Category Archives: News and Announcements

The Vigilant: May/June 2019

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

Our national convention is fast approaching and the convention agenda is really impressive. We hope you are planning to join us at our national family reunion.

Virginia Caucus

If you have had the opportunity to glance at the agenda, you know that we have a packed week planned. However, I want to bring your attention to an annual event.

Please plan to join us at the Virginia Caucus on Monday, July 8 at 10:00 PM in Tradewinds D.

Come meet our McDonald Fellowship and Jernigan Scholarship finalists as well as our National Scholarship finalists. Participate in our banquet exchange. Learn about the happenings across our various affiliate programs and enjoy fellowship with other Virginians and guests from across the country

Visit the Presidential Suite at National Convention

On behalf of President Riccobono, I want everyone to know that they are welcome and encouraged to visit the Presidential Suite during our national convention. While the room number is not yet listed, please make certain to visit the suite where you will find snacks, leaders from across the country and sometimes president Riccobono. If you would like to schedule a time to meet with President Riccobono, please contact the suite and request an appointment. Due to the hotel security, you will need someone to help you get to the floor where the Presidential Suite is located. There will be people assigned to work the elevator to help people get to the suite. For example, I am working the suite on Sunday, July 7 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. I would be glad to escort you to the suite and help you get a snack. However, there will be defined team members who will be assisting our members to the suite throughout convention. Make us work and visit the Presidential Suite.

Membership Coins

I have just received the Virginia affiliates order of special NFB Member Coins. We will be holding a special event in Virginia to honor our members and distribute the coins at our state convention. This decision, made at our May board meeting, might mean that you might not have a coin if challenged at national convention. We will have a few coins at the Virginia Caucus to pass around but we want to make receiving the coins meaningful.

Fundraising at the Virginia Table

Earl Everett is organizing our Virginia Table in the exhibit hall. The table is D2. We need your help working at the table and helping to sell our exciting products.

  • NFB Coin Holders – As I am certain you have heard, all NFB members will be receiving a new NFB Member Coin in 2019. This year, we will be selling special coin holders so you can attach your coin to a necklace or key chain and wear your coin proudly. The coin holders, made of stainless steel, are custom made and specifically sized for the NFB Member Coin.
  • Virginia Peanuts
  • Maxell Ear Buds using a 3.5-millimeter connector

However, to sell these products, we need people actively selling our products in the hallways and at the Virginia table. To sign up for a shift, please contact Earl Everett,,, (804) 252-8998.

Earl has asked people to provide your preferred times by June 24.

New Website

We are working hard to revamp with a new design a new content. The new site uses a new technology platform which will allow us to expand our web presence and leverage new tools. We hope to use the web site for new web forms and more exciting web content. Our goal is to have a fully built out web site as we start to market our state convention in August. We will be eager for your feedback and are grateful for the collaboration between Communication Committee Chair Sarah Patnaude, Joe Orozco and Cathy Schroeder. Please thank them for this good work and feel free to share your suggestions.

August 17 NFB Board of Directors Meeting in Arlington

As agreed at our May 2019 board meeting, our Summer Board of Directors meeting will be held during the afternoon of Saturday, August 17 in Arlington. While the meeting will include a focus on planning our state convention, we will be joined by a national leader. It is important for our members to connect with our national leadership so we want you to plan to attend. Concurrent to our board of directors meeting, there will be sessions next door for the students attending the Southeast Regional Student Seminar. If people wish to stay overnight, we will have a negotiated room rate with the hotel. More details to follow shortly.

We are quickly approaching the peak season of our work in the Federation. Please do not feel left out. Reach out and talk to your chapter leadership, or talk to me. You should always feel welcomed and needed. There is plenty of work for all.

I very much look forward to seeing some of you in Las Vegas. I look forward to seeing others in Northern Virginia in August. Please know I am very grateful for what you do. Thank you for working alongside us in building the Federation.

Sincerely yours,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“Let the word go out from this place and this moment that the torch has been passed to a new generation of blind Americans, a generation born in this century and fully belonging to it, a generation committed to the belief that all men (seeing or blind) are capable of independence and self-direction, of attaining equality and pursuing happiness in their own way, of serving each other and helping themselves of walking alone and marching together.”–President Kenneth Jernigan, 1968 Banquet: Milestones and Millstones

Year 2: Reflections on RISE
By Kathryn Webster

Our second year of Project RISE was a resounding success! During the 2018-2019 academic year, 32 students from across the Commonwealth joined us in confidence building, personal and professional development, mentorship, and constant engagement. We continued the program in Northern Virginia initiated last year, with monthly Saturday sessions where students led and participated in activities, including cooking, arts and crafts, independent travel, and sports. We also executed quarterly weekend sessions, where our Northern Virginia students were joined by students from Richmond, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and Williamsburg. Even more exciting, our Virginia RISE participants got a special opportunity to learn and grow alongside transition-aged students in Mississippi and Nebraska by way of our National Mentor Program.

From day 1 to the culmination, we witness our Project RISE students developing newfound skills and confidence in their comfort with blindness and career readiness. Moreover, we are thrilled to welcome several of our students into our local NFB chapters and the Virginia Association of Blind Students (VABS), and thus our greater movement. In fact, five of our Project RISE students were elected to the VABS board this year. Our members welcome the Project RISE students into our Federation family with open arms, and our state leaders admire their initiative, ambition, and fresh perspective as we work to build our affiliate.

This year’s success would not have been possible without the patience, dedication to youth, and hard work of our mentors: Joe Orozco, John Bailey, Evelyn Valdez, Marc Canamaso, Jeremy Grandstaff, Jimmy Morris, and Sarah Patnaude! We deeply appreciate all of our volunteers across the state, who offered their time, resources, energy, and assistance during our programming. Overall, the success is evident and we are enthused to dive into year 3 as we challenge misconceptions, break down barriers, and invigorate our youth to make the impossible…possible.

As we gear up for another year of Project RISE, we continue leaning on our members and leaders for shared resources and knowledge. If you are interested in mentoring, volunteering, or providing ideas or suggestions to our programs, please contact us at Mentor applications are open from June 15 to July 15, 2019, with student applications already being accepted. Let’s transform dreams into reality; and let’s start with our Virginia youth!

Project RISE: From Low Expectations to High Impacts
By Lizzy Schoen

Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Employment: that is what the RISE in Project RISE stands for. Going into the program, I had low expectations; everything I had done so far had not prepared me for what I got. The power of Project RISE is not in the curriculum, though it is extremely beneficial, it is in the people who you meet and the lives the mentors are willing to share with you and teach you to attain.

From a young age, a blind person is taught two universal truths that, though probably not said out loud, are said by actions:

  • Your blindness is something to be ashamed of and
  • We don’t have faith in your ability to succeed.

