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Friday, December 18, 2020

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth; Holiday Issue Blind Coloradan Blog December 2020

 

National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Logo including the words Live the life you want.

Writer, aggregator Kevan Worley. 
Contributing editor Dan Burke.

Here is what you need to know

This Issue Is Not Going to the Dogs

From the aggregator: Lisa Bonderson is no stranger to the dear readers of this blog. She is known for her competence, extraordinary kindness, her love of movies, and her cat. Lisa is one of our special members. When I asked members for pics of guide dogs, Lisa sent me this beautiful Christmas cat tableau. Happy Holidays to all of you from your Blind Coloradan.

Dubh-Lisa Bonderson's black cat laying in the middle of ceramic-buildings that create a Christmas village

This is our black cat Dubh lying smack dab in the middle of our Bailey Park Christmas Village. He likes to amuse himself. Every year. He never tires of his visits to the village. He never disrupts anything, and he never catnaps any of the little people. He just visits.

 

What a Year, What a Year! Mountain Time at 5 Series Brought Peace, Information, and Connections to the Blind of Colorado and Beyond by Kevan Worley

Can you believe it? No, I am not talking about how difficult this year has been for everyone. That goes without saying. I am talking about how NFBCO, CCB, and so many of our partners and members have reacted to the toughest year any of us could ever imagine. We should feel pride in the things we have done in 2020 despite all of the challenges we have faced. We will celebrate our achievements and joys together on a special Mountain Time at 5 Bazaar Holiday Show on Monday, December 21st.

In March, one of the programs we established to bring us information and bring us all together in the time of pandemic was our Mountain Time at 5 Zoom programs. Engaging, interactive, and informative; we have now done 70 Mountain Time at 5 sessions, most of which are available on our YouTube channel. We know that many of you were on these calls to talk about issues, challenges, and possibilities. The last Mountain Time at 5 of the year of our Lord 2020 will feature interviews, conversations live over Zoom, and some marvelous performances from our talented members. You will meet the amazing Gospel recording artist Gordon Mote. Last Spring, we introduced you to the incredibly talented recording artist Precious Perez. (We will be debuting her brand-new holiday record this Monday.) You will hear an amazing cello performance from Leslie Hammrich. Hammrich is a blind cellist who plays in a Chicagoland orchestra and teaches Braille music. What an inspiration for our blind children. You will find joy in gospel holiday performances from Tom and Linda Anderson. We will hear of a number of member holiday traditions from Christmas to Kwanza to Hanukah. So spread the word and join us for the Mountain Time at 5 Holiday Bazaar Show! Here are your all-important Zoom coordinates:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/97417562247

Meeting ID: 974 1756 2247
One tap mobile
+13462487799,,97417562247#

Dial by your location
        +1 346 248 7799
Meeting ID: 974 1756 2247
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/adFt1mXv1s

Join by Skype for Business
https://zoom.us/skype/97417562247

 

Note: Have you ever heard JJ Aragon, President of our Greeley Chapter, sing and play? Don’t miss JJ this coming Monday on Mountain Time at 5. Come and share your traditions with your NFBCO family.  

 

Curbside Holiday Cheer!

The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind is bringing holiday cheer to students, in the regions where they live. The CSDB activity bus, decked out in lights and dazzling decorations (Photo includes decorated bus with Santa), will carry Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as elves and the CSDB Bulldogs mascot, to regions of Colorado Springs, this week.

Set up for social distancing, Santa uses American Sign Language with the children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, while Mrs. Claus talks with other students. The CSDB Bulldog maneuvers through the excitement using his cane for navigation. Gathered students will enjoy treats from Santa.

The Curbside Holiday Bus visited areas around the state, last week, and will focus on the Colorado Springs region, this week. Great job, Student Life staff, for bringing holiday cheer to our students and their families!

Colorado School for the Deaf and The Blind bus decorated with Christmas stockings and lights and wreaths. Santa and his elf are seated on the wheelchair lift

 

