An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2018
During the past year, the blind of this nation have enjoyed continued success, expanding our participation in all aspects of society. Blindness does not define us or our future, but we are often limited by the low expectations and artificial barriers others put in our way. Despite these barriers, we seek equality of opportunity, and we strive to have full access to the rights and responsibilities afforded to all other Americans. Since 1940 we have found that the most effective means for us to reach full participation in society is for us to work together. When individual blind people come together in local communities, through state organizations, and as a whole in our national movement, we represent an authentic and powerful force for innovation, influence, and inspiration that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Together, we are the National Federation of the Blind.
Education is fundamental to full participation in society, and we have pioneered programs to demonstrate the high-quality educational services blind students deserve. In the twenty-first century, skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are critical to competing in the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and we continue to innovate programming in these subjects. In July 2017, we held a week-long STEM academy at Towson University in Maryland—the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam. Fifty-nine blind high school students from twenty-six states received instruction and mentoring from blind scientists, engineers, university professors, and other professionals. Nine instructional tracks combined with fourteen enrichment courses offered participants hands-on experiences in chemistry, computer science, cognitive neuroscience, ecology, engineering, genetics, marine biology, nanoscience, archaeology, and art. Full participation requires being well rounded, so we provided opportunities for these youth to try salsa dancing, goalball, yoga, beep baseball, cardio drumming, karaoke, and dozens of other fun activities. Significantly, many of the mentors and instructors in this program were students during our very first NFB Youth Slam in 2007. Throughout the country, when faced with a barrier, blind students now say, “Slam that!”
Last fall, the National Federation of the Blind was awarded a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, providing more than $2 million for a project we call Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research (SABER). In partnership with Utah State University, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and evaluators from the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, we will lead annual engineering programs that we call NFB Engineering Quotient (or NFB EQ for short). The first of these programs is scheduled to take place later this month in Baltimore, where thirty blind high school students will join with blind mentors to explore the process of engineering design, from concept to tactile drafting to model construction. In future years the program will take place at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and we will all have the opportunity to meet some of these young blind engineers as project activities will be a part of our national convention starting in 2019. We expect research generated from these programs to transform how we understand spatial ability, with impacts reaching far beyond our accessible engineering curricula.
We also expect public schools to provide quality training based upon high expectations. However, many schools fail to provide even the minimum educational support to blind students, requiring us to use more powerful tools to secure their full participation. Cody Davis is a high school student from a small town in northern Iowa. Despite his family’s urging that he be given stronger training in the skills of blindness as his vision deteriorated, the school district settled for low expectations and failed to prepare him for the future. By the time Cody reached eleventh grade he could not compete with his sighted peers and the overreliance on failing eyesight was holding him back. After meeting the family, we sent legal counsel to work with our affiliate and a local disability rights attorney, Tai Tomasi, who is also a member of the Federation. Despite the significant failure of the school system, our team fought hard to secure a settlement that avoided this near tragedy. As a result, earlier this year, Cody spent three months receiving intensive blindness skills training at BLIND Incorporated—an NFB training center in Minnesota—where he began to flourish. He is now back with his sighted peers in Iowa, and he will head into the next school year with an appropriate educational plan that will facilitate his full participation. Cody and his family are here at this convention. We wish that Cody’s story was an extreme exception, but we receive hundreds of requests to support parents of blind children who are receiving inadequate services. When we put a skilled blind adult from our nationwide network in the room with the school district staff, the chances of getting a strong result increases dramatically. We must find new ways to increase our ability to advocate with these parents, for if we do not, we are in danger of losing a generation to low expectations.
Through our partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, we help to get thousands of blind youth access to free Braille materials including the National Geographic Kids magazine. Last summer we announced the next phase of this partnership, bringing tactile exploration and creativity to blind youth through art. We assisted in distributing more than five hundred tactile art kits to families with blind children ages two through eight across the country. These kits included a variety of tactile art-making supplies with the aim of stimulating the imagination. YouTube videos were created to share with all families how tactile materials could be used at home. A second phase of this project has focused on tactile drawings. We anticipate further efforts to stimulate creativity through tactile fluency in the future.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to aggressively work to improve literacy through direct instruction in Braille. In the summer of 2017, we offered forty-eight NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies in thirty-one of our state affiliates, serving more than three hundred and fifty blind students. In these programs blind children receive instruction in Braille as well as real experience with the techniques that blind people use to be successful in all aspects of life. Through our partnership with the Wells Fargo Foundation, we continue to expand both the depth and the reach of our program, and we are raising expectations among the sighted members of the community who interact with the academy. One example from earlier this summer was a coin-sorting contest matching our Arizona NFB BELL Academy students against the sighted bank executives during a visit to a Wells Fargo branch. While the aim is for our youth to learn financial literacy skills, we can be sure that the bank executives are having their own misconceptions about blindness shattered to the benefit of future blind customers of the bank.