These messages were things I latched onto and I still find myself fighting them. With these messages in my head, I still worked hard. I did my school work and participated in extracurricular activities and when I was told an accommodation was unreasonable, it didn’t happen whether my grades suffered or not. I smiled, waved, never showed that I was suffering from the pressure of being perfect and normal and not blind anything but blind.

That lack of acceptance was growing and becoming more of an issue now that I wanted to be independent. I wanted to take the bus, but I couldn’t see the bus numbers, and from the times of 8am to 7pm I couldn’t travel outside alone. Then, right when my frustration was beginning to boil to the surface and my friends got their driver’s license: I got my cane.

Well… I got my cane in middle school, but I didn’t use it until Project RISE because when I got there I saw adults who went to school and lived alone and had office jobs. I learned that Braille might be, something to pursue and I met some of the most influential people in my life today.

The mentors helped me realize that what I was thinking wasn’t productive or healthy. They helped me realize just because I could see minimally doesn’t mean I could see well, or I should act like I can. It has been almost a year since I started using my cane and 6 months since I was elected Vice President of the Virginia Association of Blind Students. I am still learning, I am still growing and still realizing that not everything is my fault.

None of this would have happened without the help of my mentors and friends. People like Kathryn Webster, who has encouraged me and pushed me since day 1. She teaches me that whatever stage you are at you can still pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make it through, both successfully and resiliently. Evelyn Valdez encourages me to be myself and not let anyone push me around. Jeremy Grandstaff and his infectious personality and love of pep-talks that don’t only inflate your ego but help teach problem solving techniques. None of this would have happened without the support of the NFBV, and with the support of thousands of blind people I know that my future may not be certain, but it is bright.

First Annual Amy Barns Scholarship Recipient

The Winchester chapter is pleased to announce that we have awarded the Amy Barns scholarship in the amount of $600 for a student who is attending Mary Baldwin university in the Shanadoah valley area.

The scholarship committee interviewed the student and she is majoring in public health policy. She is going into her senior year and we wished her well in her future endeavors and to live the life she wants!

Congratulations to the student. She will be joining us at our state convention in November.

Calling All Blind Parents!
By Jessica Reed, Coordinator, NFBV Blind Parents Group

The next blind parents conference call will be held on June 30 at 8:30 PM. Details follow:

Dial: (218) 339-0926.

Pass Code: 2019#

Recently I came across a meme on Facebook that said “Being a parent is hearing a noise at 3:00 am and hoping it’s an intruder and not your kid waking up.” This quote couldn’t be more true! Parenthood can be exhausting, and mentally and physically draining. It taps into one’s reserve they never knew they had. At times parenting is staring uncertainty and fear in the face and plowing it over. It is no secret that the pressure on blind parents is magnified exponentially by both societies assumption that the blind cannot safely raise children and blind parents believing they can, but just not knowing how.

Nationally, as well as on the state level, the NFB is making significant strides in bridging the gap by both educating blind parents with practical alternative techniques related to blind parenting.
Beginning in February, “The Nation’s Blind” podcast has devoted its episodes to blind parents. Those of us with small children know that we just have no time to sit and do a google search or research “How does a blind person feed their child?” A podcast allows for multi-tasking. The most recent episode addresses the alternative techniques on just this issue. They are short 30 minute podcasts where blind parents can receive a number different strategies to help with the very specific alternative techniques blind parents use daily.

On a state level, I highly encourage readers to spread the word in their chapters about the Virginia blind parenting group, which holds monthly conference calls to discuss blind parenting issues specific to our state. This is a brand-new initiative to address and support the blind parents of Virginia. We are working towards holding “How to” events, brainstorming ideas for the legislative committee on finally getting past protection of blind parents in child custody cases, and connecting blind parents with other blind parents in their area. We invite parents, as well as any perspective parents and childcare providers and anyone interested in learning more to join both our Facebook group NFBV BlindParents2, as well as subscribe to our email list. With this fast paced and rapidly changing world the NFB is evolving to meet the need of blind parents and getting out the information that can help in easing the unknown of blind parenting. It is a travesty that in 2019 blind parents have the very real fear of having their children taken from them by child protective workers who simply are not aware of how we as blind parents perform the mundane daily childcare tasks. The resources above also aim to begin a productive conversation between blind parents and social workers, who both want nothing more than safe and loving homes.

Remember, the call is next Sunday, June 30. Dial in using the information above. Hope to talk to you then!

Volunteers Needed for Research Study

Women with Disabilities Needed as Volunteers for
“The Rural Safety and Resilience Study” (The RSRS)

You qualify to participate if:

  • You are at least 21 years old
  • You experienced abuse or violence at least one or more years ago while living outside a major metropolitan area. Abuse includes physical, sexual, or emotional threats to your personal safety
  • You had the disability before the experience of violence
  • Your disability makes a difference in how you see, hear, learn, understand, or move around

This study involves an interview to gather information about women with disabilities who have experienced violence and abuse, while living outside a major metropolitan community. The goal of this research is to learn more about how women with disabilities who have experienced violence learn about, select, and access help when they live outside a major urban area. This research will also highlight strategies women with disabilities use to keep going, or build resilience. Information from interviews will help create awareness of this problem, and will lead to important recommendations for organizations that provide services to other survivors with disabilities.

You will receive a small payment for your time and participation in this study.

Please call or text Kimberly Aguillard (Principal Investigator) at (713) 487-7640 or email her at to learn more. Please write RSRS in the subject line.

* Note: Kimberly will be available at the phone number above during the national convention if eligible participants are willing to be interviewed then.

This research study has the approval of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Institutional Review Board.

Are You Following Someone Else’s Dream?
By Joe Orozco

Too many young people wind up in jobs they hate because they followed someone else’s advice about how to use their talents. You would think that after a certain age we would be capable of making major choices independent of the influence of family, friends, or career guides, but too often we allow someone else’s well-intentioned promptings to steer us in directions we would never have chosen for ourselves.

As a child my father thought I would make a good concert pianist. I love the piano and will one day master it, because it is equal parts challenging and relaxing, but playing the piano is fun for me so long as it remains a hobby.

That’s the first lesson: Learn to separate your passion from your leisure. Your passion usually wants to satisfy others, whereas your leisure only has to satisfy you. I love to write, and one day I hope to publish books to inform and entertain you. Other people may enjoy writing but are content to preserve their thoughts in a journal. I also love music, but I would never want to join a band and tour the world.

Later in my young adult years my friends and teachers thought I would go into the legal profession. I went to a magnet high school for law enforcement and legal professions where I began doing well in mock trial tournaments. At my senior prom I was voted Most Likely to Become an Attorney, and in college I kept up the momentum by competing in speech and debate. I love the art of persuasion, but I confess to having felt intimidated by the sheer volume of lawyers competing for the few positions that could justify the enormous student debt, especially at the height of the recession in 2008.