The Building May be Quite but the Center is a Hive of Activity by Julie Deden

From the aggregator: I wouldn’t suggest that change and innovation comes easy to the Colorado Center for the Blind. But, as a former CCB student I will tell you that the reason for it’s very existence has been to impart the notion that blind people must and can deal with the ups and downs, the changes and challenges, the victories and defeats of life itself just as our non-blind fellow citizens do. My experience informed the next 28 years of my life. It changed me in fundamental ways. Coping, competing, striving, succeeding. Trying and failing and getting back up to try it a new way. Fundamentally it’s more than learning Braille, how to travel with a long white cane, how to manage a home or cook up a lasagna for 40. It’s more than learning the latest technologies. It’s all of that and more. It’s a structured discovery approach to life. A willingness to innovate, a commitment to endure, and a soul energized by love. Our Center is not just a building. As Julie will tell you, it’s a hive of activity even when the students are studying from home or in our student apartments. Nothing demonstrates the Center’s penchant for innovation and flexibility like a pandemic. Julie Deden is the longest-serving Executive Director of our Center. It did not surprise me at all that when faced with pandemic Julie and her team figured out, developed, and implemented strategies that would inform and inspire this class of students in spite of the year that was 2020. Here is how Julie told the story in a letter dated December 4:

As I sit in my office this afternoon, the center is strangely silent. We do not have students coming in from their first independent travel routes celebrating their return. There are no students at the front desk asking to receive their first slate and stylus because they are mastering Braille. No blind seniors have stopped by to learn how to use their iPhone or to meet others in a group to talk about losing their vision.

Even though the building is quiet, I am so happy to say that the center is a hive of activity online, and our students and staff are all working hard. We are providing classes each day all day via the zoom platform. Our determined students are still working on technology skills and mastering Braille. Though remote physically, today students went outside in their own neighborhoods to explore. This week our students also had an assignment in home management to make burritos. They are also completing a writing assignment outlining their goals. I am looking forward to making clay with cornstarch along with everyone else so that we can all make something to celebrate the holiday season.

Our seniors are busy, too. They will watch an audio described movie through Zoom and many of them will be joining us in a yoga class. Seniors are getting great at using zoom to be part of several weekly discussion groups that we have held on Zoom since the earliest days of COVID-19. Several members have commented about how these groups encourage them to keep challenging themselves. 

Amanda, cane in hand with sleep shades on and a backpack walking down the sidewalk past the "ankle biter"

Amanda heads to the center, maneuvering past the “Ankle biter,” a storm drain in the crook of the sidewalk that drops about a foot. Rather than fostering an atmosphere of trepidation that would steer wide of any perceived hazard, students learn to be aware of their total environment. Indeed, everyone walks past this “hazard” every day when the building is open for the business of blindness.

The skills of independence for our blind students, and indeed for our staff, are more critical in these difficult times than ever before. Even though the world has changed we all at the Colorado Center are still able to work with our students so that they will gain belief in themselves and be able to move forward with confidence and self-reliance!

 

Standing Up for Understanding, Guidance, and Love. A Note from Maureen Nietfeld

From the aggregator: Just as we were about to post this blog, I received a note from the Secretary of NFBCO, Maureen Nietfeld. As many of you will recall, we noted Maureen’s fabulous November Braille Monitor article, A Note to Motive Myself and Clarify My Path in our Thanksgiving blog. If you haven’t read it, we urge you to do so. Maureen is a living example of how one can approach life with grace, common sense, organization, and motivation in a way that allows one to meet every challenge with grace, confidence, and capacity. On Tuesday, December 15th, we posted an open letter of apology from the President of the National Federation of the Blind Mark Riccobono and a very honest, revealing, and reflective open letter of apology from Scott LaBarre, our NFBCO President. As some readers will know, our programs have been criticized in recent days over social media for allegations of our failings with regard to how we protect, nurture, and care for every single member and every single participant of any of our programs. I hope folks will read the letters from Scott and Mark, and I hope you will read the following note from a truly amazing leader of ours. Here is what Maureen says:

Recently survivors have come forward to share their stories of sexual misconduct that have occurred at our NFB training centers and our NFB events. With each story that I hear my heart feels even more shattered. As a woman and a mother, I empathize and as a leader I desperately want to be a part of change. I want to listen with an open heart and an open mind. I want to be a part of the solution. I want everyone to leave a training center or an NFB event filled with hope, excitement for the future, and a passion.

 

I love the work that we do here in Colorado and my wish is for all of us to come together and leave no room for anyone who wishes to hurt a member of our organization. My wish is that accountability is met and that we all can move forward together. My wish is for all of us to participate and any NFB related event and feel nothing but love and the feeling of being included. I stand with the survivors and I am listening. #marchingtogether

 