We also seek to achieve equal participation in higher education. We create opportunities by offering the most dynamic scholarship program for blind people in the nation, and we actively eliminate artificial barriers that bar us from equality of opportunity. During the past year we have worked collaboratively on accessibility with universities from Harvard to Southern Oregon, where we have shared the best practice resources we have collected. We continue to pursue legislative solutions to accelerate equal treatment by advancing our Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education legislation, which has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. Yet some colleges refuse to treat blind students as first-class citizens although they continue to collect an equal amount of tuition. In those cases, we are prepared to hold schools accountable in the courts for their unequal treatment.
The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is the largest community college district in the United States and is reported to be one of the largest in the world. Blind students have faced systemic unequal treatment by the college, including being shut out of courses due to inaccessible educational technology and being coerced into attending one specific campus even if it was not the location they preferred to attend. The National Federation of the Blind, the NFB of California, and two blind students have sued LACCD for failing to meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Earlier this year, the court affirmed our standing in the case and granted summary judgment on finding that LACCD violated the law. We are now awaiting a trial date to determine damages and remedy. When our equal participation is at stake, it does not matter how big the fight; we are prepared to use the tools necessary to teach a lesson about our rights.
While we take responsibility for advocating for ourselves, we expect, as should other Americans, the government to uphold its responsibility to protect our rights when the system fails. The United States Department of Education has a significant responsibility for ensuring that the right to equal education by the blind is secure. However, the US Department of Education has abdicated this responsibility. Without notice or comment, and in violation of its own regulations, the US Department of Education changed the Office for Civil Rights’ Case Processing Manual in March of this year. The Office for Civil Rights will now dismiss discrimination complaints without investigating them whenever a complainant has a pattern of prior complaints or files a single complaint against multiple discriminators. Furthermore, the right to appeal the closure of a complaint has been eliminated. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Department of Education was required to provide notice and seek public comment before issuing such a substantive rule, and the ban on multiple complaints violates the Section 504 regulations and is arbitrary and capricious. The Department has already begun dismissing cases, but the National Federation of the Blind, along with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the NAACP, has filed suit to reverse this limitation on our rights. We seek equal education, and we will not permit the government to use taxpayer dollars to treat us as second-class citizens.
Education and training is not enough to achieve full participation in society—we want to work. Despite our progress, there are many employers who falsely believe blind people are a liability and that providing equal access is too hard or expensive. Mary Flood is a blind person who lives in Washington, DC. Based on her qualifications, she was hired by the US Navy as an educational technician, which involved responsibilities similar to a teaching assistant including working with children during indoor and outdoor playtime. Before her first day, she reported for a physical exam where a nurse and a doctor asked her several questions about her blindness and expressed their concern that she could not effectively keep the children safe without being able to see them. When she reported to the job site, she worked for about a day and a half before being called to human resources, where Mary was informed that the doctor had instructed that she should be fired because of her blindness. Ms. Flood had explained all of the alternative techniques she has employed while working with children in the past and how she lived independently as a blind woman, but the only thing that mattered to the Navy was how little she could see. She was fired from her position with the Navy, but in April we fired back by filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to guard against the Navy’s discrimination based on blindness. We have the deepest respect and appreciation for our country’s military personnel, but we also deeply value the full participation of the blind in society. In this case, we believe that Flood will prevail over Navy.
Dr. Jan Bartleson is a school psychologist who happens to be blind. She has a distinguished record of service over many decades in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida. Despite her expertise and her capacity to work independently in her job, she is forced to rely on her sighted colleagues to access most of the software that the district uses to manage data. Dr. Bartleson has been denied promotional opportunities as a direct result of the discriminatory practices and inaccessible systems she has had to endure. The National Federation of the Blind filed suit on behalf of Dr. Bartleson against the school district for its systemic discrimination through use of inaccessible software. In this groundbreaking case, we take the position that an employer cannot rely on less effective, after-the-fact accommodations to make up for having chosen to implement new, inaccessible employment technology. Taking a stand for full participation is hard when you have given a substantial portion of your life to an employer. We salute Dr. Bartleson, who is here at this convention, and we recommit to working together to achieve equality of opportunity.