The first advice I would offer from my own experience is that you should not let the economy rule your passion. Sometimes we can blame circumstances for taking the first offer that presents itself. A single parent, for example, would be less likely to quibble about job satisfaction when the survival of their family depends on their paycheck, but we should never stop setting goals. While today’s excuse for a mediocre job is putting a meal on the table, tomorrow’s excuse may simply be a fear of change. In my case, the legal competition may be fierce, but in a real competition you cannot deprive other people of the freedom to reject you.

The second piece of advice I would offer is that you need to take a holistic view of the career you think you want to enter. My love of debate does not mean I would love a career in law. There are human beings behind every argument, and I was never capable of reconciling my feelings on guilt or innocence after reading Seymour Wishman’s Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer. Anything short of criminal litigation seemed dull to me, but it took many years for me to realize that the reason I still wanted to be a lawyer was to please everyone else’s expectations of what I should be.

How many college graduates are you aware of who studied one field and are now working in another”? I know a lady who studied biology as an undergrad and is now a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I know a guy who studied music and is now working in the health industry. I myself studied public policy and spent several years working in nonprofit development. These inconsistencies speak to a larger question about how we invest our time and money, but for the purposes of the current discussion, did we stray away from our original college interests because those interests were uninformed or because they were never really our interests to start?

Sometimes you can shove your passion into a career path and make it work. For several years grant writing satisfied my drive for persuasion. After all, grant writing is nothing more than a fierce competition for winning money for a cause, but I have long since given up plans to be someone else’s vice-president of development. The point is, managing a store is not the same as owning it. Playing a video game will not get you closer to designing one. Anything less than the job you dream is just a wish.

Dr. Daniel Levitin, a neurologist, once wrote that it takes a combined 10,000 hours to master a task. If what he says is true, then it would take you 250 work weeks to master a task. Do you really want to spend almost five years practicing to become great at something you’re not emotionally invested in?

Learn to take command of your own future. Just because you enjoyed shooting hoops in high school does not mean you need to carry the game into professional sports. Just because a teacher complemented your drawing does not mean you have to be the next Picasso. You were born with a certain set of talents to help the world, but when you come home, you need something else to help recharge your spirit.

Are you pursuing your own passion? If you caught yourself just in time, where were you previously using your energy, and what made you make the switch? Whatever else you may take away from this post, remember life is too short and expensive to harvest someone else’s dream. It’s never too late to make a change.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: March-April 2019

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

We’re in the middle of enjoying the blessings of Spring. As the weather changes, I appreciate the longer days, the warm temperatures, and the excitement in the air. In the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, you can feel that excitement in the great work we accomplish together.

Membership Initiative and Membership Coins:

As you may be aware, 2019 is an exciting year for members of the National Federation of the Blind. We are working with our national office to implement an exciting change to our membership processes including: (A) Strengthen the information we have on our members; (B) Celebrate our Members; and (C) Educate Our Members.

A. Strengthen Our Knowledge About Our Members

If we want to maximize our movement’s effectiveness as the most important force advocating for blind people, we need to know our members. If we don’t have a detailed understanding about who is a member, we are less effective at leveraging our most valuable resource, our members. Our chapters and divisions have not been super diligent about maintaining and sharing membership information with the affiliate.
This year, at a national level, we are compiling an updated and integrated database of all members called Connections. Each chapter has been tasked to help compile the membership list using a specific import format. Sandy Halverson and Mark Roane have been working to take the membership lists each chapter provides and massage the data into the Connections database import format. We should be grateful that Mark and Sandy are willing to take on this challenging task. However, we need each chapter and division to provide an updated membership list along with addressing a set of questions from our membership Chairperson, Sandy Halverson. While a number of chapters and divisions have provided updated lists of their members, many have not. This is essential to our success and I am hopeful that the remaining chapters and divisions will work immediately to address this challenge.

The membership list should be for dues paying members. A membership list is not just a contact list, it is the list of individuals who have paid dues and are active by attending a meeting.

B. Celebrate Our Members

Each member of the National Federation of the Blind will receive a membership coin that serves as a symbol of our work together to improve the lives of blind people. The coin even has the word “together” in Braille.

We will be implementing a special ceremony to celebrate our members and share these membership coins. I am asking the participants in the Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute to develop some ideas for how to implement recognition events in our chapters and divisions. If you have specific suggestions, please reach out to me.

C. Educate Our Members

As I mentioned at our 2018 state convention, it is important to ensure that membership is meaningful. We need to implement processes to ensure we share our philosophy, our history and the expectations we have for members in our movement. There will not be a one size fits all answer for how we ensure that every member knows who we are and what we believe. If you have suggestions, I would like to hear your ideas.

I suspect that there will be a number of sessions at our national convention focused on helping chapters and affiliates to implement these changes. Please include these important sessions in your personal agenda for the national convention.

Visiting Chapters and Other Events:

On March 22, I was honored to address a meeting of blind entrepreneurs at a conference in Richmond. On March 23, I was excited to attend the Richmond Chapter’s Chili Cook Off. I hope to visit more chapters in the coming months. Feel free to let me know what you are doing and how I can help. I would be glad to assist in my capacity as president, but honestly, I really just enjoy being around you guys.

National Convention

Our National Convention is fast approaching. In the February newsletter, we provided details about our state and national programs for first time convention participants (deadline 4/15) and expectations for requesting financial assistance. The 2019 National Convention is going to be outstanding but we really need you there to make the convention the best ever. We will need help from our members in a number of ways including working the Virginia table in the exhibit hall, assisting with the Independence Market, and mentoring first time convention attendees
Thank you for all you do to help grow our movement.

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“The blind have a right to live in the world. That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own. Their salvation or failure lies within their own choice and responsibility. That choice cannot be precluded or prejudged; those lives cannot be predetermined or controlled.”–Dr. Jacobus tenBroek from a national convention banquet speech, Are We Equal To The Challenge?

A Note From the Editor

We’re about to make changes to the newsletter to make it easier to both produce and distribute. Hopefully for you, it means it will also be easier to read.

In August 2017 we relaunched The Vigilant. It’s been a great communication vehicle from the affiliate, a great way to stay on top of recent activities in between board meetings, but it’s also evolved into something of a miniature Braille Monitor. The harder we push for great content, the higher we push the standard for quality, which means the tougher it becomes to get an issue out the door on time. Put it a different way, what is supposed to be a newsletter has actually turned into a little magazine. We simply do not have the people power to keep up the momentum.

As part of a total overhaul of the affiliate website, we’re going to keep pushing for exceptional content. Moving forward, however, we’re going to split the content between a newsletter and a blog. The newsletter will primarily consist of presidential updates from Tracy, including any high level announcements that bear reiterating. The blog will carry the more human interest items some of you have grown to expect of the newsletter. By moving to this model, we will be able to get the newsletter out on time for a change, totally my fault by the way, while not missing out on the great writing our affiliate membership has to offer.