Katie Goes to Blind School

From the aggregator: My wife Bridget tells me that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. She is a woman of deep faith. I am not sure I completely agree with her. But the following article came to my inbox at the perfect time. Struggling with pandemic implications in my life and in the lives of many friends, relatives, and employees has been ongoing. On top of those challenges came the deeply troubling stories of sexual misconduct and even rape within the organization and within some of it’s affiliated programs, including here in Colorado. These stories of impropriety, misconduct, aggression, humiliation, and pain have bruised my very soul. I was shaken. As I read, I realized that as an engaged member and supporter of our Colorado Center for the Blind programs I should have been much more attentive. Were there signals of inappropriate behavior at a convention, after a chapter meeting, or in one of our program activities that I may have missed. Or worse, that I may have looked the other way. I found recognition, comfort, concern, and commitment in the open letter of apology posted by the President of the National Federation of the Blind Mark Riccobono on December 16, 2020. Knowing and loving our people as I do, I immediately realized that this organization will absolutely take necessary steps to increase transparency, accountability, and stronger governance. But I think what has also troubled my soul is the relentless attacks on some of the brightest, most dedicated, capable, and deeply caring individuals I have ever met. It is one thing to point out our failings. It’s important to demand accountability. It’s critical to ensure that no one is ever placed in harms way or unduly criticized or touched inappropriately. And that’s what this organization intends to do. But it is another thing to demand perfection, insist on the right to shame victims, or implicate individuals without some level of accountability and basic humanity on the part of the individuals who are now leading what has truly become a witch hunt. This, then is the state of my emotions as I received this wonderful piece from one of our talented students.

The heart-felt observations posted below from Katie Carmack spoke to me. Through all of the struggles, no matter who may impugn our motives or attack our leadership, this is what it is all about. Here is how Dan Burke introduces Katie’s remarks.

In the fall we dedicated a couple of days to filming and lots more to editing a video for the 2020 NFB of Colorado Virtual Convention in late October. If you missed that 30-minute video, check out our YouTube site at www.youtube.com/cocenterorg. We’ve posted the full version, and we’ve also broken it up into shorter segments. I mean, who has half an hour nowadays?

If you saw that video, however, you met Katie Carmack, along with our other students. Katie is a Social Worker who has worked in hospice for 15 years. But a degenerative eye condition eventually necessitated that she take a break from her work to work on being a blind person. Thus, she came to the Colorado Center for the Blind in early fall to begin her training. And almost immediately she started a new Face Book page where she blogs about being a student. It’s called “Katie Goes to Blind School,” and it’s targeted toward her friends, colleagues, and family who, like her until recently, really don’t know much about blindness or blind people. Instead of telling you how great it is, we offer some samples of Katie’s observations below.

Katie shopping at Target. She is wearing sleep shade, a mask, and using her long white cane

Katie Shopping in Target

October 25, 2020

“give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

This proverb has always made sense to me and I have tried to implement it into my social work practice over the years. I’m now understanding it in a whole new way at the School and how it applies to my life.

Most people want to be helpful when they see someone facing a challenge. For example, on my long travel class this week we went to find a Massage Envy (of course this was my request...priorities). When we got off the bus, I had to find a store where I could get directions. The first store I found had a very nice woman working who initially offered to physically guide/walk us to massage envy (giving me the fish). I thanked her for the offer but explained that we would prefer she gave us instructions instead (teaching me to fish). She gave directions and off we went,

I got us lost in the parking lot and we were in the process of backtracking our steps to try again when the same woman shows up, explaining she had been watching us and felt she hadn’t given us very good instructions and wanted to help. She again offered to guide us, we declined and instead asked more questions.

Now that we had explored the parking lot, we had a better idea of our surroundings and could ask specific questions (i.e., is it past the brick wall). She answered our questions and off we went. We found the Massage Envy. It felt good to have found it (booking a massage made me happy too!)

If I’m being honest about how I handled things in the past- I probably took the fish more often than I learned to fish, but that is changing since my time here at school. I will likely still accept fish in the future because fishing can be exhausting sometimes but it won’t be as often!

So, if you see someone struggling with a challenge don’t just offer the fish, offer to teach them to fish. I know it can be difficult to stand by and not step in but take deep breaths and let us do our thing- we will ask if we need more help.

October 26, 2020

One of the most common questions I get asked is “Are you going to learn to read Braille?” 

Before deciding to go to Blind School my answer was “No”. My reasoning at the time was that I was focusing on low vision aides (magnifiers, talking technology, gadgets that helped me use my hearing) and therefore I didn’t need to be able to use Braille. I figured by the time I had lost all my vision technology would be so advanced that it would be unnecessary. And honestly, none of the providers encouraged learning Braille.

When asked the question now- my answer is “Yes”!  At my school it’s one of the mandatory Core classes. I have class every day to learn Braille.