We continue to raise the expectations for the minimum employment rights afforded to the blind of our nation. The United States recently celebrated the eightieth anniversary of the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act—a law that assured a basic standard of workers’ rights to everyone except the disabled. Most significantly that law includes an exception in Section 14(c) that permits employers to receive a certificate to pay people with disabilities pennies per hour while using those employees to get preference for government contracts. However, due to the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind the movement to eliminate this discriminatory exception is gaining considerable momentum. The number of people with disabilities paid under Section 14(c) has been cut nearly in half over the past six years. An increasing number of employers are voluntarily giving up use of this exception and successfully transitioning to respectful employment models. An increasing number of chief executives leading 14(c) employers are finding themselves out of a job. And an increasing number of public officials are joining with more than seventy-five supporting organizations to call for a higher standard of workers’ rights for the disabled. Where the United States Congress has not yet acted, states and cities are providing leadership. The most recent example came on April 2, 2018, when the city council and mayor of Seattle, Washington, repealed the exemption under the municipal code that authorized the payment of subminimum wages. The action in Seattle was no accident; it came through the persistent work of members of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. We will continue to seek more places to join the city of Seattle and the states of Alaska, Maryland, Vermont, and New Hampshire in making fair wages the standard for all.
In recent years we have celebrated our growing relationship with the Amazon corporation, but it was not always that way. For many years we attempted to get the company’s attention regarding the inaccessibility of its website and their rapidly growing catalog of Kindle books. We tried all of the tools we had available—we wrote letters, sought meetings, offered our technical expertise, attempted to find pressure points, worked our relationships, filed lawsuits, protested at their headquarters, and blocked them from getting contracts with public entities. Despite the historical frustrations, we have developed a partnership during the past few years as evidenced by their presentations at this convention and the increased accessibility of their products.
However, William O’Donnell is a blind person who was offered a contract job with Amazon in Massachusetts, but when he showed up for training, the contractor sent him home because the technology he had to use in his job was inaccessible. He had to wait four months for Amazon to make its inaccessible employment technology compatible with screen-reader software, and even then, he would not have had a job except for the support of the National Federation of the Blind. We negotiated a settlement requiring Amazon to place him back in the position once the software was accessible and to pay Mr. O’Donnell the wages he would have earned during the wait.
Then there is Maryann Murad who attempted to apply online to Amazon for a work-at-home customer service position, but she discovered that the online skills assessment would not work with a screen reader. Our investigation found that not only was the skills assessment inaccessible, but the software that work-at-home customer service agents use in their jobs is also inaccessible to those using nonvisual access tools. These are technologies built by Amazon. We have assisted Miss Murad in filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is currently investigating the matter, and we are prepared to go to Federal court if necessary.
Amazon employs more than five hundred thousand individuals in a variety of jobs around the world, and we want blind people to participate in those opportunities. The stories of Maryann and William are representative of the problems many blind people have experienced with jobs at Amazon. When we first raised our concerns about their employment practices, Amazon expressed surprise and pointed to the praise from blind people for their voice-enabled products—which you may not be able to afford if you do not have a job. To cut to the point, it has not been easy to communicate to Amazon what we expect when we call for equality of opportunity for the blind in employment. To Amazon’s credit, they are here at this convention, they are seeking more blind employees, and they are prepared to work with us to improve full participation by the blind; and we are prepared to push as hard as we need to in order to hold Amazon accountable.
We share these examples to put all companies on notice. We wish to participate fully in the community, and in the United States of America meaningful work has a big influence on meaningful participation. We seek to contribute, to develop our talents, to carry the responsibility of working on a team, and to compete in all aspects of the workforce. We do not seek greater opportunities than others, but we do expect equality of opportunity. We are prepared to work with you to innovate employment opportunities. But even if you are a partner of the organized blind movement, we will not accept second-class treatment in employment. From the stockroom to the boardroom, the National Federation of the Blind is committed to equal participation in employment, and we invite others to partner with us in that commitment.
Independent movement around our communities is an essential aspect of full participation. Ridesharing services have improved transportation options in many communities, and we have secured agreements with the largest providers, Uber and Lyft, to protect equal access by blind people using service animals. Only the National Federation of the Blind has the nationwide network needed to hold companies like these accountable to their commitments to blind customers. During the past year, blind travelers with service animals filed over two thousand Uber and Lyft reports as a part of NFB’s rideshare testing program. Progress in eliminating discrimination is mixed—many blind individuals continue to be denied rides—but we will not stop the monitoring until these companies adequately protect our equal participation.