For the moment, the newsletter will remain as is. Whether in one form or the other though, we are always interested in your thoughts, questions, and of course, your contributions. Neither the newsletter or the blog will amount to a whole lot if we cannot count on you to help keep the ball rolling. Thank you so much for all you do. We’ve gotten compliments on our newsletter from people outside the affiliate, and we have you to thank for garnering that sort of attention. Let’s work together to see the newsletter successfully into its next stage of development.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Orozco, Editor

Fundraising Committee Needs You

As those of you that attended our January board meeting know, and to those of you that were not there, I have been entrusted with taking on the position of chairing the affiliate fundraising committee. So I am looking for a few good Federationists to be part of this dynamic committee. We have the task of coming up with the ideas that will help fund the vision and the goals of our affiliate going forward. First and foremost we have to make decisions on what items we will have on our Virginia table at the National Convention in Las Vegas this Summer. Virginia peanuts are a given. It would not be the Virginia Table without peanuts. But we need to discuss other possible items and have ideas to present at the upcoming May board meeting. If you are on the current fundraising committee please contact me at the contact information listed below. If you would like to join our ranks please contact me. I am waiting to hear from you.

Earl Everett
NFBV Fundraising Chairperson
Phone: 804-252-8998
Email: ever23851 at

My Experience of Being a Member of the National Federation of the Blind
By Chris Walker

Editor’s Note: The following article by one of our own appeared in the April edition of the Braille Monitor. The text follows.

From the Editor: Chris Walker is an active member in our Virginia affiliate. He comes to the Federation at a later date than some of our contributors, having gone blind in late 2009. A little research by talking with his fellow Virginians tells us he is the chapter president in Winchester, and in a very admiring voice one member said, “The thing I love about Chris is that he is such a nice guy.” I admire people who are so kind that they rate the title “nice,” and I can’t wait to meet him. Here is what he writes:

To help explain my motivation and commitment to the NFB, I would like to provide some of my personal background. During the last two months of 2009 I went from being a sighted person to being completely blind from Acute Retinal Necrosis (ARN). In December 2009, when I was discharged from the hospital after going blind at age forty-four, I was given a normal, supportive, walking cane and sent on my way into a sighted world with no information on what to do next. During the next six months I received blind services in Las Vegas, developed orientation and mobility skills, and began to learn the blindness skills needed to become an independent person.

My partner and I decided to move back to Northern Virginia to be closer to our families. Shortly after the move my partner passed away suddenly. I knew from that point that I needed to be independent and self-supporting. I also knew that once I got my life back together, I wanted to be able to be there for the next person who lost his/her vision.

I began the next phase of gaining my independence by moving from my family’s home in Warrenton to the city of Winchester, Virginia, where I rented a room from a recent acquaintance. Once settled, I began looking for an organization that would be able to guide me through this new life. I tried to find local organizations around Winchester that could help assist me on this journey. One day as I walked around town with my friends, we met a blind couple who suggested I visit the National Federation of the Blind website. I went home and joined the NFB that night. As I learned more about the NFB, I found the Virginia affiliate’s at-large group and attended several of that group’s monthly conference calls. I later discovered there was a local Winchester chapter of the NFB, and I have been an active member of the chapter since joining in 2015. While attending my second chapter meeting, I expressed a desire to set up an information booth at a local community’s Fourth of July celebration. I was immediately nominated and elected as the outreach chair for the Winchester Chapter of the NFB. After joining the local chapter I realized that being a member of the NFB was what you made it. The more I put into the organization the more I got back.

In the summer of 2015, I listened to the NFB national convention through the internet and social media simulcasts. That fall I attended my first state affiliate convention and was asked to join the Virginia affiliate’s Leadership Fellows Program, which gave me the opportunity to begin learning about the different operational areas of the national organization and the state affiliate. The next year I attended my first NFB national convention and was inspired by the thousands of attendees not letting blindness be their defining characteristic.

As an active member of the NFB, I have been provided with many opportunities to become involved at the local and state levels of the organization. The NFB has helped me to grow personally and professionally. I have been involved with all sorts of fun recreational events from climbing a thirty-foot rock climbing wall to judging a chili cook-off event. I have also attended fun learning events like “Connecting the Dots, the Federation Philosophy.” The NFB has also provided me with opportunities to become a more confident public speaker by inviting me to be a guest speaker at other Virginia chapter meetings and by encouraging me to speak to the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, and other local service organizations.

I have learned the importance of advocating for the rights of the blind by contacting the local voter registrar about issues that the members of the Winchester chapter were experiencing while trying to vote. Through my efforts the training for the local poll workers changed from “telling a visually impaired person to have someone help them vote” to the poll workers being trained on how to use the ADA-compliant voting devices and how to instruct people on the procedures for voting with the device. I was also invited to the poll worker training sessions to describe my experiences and to discuss proper etiquette when working with the blind/visually impaired.

I am not saying that being a member of the NFB has always been a walk in the park-it’s just like life: there are ups, and there are downs. But I have found, when I focus on my natural gifts-which have a special place in my heart-there are many more ups than downs. My natural gift is volunteering to provide outreach to the blind/visually impaired who have not found the support of the National Federation of the Blind.

I have been very involved with social media, and I am a member of many blind/visually impaired discussion groups and chat rooms. Through my social media presence I have stayed on top of what’s going on at the national, state, and local levels across the United States. By being part of the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind, we can encourage and challenge each other to serve in many different capacities, to give back to others, and to serve in our local community. We can all help to console, empathize, support, and educate people about our experiences with being blind and how the NFB has helped us to embody the axiom, “You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. 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.”

Amy Barnes Scholarship Opportunity

Dear federation family,

The Winchester chapter is pleased to provide the Amy barn scholarship in the amount of $600 for any legally blind student that will be attending a college in the Shenandoah Valley area.

If anybody is interested, please contact me at 540-303-0080 or by email at

Christopher Walker

President Winchester Chapter

Protected Class? Not So Fast: The Exploitation of Workers with Disabilities
By Sarah Patnaude

Editor’s Note: Sarah Patnaude is our affiliate’s corresponding secretary. Among other tasks, Sarah oversees our social media channels, our website, newsletter production, and promotion campaigns surrounding events like the state convention. She is a member of the Potomac Chapter and represents the chapter in the Chapter Leadership Institute. This May Sarah will graduate from George Mason with a Masters in Social Work, and before leaving the halls of Academia, she wrote an article for the university newspaper that appears below with permission.