For those of you not familiar with Braille I will give you some basic facts as I have learned them. Braille was initially used by the French military as a code and then modified to be used by the Blind. Each Braille cell has 6 dots- You determine what letter it is by feeling the cell and identifying which of the 6 dots is raised. A= dot 1, B= dot 1 and 2, C= dot 1 and 4, etc.

sounds pretty straightforward, right? The challenge is you have to FEEL the raised dots and that, my friends, is not easy. Tiny, raised dots, very close together. It’s hard to determine one cell from the next and difficult to determine placement within the cell (i.e.- if only 1 dot is raised how do you tell which position it is? Is it 1 or 4?).

Best advice- keep practicing as it does get easier! It’s been 4 weeks and I know the alphabet up to letter P and some punctuation. I know my numbers A=1, B=2, C=3...J=0. The way you determine its a number instead of a letter is a number sign which in Braille is dot 3, 4,5 and 6.

Got it?? I did say this was just the basics ... pretty sure it becomes more complicated once I learn the alphabet, like all languages there are shortcuts and special rules once you get more advanced.

Picture included below is of my new shirt that came in mail today.

my new tshirt, Black background with words BE KIND also written in Braille and print

November 7, 2020

Another class we have daily is Philosophy, which focuses on issues we face as Blind individuals. The topics vary and are led by different speakers and include a group discussion. Sometimes it’s a guest speaker from outside the program, sometimes it’s one of our instructors and sometimes it’s one of the students. We cover a multitude of topics- travel, new technology, our rights, overcoming awkward situations, relationships, etc.

 This week one of the topics dealt with the challenges we face by loved ones wanting to protect/shelter us and how that can impact our independence. It often comes from a place of love and nurturing, but it can end up keeping us stuck.  And the longer it goes on the more difficult it is to change as it becomes our “normal. “

I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite quotes (I love a good quote!).

“A ship in the harbor is safe but that is not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd

Over the years as my vision has been fading, I have been spending more time docked in the harbor and when I leave the harbor the trips have become simpler, shorter OR I become a passenger on someone else’s ship. As the holidays approach I will be seeing loved ones for the first time in months.  I am not the same “Ship” I was when you saw me last. I’m patching up the weak spots, plugging up any holes, repairing my sails and updating my navigation systems. I’m checking the maps and plotting my course. It feels good to dust off my Captain hat and exciting to consider all the destinations I can travel too.

That being said I still need my crew and I’m super fortunate to have a flexible, supportive, knowledgeable, and competent crew that have been encouraging me for years. I know they will follow my lead as we renegotiate our roles and responsibilities moving forward. I will always return to the harbor at the end of my voyage to restock, repair, rejuvenate and plan the next adventure.

ALL ABOARD- independence or bust!

 

Loyalty Runs Deep by Mark Lucas

From the aggregator: This Fall, a good friend of this blog and organization, and to me personally, Mark Lucas stepped down from service as Executive Director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes. We don’t know what the future will look like for USABA. We don’t know what direction they will now travel. We do know that our outreach to the organization subsequent to Director Lucas’s departure has not met with responsiveness. This is unfortunate. Mr. Lucas and his team have worked closely with NFB chapters and groups within other organizations all over the country to break down barriers to fitness and wellness faced by blind people. More than just skiing partnerships, goalball innovation and championships, Lucas’s leadership brought access to fitness opportunity into the day-to-day lives of non-athletes who happen to be blind. For that we thank him for a stellar career. I’m personally grateful for his motivation and mentorship. I’m hopeful that the blind of Colorado and the nation will continue to have opportunity to collaborate with USABA under it’s new leadership team.

Mark Lucas standing on a trail in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

In the November USABA newsletter, Mr. Lucas wrote, in part:

How do you define loyalty? Perhaps you are loyal to your alma mater, sports team, religion, or party affiliation, for example. Heck, I have been a loyal Cleveland Browns fan longer than I can remember, and they haven't won a championship since 1964 when I was 8 years old! Loyalty or bone-headedness, you make the call. Still, I believe being a superfan or loyal to an organization like the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) is a healthy psychological activity that connects us to other like-minded people, thereby satisfying our human need for belonging.

For the past 27 years, I have been proud to work and represent USABA and I recently stepped down as the Executive Director at the end of October. Our staff personifies the motto of “One athlete at a time” in order to grow and protect USABA’s assets and reputation, for our athletes and members. The ability, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and other characteristics of our athletes never mattered, and our goal never wavers as we provide life-changing sports experiences while changing negative stereotypes and perceptions regarding people who are blind and visually impaired.

