Dear Fellow Federationist:
These are truly difficult times for our nation and for the blindness community. We have never known a pandemic like the one we now face. Our thoughts and prayers are for your health and safety and that of you loved ones. At this time when we face many challenges it is important that we stick together.
Family is important and you need to be able to rely on your Federation family for support. I am calling on each chapter president to remain in touch with your members and help those in real need. Many of our members are especially vulnerable to eh COVID-19 virus and we need to look out for them.
We do not have an update on our state convention. We were forced to cancel the April 3-5 date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still working with the hotel and one of our grantors to get a new date. I suspect we will have that within the next few days. We will get word out. Our plan is to still go to Clarksville hopefully this summer or fall. Our Clarksville Chapter had really worked hard on preparations and definitely wants another shot at it. They are an enthusiastic bunch.
On Sunday night, President Mark Riccobono called a special meeting of all Affiliate and Division Presidents. His message was:
• The National Federation of the Blind has not suspended operations. The movement continues and chapters are not to suspend meetings. Although they can be no in-person meetingsuntil at least the middle of April, virtual meetings by teleconference, Facebook, or whatever areencouraged. There is no other way for people to feel connected. We can’t simply wait 3 or 4 months and hit restart.
• As of right now, the national convention which is scheduled for July 14-19 in Houston, Texas is still on. If that changes, we will get the word out as soon as we hear it. There is no way to predict how long we will be in lockdown mode but President Riccobono is confident a convention in 4 months is realistic. Registration has been temporarily suspended, however, that does not suggest any uncertainty about the national convention. Registration had to be shut down due to a software glitch.
• All state BELL Programs and STEMU will go on as planned. Tennessee’s program is scheduled tobegin May 31 on the campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and we are optimistic we will be able to proceed as planned. Please get the word out about the program and let’s get as many kids there as we can.
• The NFB Centers (Louisiana Center for the Blind, Colorado Center for the Blind, and Blindness Inc.in Minnesota) are all open for business. Unlike most centers fro the blind in the country that have elected to close, these centers host students from all over the country and sometimes from other countries. It was determined that it was safer to remain at the centers than to fly home to places that might not be as safe. They are accepting new enrollees if the prospective student feels they can travel there safely.
• There are several major legislative issues related to the COVID-19 that are requiring the attention of the National Office. These include:
1. One is the Senate’s plan to give the Secretary of Education power to waive certain special education rules that could prove harmful to blind students. NFB opposes such waivers.
2. Another is a relief bill for Randolph-Sheppard blind vendors who have been shut down due to government buildings closing. NFB and its Merchants Division is asking Congress to appropriate money to help blind vendors offset a portion of their lost incomes.
3. And finally, thee are accessibility issues related to blind students being forced to take on-line courses rather than classroom courses like all other students.
In regards to the blind vendors, Tennessee’s blind vendors are being shut down as government workers are being sent home. I earlier sent out an email asking you to click on a link and send a letter to Congress asking for a relief package. If you have not done that, please do it now. Congress will be voting on a relief bill within the next day or so.
On the accessibility issue, the National Office is encouraging students who are not able to access on-line programming to file complaints immediately. As you know, this is the issue with NFB’s AIM High Act. Hopefully, the problems blind students are experiencing will help us prove out point about the need to require institutions of higher learning to make their on-line programming accessible to blind students.
We are extremely excited to announce that the Tennessee General Assembly recently passed a bill that will improve transportation for Tennesseans with disabilities including those who are blind. The Tennessee Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020 creates an office within the Department of Transportation that will focus on expanding and improving transportation services for people with disabilities. Our own James Brown from Antioch, who heads up our Affiliate’s legislative committee,deserves much of the credit for the bill’s passage. Congratulations James! Here is a link to an article about the bill: https://www.chattanoogan.com/2020/3/12/405646/General-Assembly-Unanimously-Passes.aspx
We as Americans have much to be thankful for as do we as Federationist. There are also challenges. We should appreciate the blessings and recommit ourselves to be even more determined to take on the challenges. I am honored to be your President and look forward to what we can do together.
Terry Smith, President
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.