Everyone has that one thing that fires them up. For me, it’s knowing that I am not protected under the law as I enter the workforce. The government continues to systematically discriminate against me and my peers with disabilities. While preparing to graduate with my Masters of Social Work, I have continuously engaged in conversations regarding the barriers within employment and the impact of income. However, the discussion around employment and income is typically limited to racial and ethnic identities, gender, and sometimes mental health. Disability is left out of the conversation.

Many have heard of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. This piece of legislation outlines the rights and protections of workers. The federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25/hour , is one of the protections workers are entitled to under FLSA. Did you know that this protection is not guaranteed if you have a disability? That’s right: employers can legally pay their workers with disabilities below the minimum wage. Through a provision in the law, Sec 14(c), employers can obtain special wage certificates from the Department of Labor, allowing them to pay their workers a fraction of the wage their coworkers without disabilities are paid – sometimes just pennies per hour. Wages are based on timed-tests given to employees. However, these tests are set up for employees to fail. For example, Harold Leigland, blind, sorts and hang clothes by color at Goodwill Industries. His job doesn’t set him up for success. Making matters worse, Harold’s productivity was tested by his ability to sort toys by similarity – a task which was also inaccessible – resulting in his wage dropping to $2.75.

Rooted in the beliefs and culture of 1938, the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wages stems from misconceptions and stereotypes. Often society equates disability with low productivity and low competence. However, that cannot be further from the truth. Workers with disabilities can work alongside their nondisabled coworkers in competitive integrated work environments. Subminimum wages is not a comparable compensation for the work people with disabilities produce. Instead, it is an expression of the low expectations the government and employers have for people with disabilities and a modern day form of exploitation.

Putting on the social work hat, this policy is not only discriminatory, it is oppressive. How can someone live on a wage that is just pennies or dollars an hour or a wage that changes every few months? The simple answer: someone can’t. Food, housing, transportation, healthcare and all the other services and products we need to meet our needs cost money. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the current living wage in Virginia is approximately $14 for one adult. If $7.25 is not enough to live on, then why are we expecting those with disabilities to live off of even less? Through this practice, we are not only telling people with disabilities that they are inferior, we are keeping them in a cycle of dependency that is difficult to get out of. The fraction of a wage – if we can even call it that – people with disabilities earn due to this practice creates and fosters barriers in surviving and thriving.

Disability is an income issue. The current policies in place continues the cycle of oppression for people with disabilities, preventing us from living the lives we have the capacity to live and further perpetrating damaging stereotypes of disabilities. Let’s not forget about people with disabilities as we continue to discuss the issues surrounding income and employment and fight for equal and fair wages for all. All means all.

Social Media Protest for Authentic Representation

There is no doubt the influence the entertainment industry has on society and the beliefs and attitudes viewers have about various topics, including disability. On March 12th, 2019, the National Federation of the Blind published a press release regarding the history of exclusion in the entertainment industry. Blind characters have been written into numerous movies and TV shows throughout the years. Often, the portrayals of blindness on screen are inaccurate and further perpetrate stereotypes and misconceptions. Furthermore, “not even one of them has featured a blind actor in a recurring lead role.” The National Federation of the Blind will not let Hollywood spread inaccurate messages about blindness anymore. It’s time we have authentic representation in the entertainment industry.

Read the full statement here.

In response to the upcoming show “In The Dark,” the National Federation of the Blind held a social media protest on March 27. Members from all over the country participated on twitter, @NFB-voice, using the hashtag #LetUsPlayUs. An engaging conversation took place on the topic, including diving into the history, sharing personal stories, and explaining the importance of authentic representation.

On April 2 members of the NFB descended on New York City to give voice to their objections of the show. You can read the press release here.

Stay tuned. By the sounds of it, the national office will continue to bring attention to the issue in the months to come.

Authenticity Matters
By Sarah Patnaude

Editor’s Note: And here’s the perfect accompanying piece to the item just prior.

The sun was shining; the breeze was blowing. I could hear the crashing of waves in the distance. It was a normal week spent at my childhood vacation spot: Nags Head, North Carolina. Except it wasn’t. Unlike most thirteen year olds, I couldn’t be found bogey boarding or swimming. I wasn’t playing basketball or even relaxing inside. Instead, I made the porch my fortress for the week. You see, the back porch was my practice stage.

In just a few weeks, I would star in a local children’s production. I had a book of lines to memorize. Ok…you caught me. That’s an exaggeration. As the 2nd main character, I had a total of one line and that was at the very end. How much practice can one line need? Despite only one line, my character was at the center of the story. I was in most scenes in some fashion, moving around and causing havoc. My scenes were calculated but yet spontaneous. My character was blind. Not just blind, but Deafblind. I had landed the role of playing Helen Keller in the production of The Miracle Worker.

As a blind pre-teen, I thought I had this character nailed. I was blind and had a hearing impairment. My first language happened to be Sign Language. For me, these were assets I brought to the table. I could harness my lived experiences to further the authenticity of my acting. The director had other thoughts. My blindness was not an asset. Instead, my blindness was viewed as the very reason to not cast me. I remember her asking me how I, as a blind person, could possibly play a blind character accurately. In other words, would I, as a blind person, be able to further perpetuate the misconceptions and negative attitudes about blindness she was hoping to promote in her rendition of the account of a teacher and her student?
I remember telling her “If you can find someone else with thirteen years of experience playing a blind child by all means cast them. But I don’t think you will.” This was the first time I identified myself as blind. My whole life, I was told I wasn’t blind enough by professionals whenever I fought for services. But this was the opposite. I was too blind to play blind.

Unfortunately, this experience isn’t uncommon in the entertainment industry. I was lucky that my sassy thirteen year old attitude was enough to change the director’s mind, and I have the opportunity to say I had a paid acting gig – receiving a quarter as my cast gift still counts as being paid in my mind. However, blind actors are continuously not casted in roles where characters are blind. These roles still are largely played by sighted performers and are still largely based on the misconceptions and negative attitudes society has towards blindness. In any other role, authenticity is important. Research is conducted. The writers and performers consult others to keep the integrity of the experiences of the character and those who can identify with the character. It’s 2019 and we are still fighting to have a seat in the entertainment business, one of the largest industries in the U.S. It’s time we start having a say in how we are portrayed. It’s time for blind characters to be casted by blind performers. We bring our lived experiences to the table. We bring the truth about blindness to the table. Authenticity matters.

Word of Mouth
By Mary Fernandez

Editor’s Note: Some of you may have met Mary Fernandez from one of her visits to Virginia. Though she calls New Jersey home, she is a friend of the Virginia affiliate and was a part of the team who prepared the original proposal for what would become Project RISE. Though this article, borrowed from the Student Slate archives, was published a long while ago, the core message remains relevant today and will hopefully serve as a source of encouragement for anyone currently looking for a job.

From the Editor: Mary Fernandez recently graduated from Emory, and found a job in these tough economic times. Here is her story of how she got that job, and her suggestions for how we can all do the same.