In January Delta Air Lines publicly announced a new policy related to treatment of individuals with service animals with a plan for it to be in effect beginning March 1. The airline did not engage with the organized blind movement before releasing the policy that violated the principle of equal access and stood in conflict with the Air Carrier Access Act. Among other problems, the policy required guide dog users to submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying. Our swift and forceful call for Delta to meet with us was covered by NBC News online, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and numerous travel publications. Delta responded quickly, and after a series of meetings, Delta revised its policy to be consistent with the National Federation of the Blind’s understanding of equal access. We have continued to discuss matters of importance to the blind with Delta, and you will observe that they are participating in this convention.
We have successfully protected our ability to walk safely in our communities and hear the pattern of traffic. After more than a decade of advocacy, partnership building, negotiation, and follow up, the final regulation for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2011 went into effect on September 5, 2017. The result of our unstoppable commitment is that all hybrid-electric vehicles manufactured on or after September 1, 2020, must comply with this regulation, making the streets safer for all pedestrians.
We have brought leadership and an authentic perspective to the emerging autonomous vehicle industry. On September 12, 2017, the US Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, released version 2.0 of the department’s guidance on autonomous vehicles at an event at the University of Michigan. Among an impressive list of industry representatives and policy makers, only the President of the National Federation of the Blind was invited to discuss equal access for the disabled during the secretary’s press conference. In October 2017, the National Federation of the Blind and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers jointly hosted “The Promise: Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community” at our headquarters in Baltimore. This conference was the first convening of representatives from government, the automotive industry, and advocates for the disabled to discuss the advances, challenges, and the path forward for autonomous vehicle development. Our leadership resulted in the inclusion of provisions to legislation being considered in the United States Senate (S. 1885) that prohibits states from establishing discriminatory licensing practices based on disability and which creates a disability-access working group to promote best practices for nonvisual interfaces. In January our leadership was recognized with one of the inaugural Autos2050 Awards presented by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Alliance for Transportation Innovation. There is no doubt that we intend to participate fully in the future of transportation systems.
Increasing equal access to the American democracy continues to drive one of our priorities. Through our Help America Vote Act project, we provide feedback on the accessibility of electronic ballot-delivery systems, train protection and advocacy personnel and elections officials, and distribute resources to blind voters on emerging topics in election accessibility. Where our rights as voters are second-class, we seek justice from the courts. One example is Ohio, where we won an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing a district court’s dismissal of our case that challenged inaccessible absentee voting. Following that reversal, Ohio issued a directive requiring all counties to implement accessible absentee voting in time for the November 2018 election. Through our dynamic network of affiliates across the country, we will continue to protect equal access to voting. Let all elected officials know that the blind expect to be a factor in deciding who represents us in the halls of power.
It is difficult to achieve full participation if you are prevented from having equal access to health insurance information and medical devices. In 2016 we filed suit against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for failing to provide meaningful and equal access to Medicare information to blind people. After extensive negotiations, we finalized a settlement agreement that requires that CMS set up processes so that beneficiaries can make a single request to receive all communications and notices from Medicare in an accessible format. Additional terms require accessible, fillable forms for beneficiaries on Medicare.gov and the issuance of accessibility best practices to Medicare Health and Drug Plans. Unrelated to our agreement, we have been working to reverse a 2017 CMS coverage policy decision that prohibited Medicare beneficiaries from using continuous glucose monitors in conjunction with mobile applications—a decision that had the effect of making blind diabetics choose between accessibility and reimbursement for the cost of this innovative device. With the expertise of the Federation’s Diabetes Action Network, we were successful in getting the Medicare policy changed. Effective June 7, 2018, blind diabetics can use continuous glucose monitors with accessible mobile applications, and the devices will be covered by Medicare.
We also require equal participation in our financial transactions. Marci Carpenter is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and a customer of Boeing Employees’ Credit Union (BECU). She became increasingly frustrated as the credit union implemented new mobile and web-banking services that were inaccessible—preventing a blind person from even logging in. She soon discovered a number of other blind people faced the same barriers. As a result, the NFB, the NFB of Washington, and three blind individuals complained to BECU about the inaccessibility of their mobile banking services. Working with the Washington Attorney General, we negotiated a settlement with BECU under which they will make their mobile app and website fully accessible. BECU will also adopt internal policies and procedures, train employees and contractors, and only purchase accessible technology in the future. While many credit unions are fighting against making their websites accessible, BECU has worked cooperatively with us to reach a result that sets the industry standard for equal participation by the blind.
