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Statement / Info Regarding COVID 19

Greetings Colleagues,

 

I wanted to share a few notes and updates with you.

 

I hope this message finds you doing well. It feels like 2020 is moving faster than any other year I can remember. A number of things are happening so here is the latest.

 

Concerning the Coronavirus: to stay up to date on breaking news items, we have created a section under “Breaking News” on NFB-NEWSLINE® so users can keep up on the latest happenings. You likely already know that we postponed the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium scheduled for later this month to March 2021. We have had a series of other events planned for our national headquarters postponed as well. At this writing, we are still planning for the leadership seminar scheduled for April 17-19 at Calvin Crest in Fremont. I will re-evaluate this around April 6th.

We have a few other things to discuss so I will be calling for a board meeting soon. Stay tuned.

 

I know that some states have been actively working on policy issues around equal access to drive up COVID-19 testing. Please share with me if you or other blind individuals you know of have experienced difficulty in this regard. President Riccobono and John Pare are interested to learn any what solutions we come up with or if their help is needed. The national office is interested to track the innovative approaches we develop. We have also raised this issue with our Federal legislators so that it is part of the discussion at the federal level. Things continue to develop quickly so it is as important as always to coordinate our work.

 

Finally, a  note from President Riccobono:

 

You already know about the action of the board of directors to shut down all public meetings through Easter. Our national office remains open at the moment, although we have shifted at-risk staff to remote work and reduced walk-in traffic and meetings at the building to minimize the risks. We have also increased our already-detailed cleaning procedures. I do not know about you, but I think the bones in my hands are starting to absorb hand sanitizer.

Our training centers are closely monitoring the situation. The Colorado Center has already altered its operation based on local circumstances (offering trainings via Zoom and sent out to the NFBNET list), and I expect our other centers will make similar modifications at some point.

 

Many of you have asked about the national convention. It is just too far away for us to make a realistic decision about our annual family reunion. We are putting plans in place for the convention and for an alternative plan, but it is too early to know anything. As you know, on an unrelated note, our convention registration system experienced some issues in the first couple days of implementation. That system is now being retested. We hope that it will be back online soon.

 

As previously distributed to chapter and division presidents and posted to social media, attached are guidelines concerning the Covid-19 virus and a note from President Riccobono. This has been sent out on the NFBnet lists and chapters should share with their membership and make arrangements to utilize the affiliate Zoom for meetings. Contact Mike Hansen to arrange this.

 

Critical Actions:

Coronavirus COVID-19 Public Event Policy:
The public event policy that was updated late last week is available on our website at https://www.nfb.org/about-us/press-room/national-federation-blind-covid-19-policy-relating-public-events. We are continuing to monitor best practices from the CDC and will update you all as the situation changes with respect to the National Federation of the Blind.

 

News:

Legislative Update:
As the excitement of Washington Seminar fades into the distance, our legislative priorities are still experiencing a tremendous amount of momentum from our time on Capitol Hill. The Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA) now has 83 cosponsors in the House (H.R. 2086) and 22 cosponsors in the Senate (S. 815). That's nearly one quarter of each chamber. Just last week we gained seven new cosponsors in the House: David Schweikert (AZ), John Rutherford (FL), Lance Gooden (TX), Dwight Evans (PA), Ann Kuster (NH), Madeleine Dean (PA), and Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO). Special thanks to Arizona, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Missouri. It may not seem like much, but those numbers are actually quite impressive and show significant support for our legislation. 

 

This legislation may be more relevant now than ever. With the tragic outbreak of the coronavirus, we may see job loss in the very near future, and the ATAA would significantly improve employment opportunities for blind people when companies begin hiring again. Call or email your senators and representative and ask them to cosponsor the Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA) (H.R. 2086/S. 815). A legislative alert on this topic will follow soon. 

 

Virtual Instruction for Students During COVID-19 School Closures - #AccessibleNOW:

The threat of COVID-19 has prompted many schools to close their physical locations and shift to virtual instruction. This sudden transition raises concern about the accessibility of web-based educational technology. The NFB has issued a blog that highlights how, regardless of COVID-19-driven closures, schools must continue to provide equal access for blind students to programs, benefits, and services. There are steps you can take now to help your school prevent access barriers for blind students and to help the NFB monitor barriers that do occur:

  • Share the NFB’s blog and listed resources
  • Complete the NFB’s education technology survey
  • Connect with us in our #AccessibleNOW #InEducation Twitter chat on Friday, March 20, 2020, at 12:00 p.m. eastern.

 

Furthermore, if you or your child or student has been discriminated against by their school, we urge you to file a complaint with the US Department of Education through the Office for Civil Rights. If you have questions or concerns, please email AccessibleNow@nfb.org.

 

Parental Rights Foundation Podcast:
Recently President Riccobono recorded a podcast with the Parental Rights Foundation. You can listen to the recording on their website at https://parentalrightsfoundation.org/podcast/.

 

Hit Submit: Complete Scholarship Applications Today!:
Hundreds of applications get started for the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program, and many lose the opportunity to be a winner simply by not completely submitting the application. This annual scholarship program is an investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. Encourage every blind college student to apply. Share the secret to winning with blind students and urge them to complete their applications. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2020.