I jumped out of the cab in front of Union Station, and made my way rather quickly to the ticket counter. I had already missed the train I had been planning to catch, and was hoping to make the next train. I bought my Amtrak ticket, and made my way to the gate. It looked like I would make it on time for my first ever job interview. Once onboard, I sat down with every intention of relaxing. But after five seconds exactly, my thigh started twitching. Taking a deep breath I told myself that while this was a big deal, it would be ok, right? Then my foot started tapping. Ok, I’ll call my mom! Well, that only took ten minutes. Fine, I’ll listen to some relaxing music. I will ignore the five year old that lives in my head, and that at times, like now, annoyingly asks questions like, are we there yet? I thought that if I was going to be thinking I might as well think about things that might help me during the interview. The only problem was that aside from the research I had done during the last two weeks, I wasn’t even quite sure that I was even qualified to be a paralegal. Which brought my mind back around to my resume… Did I include everything I had done? Did I ever fix that one spelling error? Ok, so this isn’t working, and I still had fifteen minutes to go on the train. So I gave up and just let my thigh twitch but restrained from picking at my nails, hopefully there was no one staring at me and my peculiar behavior. Or if someone was looking at me, hopefully they had nothing to do with the decision of hiring me.

At long last, after what seemed like three hours instead of half an hour, the train arrived At Baltimore Penn Station. I walked as quickly and in as dignified a manner as my four inch heels would allow me. I got in yet another cab and asked the driver to take me to the offices of Brown Goldstein and Levy. As I sat in the cab, I wondered yet again how exactly I had managed to land an interview, for a dream job, which I hadn’t even considered during my job search. The ride was mercifully short, and I still made it the requisite fifteen minutes early that just look good. Ok, I had made it! IN time! I sat in the gorgeous lobby, and utilized every tool I had ever learned to control stage fright. After a while my twitching subsided though my heart-rate would still speed up if I thought too hard about the importance of the next hour.

The interview started exactly on time, and as it turned out, it wasn’t an hour, but closer to two hours. I was quickly briefed by the firm administrator and told that I would be speaking to a total of five people. The good news was that after the second person, I just couldn’t keep up my high agitation level. And with everyone that I spoke to, I realized more and more what a wonderful opportunity it would be to land the job. By the end of the interview, I was exhausted, and my heart-rate had picked up again. This time however, it was just pure unadulterated excitement; sadly, that lasted until I realized that now I had to wait to find out the end result. That night I came back to DC and was set to wait for at least two days to know whether or not I got the job and to reflect some more on how it had all happened.

It all started in October of my senior year. After having a rather dramatic epiphany during which I realized that psychology was not what I wanted to do for the next seven years let alone the rest of my life, I found myself at a complete loss. Here I was, months away from graduation, and the plan that I had so carefully sculpted during the last four years had crumbled right in front of my eyes. After many antics on my behalf, and after I had tired myself out with my panic of no longer having a ten year plan, I finally calmed down and started listening to what people had to say. I also started listening to myself, and much of what was coming out of my mouth, things like “Oh my gosh, I’m a failure”, and “there’s nothing else I can possibly do with my life” stopped making as much sense as they once did. I figured out that what I really wanted to do was try working for a year or two, and then, I would go to law school, something I had wanted to do since the age of seven. Ok, so great, now I had decided to not go to school and try to find a job in one of the hardest economic times our country has faced. And so it all started. I officially began my job search in November of 2011 and did not get an interview until June of 2012. Like all my fellow graduating students, I became an expert on job searches. I started by crafting a good resume, which I would doubt on my way to my first job interview. Be that as it may, I tried to make my resume not only succinct but also demonstrative of all my hard work and achievements during my four years in college. Even though the end result was a resume that had a strong foundation and only needed a few tweaks depending on the specific position, a double major at a liberal arts college, learning a third language, interning every summer, doing significant academic research and having my name in a publication, and serving the community did not cut it for about fifty jobs. Once I had a resume that was approved by friends and the career center at Emory, it all began in earnest. My major focus when looking for a job was to try the federal sector first, since the benefits are great, and supposedly the government is always hiring. I have since learned that the government isn’t always hiring, especially since we are getting out of an economic recession. Despite that, I did learn about some incredible resources that every student with a disability who is graduating should explore. The first program I heard of is called WRP, or the Workforce Recruitment Program. This is a program targeting college students and recent graduates with a disability. There is an application process, and a recruiter will come to college campuses that have requested them to interview candidates; the end result is a database in which resumes and applications are posted along with the interviewer’s thoughts of the applicants. This database is accessed by government agencies and private contractors interested in hiring individuals with disabilities.

Aside from WRP, I also became a frequent attendee of career fairs. Every career fair on campus was fair game, it got to the point where if I knew I had a career fair to go to between classes, I had this whole routine for changing into my business clothes, going, doing my thing, and changing back into regular clothes before running across campus to go to class. But out of all the career fairs I attended the most adventurous was a career expo for people with disabilities in DC. The event was taking place on the last Friday of spring break. And so, I decided to stay on campus through most of the Spring break, as I had a recital to prepare for, and just fly out into DC on Thursday and go on Friday. I would use AirTran U, which allows college students under the age of 23 to fly for a significantly reduced rate. So Thursday came along, and after packing my extremely fashionable and professional business outfit, I ran to get my nails done. Since the lady did such a fine job, I was now running a lot later than I intended, so I took a $40 cab to the Atlanta Airport. I didn’t mind this so much since all this money was an investment for my future. I got to the Atlanta airport only to be informed that AirTran U had been suspended since Southwest took over. I was told that if I wanted to get to DC for the weekend I would have to pay about $800. Now, there are investments, and there are investments; I did not have the capacity to make an $800 investment for my future. I was crushed… And I was determined… I refused to believe that after all my preparation I would have to go back to Emory. As I was starving from running around all day, I went to Wendy’s and started to eat and work the phone. After a few phone calls I discovered that a really good friend of mine has a wonderful father that works for Delta. This amazing man called me, and set everything up so that I could fly into DC and back to Atlanta for the best price I’ve ever gotten on a round trip. Although this career expo was extremely informative and opened my eyes to many realities about looking for a job, the most valuable lesson I began to learn that weekend was on personal connections and building relationships. I had been friends with this girl through our career at Emory, and I’m sure at some point she mentioned her parents occupations, but, if I hadn’t built enough of a connection with her, her father would have never known about me and my plight.

