organization. Paul served as president of our Cincinnati Chapter and as the secretary of our state affiliate there in Ohio.
Also, Mike Kelly passed away. Mike was the treasurer of our Sacramento River City Chapter and he was also a very active plaintiff and very helpful in our case against Uber.
Finally, I need to let you know of the passing of Vendrick Tilly, who passed away on March 29th at age 35. Vendrick was a faithful member of the Mobile Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. He was always ready to assist in whatever task was needed. Vendrick’s fiancé, Tamica Williams, is vice-president of our Alabama affiliate and I would invite you to keep Tamica, as well as Vendrick’s two young daughters in your thoughts and prayers, as well as all of these other Federationists, and those I may not know of who we’ve lost in the last month.
I also want to let you know that a week ago, on April 25th, Thursday as well, a tornado hit Rustin, Louisiana and, in fact, damaged many of the homes of the staff of the Louisiana Center for the Blind and some of our colleagues in the movement, who also work at Louisiana Tech. The very good news is that none of our Federation family were physically harmed. Many of our friends have suffered extensive damage to their homes, including Pam and Roland Allen. As you may know, Pam is director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and first vice-president of the National Federation of the Blind. Doctor Eddie Bell and his family, Rosie and Marco Coranza, a number of other people have faced some great challenges related to their homes and having to get materials, get their possessions out of their homes so that they can be rebuilt and repaired. We’re only a week into this, so we’re still getting reports about how extensive the damage is and where help is needed.
The first thing to let you know is we are collecting donations from those who wish to donate to what we call our Rustin Recovery Efforts. You can send contributions to the National Federation of the Blind here at our building, or visit our donate page online. Just make sure you put Rustin Recovery in the memo field of your check, or in the letter that you send us, or in the notes field online.
More importantly, I want to share with you the tremendous appreciation of our colleagues in Louisiana. I have spoken with Pam Allen a number of times and she wanted me to share with you how grateful everyone is for the tremendous outpouring of love and support that the Allens and everyone else in Rustin has received from the Federation family. They are greatly appreciative that everyone wants to help, not just with dollars, but with love and support in any way that really is needed. As I said earlier, they don’t completely know where all of the needs are. That’s still being sorted out, but Pam did want me to share with you how wonderful it is to have a Federation family and to know that they all have the Federation family watching their back.
I should say also that the other part of the good news is that while Louisiana Tech school did receive some damage, our Louisiana Center and our student apartments were not damaged in any significant way, so that is another blessing in this situation. I'm sure we’ll here more as the recovery effort continues and we’ll certainly be talking about it as we take the donations that many of us have made and make sure they get put to good use helping out those who have been for decades really, contributing significantly to opportunities for blind people through our Louisiana Center for the Blind. So I did want to let you know that happened. I did want to let you know about the Rustin Recovery Effort, and most importantly, that all of our friends and colleagues are physically okay and they’re looking forward to being with us at the National Convention.
We’ve got a lot more work to do before we get to the national convention. Construction is continuing here at the national office. I was in a construction meeting this morning and we’re no longer talking about what we’re demolishing, but what we’re building up, so that’s pretty exciting.
We did have our scholarship committee here last weekend. So any day now our 2019 Scholarship finalists will be announced.
Our Bolotin committee met to talk about the recipients of those awards, which will be announced at our national convention. Many other exciting things happening, as I'm sure they are in your chapter.
I wish you well in the month of May. I’ll look forward to having a brief release for you in June, but I’ll really be anticipating being with you at our national convention in Las Vegas.
Here are some of the customary endings for this May release. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.