From 6- and 8-year-old Zoe and Logan Galloway learning how to ski with guides during the Winter Ski Festival in Breckenridge, to athletes Sylvia Perez, Richard Rueda, and Jessica Beecham working hard every day to increase their step count and stay in shape through the National Fitness Challenge program, to the 2008 U.S. Women’s Goalball Team training 365 days a year for four years to stand atop the podium at the Beijing Paralympic Games, every athlete matters. Young and old, competitive and recreational, our athletes and program participants take advantage of opportunities to improve their health and well-being, shattering barriers and misconceptions. Let us all celebrate the many accomplishments of USABA athletes who persevere in a sighted world to overcome many obstacles every day. …

Thank you for being a part of TEAM USABA, empowering people’s lives through your loyalty to this stellar organization. As I discover the next chapter in my life, feel free to keep in touch. My email is mlucas668@yahoo.com, and my phone number will remain (719) 352-9134. Go Team USABA!

Yours in sport,
Mark Lucas

 

National Braille Press Launches Free Children’s Braille Book Club

As many of our dear readers know, the Braille Readers are Leaders Contest is in full swing. Still time for you to get your kiddos registered. Of course, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults continues it’s 60-year tradition, providing free Braille reading material for blind children. Note: AAF is also the place where I have been receiving a nice, compact Braille calendar since the 1960’s. For information about all the AAF services go to www.actionfund.org.

As we highlight resources for our families with blind children, I want to call to your attention the National Braille Press. They, too, have been providing Braille books for years. Most of their material has some associated fees. However, National Braille Press is now actively recruiting families to take part in a limited set of free offerings for blind children. Learn more about the Children’s Braille Book Club here.

In the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado we sing, Braille is beautiful! And it is wonderful to have more options for free and inexpensive Braille than ever before. Nothing better for the holidays than to sit in a quiet place with a Braille book.

 

Colorado Association of Guide Dog Users Joins National Effort to Push Back on Restrictive Federal Airline Regulations

From the aggregator: As many of you know, the National Federation of the Blind, working through our guide dog divisions, has been working with officials at the Department of Transportation and major air carriers for many years. US Department of Transportation has recently promulgated regulations which, while clarifying restrictions on emotional support animals and providing guidance to the airlines on rules pertaining to guide dogs, nevertheless continues to allow unreasonable paperwork demands on traveling guide dog handlers. The new regulations take effect January 11. Over the next year, President of our National Association of Guide Dog Users Raul Gallegos will be leading efforts to respond to some of these more onerous measures directly to the airlines and through the media. We will also be working with officials at the Department of Transportation and members of Congress to resolve the outstanding issues which are inconsistent with the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is much more to come.

But for now, we thank Cerridwyn Nordstrom and guide dog Iris for sending us this beautiful Christmas picture.


Iris “sitting pretty” in front of the Christmas tree. She has a red collar on and a bandana that’s red with white snowflakes. She is wearing white reindeer antlers with bells on them.

 Smart Cities Summit by Kevan Worley

Extremely excited to attend the January 28 #smartcityiessummit over Zoom. I have a passion for integrating technologies into urban infrastructure. That's what my involvement with companies such as Aira has been all about. It was about 10 years ago at this time when I was honored to be a part of the blind driver challenge test crew, driving around a North Carolina racetrack in an accessible Ford Escape. Of course, I broke the test rules and, had the car up to 40 miles per hour on the backstretch, driving with no sighted assistance whatsoever. "What a THRILL it was!!"

The NFB has always been on the forefront and I look forward to hearing the experts who will assemble the day before the 10th anniversary of Mark Riccobono driving that same Ford Escape in front of hundreds of thousands at the Daytona Speedway. Please let officials in your cities who may have an interest know about the #smartcitiessummit

 

Accessible Pharmacy for the Blind is Now Available Statewide in Colorado!

From the aggregator: When I was contacted by these folks, what? I have been using my regular drugstore for years. Then I looked at their programs. Not that you, dear readers, care but I take 4 daily medications. When you take only 4 meds it is very easy for most of us to remember our doses. We can figure by type of bottle, shape of pills, call Aira, and all other kinds of methods. But why? As I investigated this program, I thought they have the script talk and other methods to make my life easier. So, I called for all the details. I urge you to read the following and see if it is right for you. Sorry Walgreens, I made the switch!