Eventually, getting a job did not come about from spending entire weekends on, or applying to every job announcement I could possibly, maybe be qualified for. It came down to personal connections. Soon after I graduated, I fell into this rather pitiful funk. I had a college degree and was back to living with my mother. I adore my mother and I would not be anywhere close to where I am without her, but I had pictured myself in a position where I might be able to help her out after I graduated. After seeing me mope around for long enough, she finally asked me what my job search consisted of. I explained all of the Internet resources I was exploiting etc. She said that she was sure that would eventually get me results, but if I wanted a job in the next two months I should probably consider picking up the phone and connecting with people. After a minute of thinking this over, I decided that she, as always, was right. And that is what I did. I called everyone who I knew who has a job. Not only that, I focused on people who knew me, who knew my capabilities, who had worked with me in the past, and who are well-connected. I made it easier for them by forwarding them my resume. But most importantly, I have always expressed my gratitude to anyone who cared enough to take time out of their busy days to send out my resume to people they knew.

Something truly amazing happened once I took this approach. People who were looking for employees started calling me about potential employment opportunities. A week and a half later I got an e-mail from Brown Goldstein & Levy, where my resume had miraculously landed. I swear the only time I have screamed so loud was when I got an invitation from the White House asking me to spend an evening with my idol Michelle Obama and President Obama. They actually wanted to interview me! Now, when you have been rejected over and over by people who don’t have a clue about you, you start hoping to just have one minute face to face with them so you can show them that you are awesome. That is why when I got a request for an interview I not only jumped for joy but I also screamed it out.

I often speculate with my close friends that technology has not only changed the way we do things, but the way we interact with people. I pride myself in the fact that while I love texting, and will log on to Facebook at least once a week, I still talk on the phone for the majority of my communications. I like e-mailing too, because when you sit down and take more than five seconds to write something that is more than 160 characters long, you are more likely to make a close connection with the person on the other side. But, even I had forgotten about the importance of net working in the true sense. I think a lot of us think of networking as meeting people for a minute or so, exchanging e-mail addresses and maybe emailing them or texting them when you need something and remember them long enough to think they might be able to help. But networking is more than being Facebook friends, or being connected on Linked-in. It is about building relationships with people, letting those relationships grow, and then, when you are searching for employment you can call them up. They will not only know who you are, but be proud that you have graduated, that you are in the search for a job and want to become a responsible citizen. I was very fortunate that my mother gave me that little kick I needed to get going, but, although the economy is slowly but surely getting better, I think now more than ever it is important to connect with people. As young blind professionals, or students, we struggle with not only getting an interview, but with all the misconceptions that will inevitably arise when you walk into an employer’s office. I was extremely fortunate that Brown Goldstein & Levy is a law firm that not only knows people with disabilities, but has time and time again stood with us to fight for our rights.

I found my ideal job. It took many, many months of work, and an incredible amount of perseverance. It took support from my friends, and one particular friend who, when I would start getting a bit hysterical after my 20th, and 40th, and 60th rejection letter, would assure me that I was really a rock star and that there was a job waiting for me. That same friend was proved right when the email with the job offer got to me through his WIFI network, only one day after my interview. It took a reality check from my mother who reminded me that while it might seem like technology runs the world, there are people behind those technologies who are looking for employees. It took a measure of luck. But in the end all it really took was a phone call.

3 Steps to Launch a Website
By Joe Orozco

For those of you interested in entrepreneurship, we try to run articles from time to time to help you in that venture. Without a doubt, setting up a website is essential to your operation. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.

Launchhing your own website does not have to be as complicated as people make it out to be. In fact, you can knock it out in a few simple steps:

Pick a Domain Name

Your domain is the address people will visit to reach your site, or, etc. The domain should give a sense of what you do and be short enough to remember, and yes, this is most definitely a case of do as I say and not as I do. At nineteen characters, I sometimes wonder if AlphaComm Strategies was the brightest name for my own freelance business.


  • You can used parked domains to point to your main site. Parked domains are alternative URLs that can point to a specific address. If you want,, and to all point to, well, that is your prerogative.
  • Domain registrations can range from $6 to $15 a year.
  • Privacy registration at an average cost of $10 a year hides your mailing address from Whois records.
  • Whois records give contact information about the website owner and date the domain registration expires.
  • The .com extension is still the most popular despite the avalanche of new choices.

Pick a Web Host

It is possible to host your website on your own server. Here’s a great article detailing the process, but for the rest of us, paying someone else to maintain the stability of your online business is well worth the cost.


  • Your web host should count on more than one data center for redundant backup of your data.
  • A good web host will give you at least one free domain registration.
  • Features such as one-click installers are great, but the up-time guarantee is more important.
  • One-click installers are things like shopping carts and content managers.
  • My personal preference for the backend management of a website is CPanel.
  • The worse backend management system I’ve had the distaste of using is that from GoDaddy.

Pick a Content Management System

Once upon a time web developers used a basic text editor like NotePad to manually design their web pages. I suppose you still could, but it’s more efficient to use a CMS to organize and publish your information. A good CMS provides a web interface that guides you in plain English through the process of creating static pages, blogs and accomplish more advanced tasks like setting up an online store.

The two systems I’ve used and can personally recommend are Drupal and WordPress. Both are free, and both are a little bit of a pain to set up the first time. I prefer Drupal for no other reason than it was the system I tried first, but there are hundreds of great websites using one or the other. Here’s a good comparison article to help you decide which CMS is right for you.

If you have any questions, send me an email. Your website is too important not to be a part of your business operation, and with so many opportunities out there to set one up, there’s no reason why you should not have your own space on the web.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: January-February 2019

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

We knew 2019 would be a busy year. I don’t know that we could have anticipated just how hectic it would be, but thanks to your help, we continue pushing forward in a way that never fails to make me proud of our membership.

Legislative Activity

Advocacy has been our focus at the start of a busy 2019. This is the core of the National Federation of the Blind, and we have stepped up as an affiliate.

We recognize that these collective efforts take time, money and the talents of a diverse team from throughout Virginia and across the nation. Certainly, names in recognition will be missed, and please know that we are grateful for what we achieve together.

We want to offer special thanks to Mark Roane, Derek Manners, John Halverson, Charlie Brown, Angie Matney, and Earl Everett for their efforts in Richmond and on many calls to address our priorities in Richmond. Please thank them along with all of the team leaders who organized the over 50 members attending Richmond Seminar. Our legislative work is a fluid process, and more specific progress updates can be found via our announcement list.

On a different front, I am truly proud of the Virginia Affiliate’s engagement in the 2019 Washington Seminar. We had great participation including appointments with the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation. Deepa Goraya scheduled appointments, configured our teams across January 29 and 30, and ensured we were prepared for our visits. We had a very strong set of nearly 30 Virginians attending visits. The participation from the Virginia Association of Blind students was especially strong and Virginia students were also very involved in Monday night’s National Association of Blind Students Fiesta. Many of us improved our Salsa dancing with the help of dance pro instructor John Bailey. I am also exuberant that Sandy and John Halverson continued their record of ensuring that our nerve center for Washington Seminar, Suite 275, was a success.