Time to Be Counted - Census 2020:
The 2020 Census is making its way into all mailboxes between now and the end of March in order to be completed April 1. Rather than filling out the paper questionnaire that will be sent to every home, we can, for the first time, fill it out online or over the telephone. Learn about the importance, the accessibility, and how to participate in the recent Voice of the Nation’s Blind Blog article.

National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient (NFB EQ) Program - June 21-27 - Science Museum of Minnesota:
While there is uncertainty as to what the summer holds this year, it is worth considering the options. NFB EQ is a weeklong adventure into engineering and problem-solving. No specific level of engineering experience required. Engage in activities designed to stre knowledge and grow interests. Connect with the twenty-nine other high school teen participants. Enriched experiences. New friendships. More independence. The deadline to apply is March 29. Apply now at www.nfb.org/eq.

 

Free Audiobook Resource for Learning the Zoom Platform:
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Jonathan Mosen has made his audiobook Meet Me in the Cloud freely available. This tutorial, which takes approximately three hours, walks through all aspects of the popular conferencing platform, from joining your first meeting, to hosting a meeting, to the differences between Basic and Pro accounts. Mosen’s book is thorough and accessible to all, regardless of technical background or proficiency. Note that at the time these recordings were made, several instances of accessibility glitches needed to be pointed out, however with current operating systems, and the latest versions of the Zoom conferencing software, most bugs have been resolved. In addition, Zoom has kept the labeling of commands and options, as well as their keyboard conventions consistent, meaning that none of the substance has altered from the time these recordings were produced. We believe this will be a useful resource, especially in this time of social distancing and greater adoption of teleconferencing. The book can be obtained free of charge at https://mosen.org/zoom/.

SSA:
The National Federation of the Blind and two blind individuals, Lisa Irving and Amy Bonano, have resolved their 2017 lawsuit against the Social Security Administration and entered into a settlement agreement designed to ensure that SSA’s visitor-intake-processing kiosks are accessible to blind users by December 31, 2021. Per the agreement, SSA will work with a third-party, kiosk-accessibility expert to redesign the agency’s kiosks so that blind users can enter required intake information, including their Social Security number, privately and independently. Read the press release.

Dates to Keep in Mind:

·         Spring Conventions (including new dates for postponed conventions)

·         March 31: Deadline for scholarship applications

·         April 15: Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award application deadline

·         April 17-18 Nebraska Leadership Seminar at Calvin Crest

·         May 1: Distinguished Educator Award nomination deadline

·         June 21-27: NFB EQ; St. Paul, Minnesota

July 14-19: NFB National Convention, Houston, Texas

 

Please give immediate attention to the below policy directive from the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind related to the immediate postponement of public meetings of the organization. In addition to this statement, you can hear an emergency Presidential Release related to this matter at https://www.nfb.org/about-us/press-room/national-federation-blind-covid-19-policy-relating-public-events.

 

National Federation of the Blind COVID-19 Policy Relating to Public Events

 

The National Federation of the Blind is closely following the rapidly evolving situation with respect to the novel coronavirus and its associated illness known as COVID-19. Since we issued our initial guidance on this situation on March 11, public officials across the nation have escalated their response to the virus and issued new and more aggressive directives. Generally, while specific directives as to the size of permitted public gatherings vary across states and local jurisdictions, public health officials agree that it is advisable to engage in “social distancing” in order to prevent or mitigate the spread of the virus, and people are being directed to minimize proximity and/or physical contact with others outside the home as much as possible. As a result, the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors met on March 13 and developed this policy directive related to public meetings of the organization.

The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind people, with affiliates in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico; hundreds of local chapters; as well as statewide and national special-interest divisions. Together these are comprised of some fifty thousand members and countless volunteers and supporters who conduct various public meetings and events. The health and safety of our members and friends is our top priority, and we are also mindful of our obligation to follow public health directives and to engage responsibly with the general public. We also recognize the need for consistent guidance across our organization as our affiliates, chapters, and divisions consider or plan meetings and public events.

To that end, the President and Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind hereby direct that all meetings, events, or public gatherings that are currently planned by affiliates, chapters, and divisions to take place within thirty days from today, March 13, 2020, are to be canceled or postponed until sometime after April 12, 2020. This includes, but is not limited to, statewide conventions or meetings, local chapter meetings, and statewide or local division meetings. Of course, where practicable, meetings to conduct the ongoing business of the Federation may be held via phone call or videoconference. Furthermore, the outreach and advocacy priorities of the organized blind movement can and should continue despite the disruption to public meetings, including monitoring unique barriers that blind individuals encounter due to the extreme circumstances. However, no official business of the organization should be conducted via in-person gatherings during this period. The national leadership will re-evaluate the situation on or shortly after April 12, 2020, and issue additional guidance if needed.

We are issuing this directive to align with the best available public health advice as well as with multiple state and local directives, and to carry out our general obligation to protect the health and safety of everyone in our Federation family. We wish everyone the best as together we meet the challenges and make the sacrifices required by this public health emergency.

 

Mark A. Riccobono, President

200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

(410) 659-9314 | officeofthepresident@nfb.org

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