Co-founded by Dr. Alex Cohen, a blind man in Philadelphia, Accessible Pharmacy is a full-service, home delivery pharmacy specializing in medication management for the blind and low vision community. All of their services are free including home delivery, active refill management, medication consultative services, and reminder systems. They offer a variety of free accessible and assistive packaging options including pre-sorted disposable pill organizers, Braille and large print labels, easy-open pill bottles, high-tech label reading solutions, and more. Accessible Pharmacy will work with any insurance provider including Medicare and Medicaid. Finally, they will set all of this up for you! Their Care Coordinators work with each patient through the transition and continuously to find the best solution for their unique medication regimen. Accessible Pharmacy understands what is needed in the pharmaceutical industry for the blind community. By diminishing the existing barriers to medication management, they are increasing independence and safety. Call 215-799-9900 to see if Accessible Pharmacy is a good fit for your needs or visit their website www.AccessiblePharmacy.com to learn more.

 

That’s It for This Edition of the Blind Coloradan

Forward, always Forward!

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Open Letter of Apology from President Riccobono

Content warning: the following letter addresses sensitive topics regarding sexual misconduct and violence.

Dear Fellow Federationists:

Many NFB members, former members, and people within our blindness community are hurting. For some, the pain comes from their lived experience of being abused or violated by one of our members and/or made to feel like no one else was listening or came to their defense at a Federation event or training program. For others, what they feel is empathy for survivors who were harmed by participating in the National Federation of the Blind, recognizing that we have not done enough within our movement and systemically within our community. We are deeply sorry that this is true and apologize for where we have failed. As the elected President of this movement, I carry the responsibility of this pain. I am profoundly sorry that anyone has been harmed by experiences in our movement. As a husband, father of three children, and leader who tries to live by a strong set of ethical values, I hurt for the survivors, and I deeply regret that I have made mistakes along the way. At each opportunity that I have to sit with my young children, I am directly reminded how fragile the balances are in our lives and how much our actions can have a lasting impact on others. I live with the regret and sorrow for the mistakes I personally made in dealing with inappropriate behavior in the past. Sometimes my mistakes have only been illuminated later through the honest reflection of a friend or the vulnerable sharing of someone who has been harmed. How do you adequately write a letter to apologize for that? How do you spread this sentiment to an entire movement of people including those who have left our organization? How do we, collectively, create an adequate action plan to promote healing, prevent future incidents, and continue our development of a culture that is welcoming, safe, and eliminates the barriers to bringing concerns forward for resolution? This letter attempts to explore those questions, but this is merely a single moment in these needed conversations.

Our hearts break for the survivors of abuse and sexual misconduct who have bravely shared incidents that have happened within our organization over the decades. During the past couple of weeks, a number of courageous individuals have shared painful stories about their experiences on social media and in individual conversations. We thank those brave survivors for sharing their stories because we recognize how difficult that is and how each story creates a unique set of emotions and challenges. We deeply regret that over our eighty years we have not handled each situation appropriately or been able to heal the pain that such incidents create. We do not reject these feelings of pain. In fact, we want to find and establish better ways to hear them and continuously eliminate the actions that caused them. We have no intention of debating the circumstances of any instance. Instead we acknowledge that if a survivor was left feeling the situation went unaddressed, then we have failed. The membership demands we do better. I, as President, demand this of myself and expect it from our movement. We will do better. In addition to calling upon all Federationists to listen better, honestly reflect upon your own biases, and to actively align our actions to our words, I call upon you not to dismiss those who cannot believe that our intentions are sincere or those who have had the courage to come forward. It is our individual and collective action, positively focused on making things better that will create belief. That is what has been true for us since 1940, and it will continue to be true for us going forward.

Let us get down to the hard facts. Words appear to mean nothing without actions, so below I’ve outlined six steps that we are committing to in the near future. Before I list them, please understand that these are initial steps, and we are committed to exploring and implementing whatever policies, programs, trainings, or resources necessary beyond these steps to appropriately address these horrible situations.

Improvements to Reporting of Incidents

We are currently thoroughly reviewing the pathways for reporting incidents and how those paths are handled. We are open to revamping all of the reporting mechanisms we have. We are in discussion with outside consultants who are expected to do a complete review of our processes with a specialized emphasize on sexual misconduct and harassment. We will rebuild all of our procedures if needed. We expect our revised processes to involve a third-party entity, but since we do not yet know how that will turn into actionable efforts within our organization, we cannot be specific about that process. Our hope is to be more transparent about our partnership and timelines for action during the first quarter of 2021. We hear you about the uncomfortable position some people feel is created by the current reporting system when a person must report through members they will later need to deal with personally. Regardless of the reporting mechanisms we maintain and create, we must be very clear on one point: Every elected leader of this organization must be prepared to take concerns seriously and to act upon information they are given as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Furthermore, the safety of blind youth who are under our supervision is our highest priority, and any incident that is discovered must be dealt with immediately.