The most important aspect of our work to achieve full participation has to do with our right to share our love with our family—our blind parents initiative. Over the past year we have continued to build our community of blind parents through our blindparents.org website and engagement on Facebook, by matching new blind parents with blind mentors, and through individual outreach via telephone. In the coming months we plan to expand our information sharing by launching an NFB podcast for blind parents and developing stronger training for social workers and others to understand the techniques that we use to raise families effectively. Our primary goal is to get blind parents connected to us as we know this connection is the strongest resource we can give to them. However, at the same time we seek to strengthen state laws to ensure that blindness is not used against parents in the family courts. We can proudly celebrate that we now have ten states that have passed a form of our model right-to-parent legislation. Congratulations to Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska for enacting laws this year, joining the states of Missouri, Tennessee, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, South Carolina, and Illinois in protecting the rights of blind parents. The time is now for us to bring these equal rights to every state in the nation.
We continue to assist a number of individual blind parents who face discrimination that threatens the bond they have with their child. Last year I told you about our determined fight to assist a blind mother from Nevada named Kayla Dunfield. When Kayla’s daughter was about a month old, Nevada’s Child Protective Services removed her from Kayla’s care based on the claim of health and safety concerns. When we learned about Kayla and investigated, it became evident that blindness was the rationale for separating mother and daughter. More than just legal counsel, it took a village to support this mother through a series of actions by the CPS personnel that can only be described as setting the mother up to fail—CPS wanted to make the custody separation permanent. Coordinated by our affiliate in Nevada, which dedicated considerable financial and human resources to this case, NFB members in California, Oregon, and Colorado supported this parent as she fought for custody of her daughter and pursued the training and mentoring activities required by the court. The daughter is now three years old, but the bonds of love have not been broken. On May 25 the court permanently reunified mother and daughter, the case is now dismissed, and future birthdays will be celebrated with family.
On Capitol Hill we continue to carry an unmatched reputation for being consistent, clear in purpose, well-reasoned, and doggedly determined. When blindness comes up in the United States Congress, our organization has either introduced the conversation or is the first to be called and consulted. This year we have pursued a staggering number of regulatory and legislative issues. While the progress of our entire advocacy and policy agenda will be presented later in this convention, we must celebrate the significant milestones we passed one week ago. We should first recall that on June 28, 2013, many years of collaboration by blind leaders around the world culminated in the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. Countries that implement the treaty will be able to exchange accessible books across borders, creating a dramatic increase in materials available to the blind. For the Treaty to be enacted in the United States, a series of actions needs to be taken including advice and consent by the Senate, passage of implementing legislation by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and finally signature by the president of the United States. Over the past five years there has been a gauntlet of personalities and organizations that have all wished to influence or block the adoption of this historic treaty in the United States. There have been many who have told us that it will simply be too hard to get it done in our country, but they do not know the determination and commitment of the National Federation of the Blind. Our Marrakesh implementation team has been tirelessly led by Scott LaBarre, a blind attorney from Colorado, who has used diplomacy, technical skill, and an unshakeable commitment to equal access by the blind to knock down the obstacles, make friends, and get a consensus agreement into the hands of the decision makers in Congress. Meanwhile, Gabe Cazares from our advocacy team has been the glue behind the scenes, tracking thousands of details and bringing together our grassroots membership, making sure we were all well prepared and in the right place when a member of the Senate needed to hear from a blind person that the Marrakesh Treaty should be a priority. We have been heard, and the treaty is more than halfway to the finish line. On June 28, 2018, the United States Senate passed its advice and consent for the treaty and the implementing legislation on the same evening. These actions were taken with the unanimous consent of the Senate, demonstrating the power of our work together in the National Federation of the Blind. We will not stop until we have gone the rest of the way to making Marrakesh a reality. Let there be no doubt that when the full participation of the blind is on the line, we will deliver the promise of equal access.
Through our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we concentrate our authentic expertise as blind people and explore new programs that can help us transform our dreams into reality. From the collaborations generated at our Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium to the expert evaluations of research proposals conducted by our newly established Research Advisory Council, our activities are driven by the hopes, dreams, and actions of blind people. With our Jacobus tenBroek Research Library on Blindness we are maintaining the strongest collection of materials that demonstrate the progress of blind people, and we are able to provide expertise to NFB members as well as scholars, researchers, and policy makers. Our library also gives us the opportunity to put the work of blind people in front of conferences like the Library Leaders Forum at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, where the Federation provided expertise on making digital collections accessible to all. Through our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce we have provided training on everything from Braille notetakers to an introduction to web testing. A member of our team even taught a senior-level course titled, Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Blind Users, for the Human Computer Interactions Program at Towson University during the spring semester. Our team fields hundreds of general information questions about technology for the blind. From working with Microsoft and Google to testing the latest idea from a tech startup, our concentrated expertise in technology gives us the ability to help shape the direction of the technologies of the future. A full report on the NFB Jernigan Institute will be presented later in this convention. Much of this work happens in our offices in Baltimore, where we have been for forty years. Our facility is known for its excellence by blind people from around the world. If we intend to maintain our leadership position, we should imagine and build what we need for the next phase of our work: classrooms, a maker space, fitness facilities, a museum, or even spaces for self-driving cars. The future is up to us, and we need to plan for the next forty years of our movement.
Full participation cannot happen without equal access to information, and we continue to explore new ways of gaining and interpreting information. In January we made history by making available the first tactile photographic exhibit in a major museum in this country through a partnership with 3D PhotoWorks and the Newseum in Washington, DC. This exhibit pays tribute to the brave marines who fought in the Battle of Huế City in 1968. Our aim is to explore what more can be learned from transforming visual images into tactile renderings—both what we can learn as blind people and what the sighted might learn from utilizing touch. By bringing tactile experiences into more public exhibits, we also have new opportunities to share our insights with the sighted and to create understanding about blindness.
The two most successful access-to-information tools available to blind people have been built by us—NFB-NEWSLINE and the KNFB Reader. NFB-NEWSLINE is now available in forty-five states and the District of Columbia, serving 118,900 subscribers with free access to over five hundred publications. The service also provides access to other information such as weather alerts, television listings, and shopping ads. The KNFB Reader has brought the power of fast and accurate text recognition to blind people around the world through a patented approach developed by the National Federation of the Blind in collaboration with Ray Kurzweil. We recently introduced KNFB Reader 3.0, which revamps the interface and provides a framework that will allow for additional improvements in the future. NFB-NEWSLINE and KNFB Reader were built by us, they reflect our priorities and our authentic experience, and we demand that these products meet our expectations for participation. We believe we can do even better with these tools we have built. Today, we are announcing our intent to innovate a new feature for users of the mobile application for NFB-NEWSLINE. Think of it as NFB-NEWSLINE Reader. Later this year, we will launch a new version of the NFB-NEWSLINE mobile application that incorporates the core functionality of the KNFB Reader mobile—point, shoot, and read. This means that every qualified subscriber to NFB-NEWSLINE will be able to download the new NFB-NEWSLINE app and flip from your morning paper to reading the letter that was just dropped on your desk. While the NFB-NEWSLINE Reader will not have all of the functionality that power users of KNFB Reader enjoy, it will be free, and a user can purchase the full KNFB Reader any time they want. You might ask why we are doing this, and there is only one reason, we seek full participation for the blind and access to information is critical in that pursuit.The depth and breadth of our accomplishments in one year cannot be adequately covered in one report. It is best observed in the lives blind people are living with confidence and determination in every community in our nation. It is felt in the spirit of love and hope that we share in our work together. From the seventy-two families of blind people that we assisted when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas to the countless number of blind people who have been helped by the small and great acts of kindness that each of our members extends to blind people every day, we are making a bigger difference in this nation and across the world than we will ever realize. I feel the impact of those contributions every day, and it is my deepest honor to serve as your President. I continue to be humbled by what each of you does to power this organization, and I continue to be inspired by the heartbeat that we share. We are making great progress, but there is so much potential for us still to achieve. As long as you should call me to serve, I am prepared to give my unwavering determination, tireless effort, and open heart to this movement. I pledge never to ask of you what I am not willing to commit to myself, and I will take all care to guard against those things that will slow our growth and diminish the progress we have gained. Without you there would be no us. It takes all of us to make these accomplishments, and it will take all of us to meet the future with love, hope, and determination. That is my commitment to you, that is my report of our progress, and that is our charge for the future. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.