Open Meeting and Supporting Survivors

We are committing to hold an open meeting or series of listening sessions to discuss these issues and solicit feedback on what support and resources victims and survivors need. We have not yet detailed what the open meeting and conversations will be. Because we do not want to unintentionally contribute to further pain among survivors, we want blind people with lived experiences and our consultants to guide that process. In the meantime, we continue to answer calls and emails from Federation members seeking clarity about these issues and offering solutions that we will carefully weigh as our learning continues. We are grateful to those of you who have reached out directly offering your personal experiences as a guide to future development. The members of the Federation are expected to shape what we do, and your readiness to bring solutions makes a big difference. Our goal is to provide support and healing to victims and survivors.

Enhancing the Code of Conduct Work

Prior to recent events and the stories that have emerged, we were in the process of considering and implementing several enhancements surrounding our code of conduct and its related procedures and programs. We have now paused those efforts. Why? Because we are listening. We have done horribly at messaging and sharing our internal procedures and our plans for effectively administering our organization's code of conduct. I say paused because we want to carefully evaluate where we are and our next steps guided by the expertise of anti-sexual-violence experts from outside our movement. If we must completely reset, that is what we will do. For now, our code and existing procedures are in place to set expectations within our organization. We will carefully evaluate current grievances to ensure that they continue to be safely and swiftly investigated even while our procedures are under review.

Illuminating Expectations

You may already know, but the board made its annual revisions to the code and procedures process on December 5, 2020. When we went to post the revisions, we realized that the FAQ we planned to post after the December 2019 review did not happen. No excuses, that was a pretty big dropped ball. That document is intended to answer questions like what happens when a grievance is filed, how is information kept confidential, and what communications can a filing party expect? Overall, we have failed to communicate broadly the procedures we have been using. For example, we allow for advocates to participate with parties who are involved with code of conduct investigations. Moreover, these FAQs will also be informed and expanded based upon questions that continue to be raised. They will also evolve as we implement additional avenues for raising concerns and for training members of the organization. We take ownership for the misinformation that is now circulating. Please keep those questions and suggestions coming.

Continuous Training

Training on issues around misconduct and abuse is something we have only skimmed the surface of in the recent past. We have done a minimal amount of training for affiliate presidents and workshops at our national convention. We were not satisfied that our training was sustainable, so we have been seeking other partners. That has been unreasonably slow. No excuse, we understand. We are going to be putting together training with the specific goal of preventing misconduct and abuse at Federation events and to strengthen the level of comfort with reporting. We have also hired an individual to assist in a number of areas including coordinating training—that person only started on November 30, which is why we had not yet introduced her to the membership.

Consistency across NFB Training Centers

A lack in consistency in practices across the three training centers that are affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind has been raised as a concern. It is worth noting that only BLIND Incorporated, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind have made the specific partnership commitments necessary to be formally and officially affiliated with the organized blind movement. On a regular basis, I have been meeting with our training center directors with the specific goal of better aligning our practices and policies. There is more work to do there. We expect these centers to fully commit to our code of conduct practices and set the highest standard of professional practice in all programs. During the most recent revisions of our code of conduct, we discussed the topic of consistency in handling and reporting concerns at our centers. We will be conducting a full review and implementing consistent training for the personnel at each of our centers. I stand with those who have been harmed by any employee, contractor, or volunteer at one of our centers, and I am prepared to help eliminate ineffective practices and urge the termination of those employees and contractors (as well as the exclusion of volunteers) who violate our policies in this area.

Let me also add that our training centers have made a great difference in raising the standard of training for blind people in this nation and all around the world. As a graduate of one of our centers, I share that pride for the training I received but also the pain that even one person coming through one of our centers would have had a harmful experience. The employees at our centers are some of the most dedicated and thoughtful folks I know, and they are committed to the safety and wellbeing of program participants. However, that does not excuse harmful incidents that have happened in our training programs. I know our centers are committed to doing better. I know the executive directors and boards of each of these training centers will be prioritizing the advancement of these conversations. Most importantly, I know they feel your pain in a very deep and personal way.

Again, these are immediate actions and commitments. This is not a complete roadmap for the years to come, but it outlines some of the forthcoming actions we are focusing on. We know that we need to examine more ways to support our members such as mental health resources and the expertise of crisis professionals. Members of the Federation have a right to demand information about what is being done, and Federation leaders are expected to share that information. When we committed to the code of conduct in 2018, we made a commitment to a much-needed journey. Our commitment has not wavered even if we have not been outwardly demonstrating a commitment that you can trust. As leaders, we will continue to work to earn your trust and we will remain committed to continuous improvement and an open dialogue for organizational change. We are committed to finding ways to heal that pain, while preventing any future pain that results from unacceptable behavior. We are going to need the ideas and support of the members of this movement to do that in a meaningful and effective manner, so all are welcomed.

You continue to be our wise teachers. You who have shared your personal experiences and who have dared to open yourselves continue to guide us. In the National Federation of the Blind, we value diversity, we strive to be fully inclusive, and we want to be the safe space for all blind people. Every blind person in this nation deserves what this movement has to offer, and we recognize we have work to do so that every blind person feels like there is a place here for everyone. We are going to get there together. We apologize that we have not yet made it all the way, but we pledge that the commitment is deep and it is real. We are not done with our changes.

With love and commitment, we are #MarchingTogether.

Mark Riccobono, President
officeofthepresident@nfb.org, 410-659-9314

The National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors shown below requested that the President write an open letter regarding our commitments.

By signing below, each of us affirms our support and commitment to the content of the letter above. Anybody with concerns regarding the content of this letter, the commitments that have been expressed, or potential incidents that may have happened at Federation events are welcome to contact any of the individuals endorsing this statement.

Pam Allen, First Vice President and Board Chair, pallen@louisianacenter.org, 318-251-2891

Ron Brown, Second Vice President, rb15@iquest.net, 317-213-7031

James Gashel, Secretary, jgashel0923@gmail.com, 808-234-9259

Jeannie Massay, Treasurer, jeanniemassay@gmail.com, 405-600-0695

Denise Avant, davant1958@gmail.com, 773-991-8050

Everette Bacon, baconev@yahoo.com, 801-631-8108

Amy Buresh, amy.buresh74@gmail.com, 402-440-4722

Shawn Callaway, callaway.shawn@gmail.com, 202-352-1511

Norma Crosby, ncrosby@nfbtx.org, 281-968-7733

John Fritz, president@nfbwis.org, 608-622-7632

Ever Lee Hairston, ever.hairston@gmail.com, 323-654-2975

Carla McQuillan, president@nfb-oregon.org, 541-653-9153

Amy Ruell, aruell@comcast.net, 617-752-1116

Joe Ruffalo, nfbnj1@verizon.net

Terri Rupp, terri.rupp@gmail.com, 702-524-0835

Adelmo Vigil, nfbnewmexicopresident@gmail.com, 575-921-5422

A message of apology and hope from the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Scott C. LaBarre

 

My Colorado Family:

I must admit that I come to all of you with a heavy heart today.  As many of you know, a little less than two weeks ago, Friday the 4th of December, to be exact, posts started to emerge on Facebook regarding incidents of sexual misconduct which have occurred at NFB centers and other NFB programs as well as some state run training centers for the blind.  Some of those stories involve our very own Colorado Center for the Blind.  Last Friday we released our initial statement regarding these matters, and today we are publishing an open letter of apology from President Riccobono.  That can be found at:

https://www.nfb.org/blog/open-letter-apology-president-riccobono

You, by now, should have  received an email copy of this letter, but in case you have not seen it elsewhere, it is pasted below.

As some of you might know, I have taken on a new role with the NFB for the last few months, that of General Counsel.  Thus I have been quite involved with our response to these stories and related matters.  I know that in this world of instantaneous communication, people usually demand and expect immediate responses and action.  However, we are taking the time necessary to get all of this right, not just our communications but, more importantly, our action steps.  We are going to be as open and transparent as possible, and we welcome everyone’s advice and input.  Please take note of the action steps outlined below.  Do not hesitate to contact me or anyone else with questions or comments.

In the beginning, I said I have a heavy heart.  That is because I hurt for the survivors and victims, and I join Mark in apologizing for the mistakes we have made.  As you know, I have two children, Alex and Emily, and I hope and pray that they never have to go through the pain and suffering some have experienced.  We must do all we can to create the most welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment that we can to carry on our vital work. 

I should also mention that on a local level, our CCB will be coming out with a statement of its own.  The CCB intends to adopt the same steps as are identified in President Riccobono’s letter as adjusted for our local circumstances as well as others. 

Lastly, I again want to express my sorrow.  I intend to work as hard as I know how to take on these challenges openly and figure out the best way forward to make us stronger and better.  Please help us do that.  I also want to wish all of you peace and joy during this holiday season.

With love, an open mind and heart,

Scott