Accessible Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art

On January 21, members of the Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute and staff members from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) attended the opening of a new accessible art exhibit. The exhibit included an interactive art display from 3D Photo Works featuring tactile and auditory components you can explore on your own. We are grateful to John Olson from 3D Photo Works and to the VMFA for the opportunity to participate in the grand opening and for the efforts to make art more accessible. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is open 365 days a year and is free. Please go check out this exhibit in the all new Education Wing. We are also grateful to Kathryn Webster for making the connections for this to be possible.

Virginia Chapter leadership Institute

On Sunday, January 20 and Monday, January 21 we held an extremely interactive leadership development session with participants in the Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute across nine of our chapters. Our Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute co-chairs, Domonique Lawless and joe Orozco, led the programming and ensured we all benefited from this creative and engaging program. As part of their next objective, participants have been asked to identify, engage, and recruit a community partner to help local chapters strenghthen their influence in their local area.

2019 Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind (AER) Conference

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia was an exhibitor at the AER conference in Charlottesville. We used the opportunity to share details on Project RISE, this year’s residential Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy, our national scholarship, and other NFB programs and services. We always appreciate the opportunity to be a part of conferences where we can get the word out about our valuable programs and services to Virginia blind residents.

Braille Readers Are Leaders

We are very pleased to announce the winners from Virginia for the 2018-2019 Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Altogether 74 students from 26 states took part in the contest with the largest number of students coming from Virginia. From Virginia, 26 students participated in the program which is absolutely remarkable. The Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind was specifically recognized and we thank Kittie Cooper for her efforts to promote the program.

Here is a list of the 2018-2019 Nationwide Braille Leaders Are Leaders winners from Virginia:

Grades 4-5

First Place: Noa Hottin, Alexandria, VA, 2503 pages

Grades 9-12

First Place: Samuel Thurston, Chesapeake, VA, 1657 pages

The Kelly Doty Awards are presented in memory of Kelly Doty, a longtime member of the NFB of Illinois who was a dedicated promoter of Braille literacy. These awards are given to students who have coped with extra challenges in order to become proficient Braille readers. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, having disabilities in addition to blindness or being an English language learner.

Here is the list of the students who received this year’s Kelly Doty Awards from Virginia.

Noa Hottin, grade 4, Alexandria, VA
Samuel Thurston, grade 9, Chesapeake, VA

Congratulations to all of these winners, and to the families and teachers who encourage and support them in their reading. Braille readers are leaders!

2019 National convention

The 2019 NFB National Convention is an experience you do not want to miss.
Many of those who have attended our national NFB conventions are amazed at how meeting and interacting with over 3000 other blind and low vision convention attendees has positively changed their lives. They not only learn how the problems of vision loss can be overcome, but also experience the confidence that comes with solutions.

If you have never attended a convention, we offer two programs to assist you in attending the convention and getting the most from the experience.

A) McDonald Fellowship organized by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia; and
B) Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship run by the National Federation of the Blind

First time convention attendees are strongly encouraged to apply for both.
Below the description of these two separate programs, you will find details on the process for requesting assistance if this is not your first convention.

McDonald Fellowship from the NFB of Virginia

Robert and Marian McDonald selflessly contributed to our Virginia affiliate to further the progress and better the lives of those who are blind, visually impaired, and low vision in Virginia. In their honor, we recognize the personal benefits that come to people who attend a national convention for the first time. In their memory, the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) continues their legacy of education and empowerment to Virginia’s blind citizens.

We anticipate awarding fellowships to assist each recipient with costs of attending our 2019 NFB National Convention to be held in Las Vegas, NV, from July 7- July 12. Please note: The banquet ends late in the evening of Friday, July 12 and fellowship winners are expected to attend the banquet so return travel must occur on Saturday, July 13 or later. This event will take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The McDonald Fellowship program was established in 1998 to assist those who have never attended a convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) or those who have not attended in many years and wish to come to a convention this year.

Federationists are welcome and encouraged to apply for both the Virginia specific McDonald Fellowship and a National Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.

We will link each of our Fellowship winners with mentors who will assist them in getting the most out of their national convention experience.
McDonald Fellowship winners are expected to attend the entire NFB convention and share their experiences by addressing our 2019 NFB of Virginia state convention.

Deadline for applications for the McDonald Fellowship is Monday, April 15, 2019. Winners will be announced May 15, 2019.

Your application should be in the form of a letter delivered via electronic mail. There is no specific form for the application. Applicants should write a brief letter outlining reasons why they should be considered for a Fellowship and the letter must include:

A) Name, Address, phone and email contact information
B) Chapter or other connection with the affiliate
C) How you will benefit from the experience
D) How you have participated with your chapter or the affiliate in the past year
E) Any other pertinent details

In addition, you are required to contact your Chapter President or an affiliate Board Member for a letter of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are due by Monday, April 15, 2019.

Applications or questions about the Fellowship program should be sent to:

Mary Durbin, Chairman
McDonald Fellowship Committee
Phone: 757-472-2495

Our committee wants to help you make 2019 the year you attend our national convention. The convention will be even better because you were there.

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship

Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2019 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

  • You write a letter giving your contact information and your local NFB information, the specific amount you are requesting, and then explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. The points to cover are listed below.
  • You contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the president when to expect your request letter by email, and mention the deadline.
  • You (or a friend) send your letter by email to your state president. He or she must add a president’s recommendation and then email both letters directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee. Your president must forward the two letters no later than April 15, 2019.

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

  • Your full name and all your telephone numbers-label them-cell phone, home, office, other person (if any);
  • Your mailing address and, if you have one, your email address;
  • Your state affiliate and state president; your chapter and chapter president, if you attend a chapter;
  • Your personal convention mentor, and provide that person’s phone numbers;
  • Your specific request, and explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.

The body of your letter should answer these questions:

How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

  • Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates to reduce the cost.)
  • Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.
  • Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and advisor.
  • If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a grant this year.

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at 410-659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Las Vegas.

Financial Assistance to attend the 2019 National Convention

Our National convention is a highlight for the year and the 2019 convention will be especially remarkable. The convention will begin Monday, July 7 and end late after the banquet on Sunday evening, July 12. Most people will be departing on Saturday, July 13.

We want everyone to plan this into your calendar and your budget so you can be there to join us.

If you are a first-time attendee, we strongly encourage people to apply to both the McDonald Fellowship and Kenneth Jernigan convention Scholarship programs which target first time convention attendees.

Every year, the affiliate president will receive a few requests for convention assistance from affiliate members. I am putting some ground rules in place to help clarify expectations.
If you are planning to request assistance, please send your request to me in email. Your request should factor in the following:

A) What are my total expected costs: What should I expect to pay for convention factoring in expected costs for travel, lodging, meals, and a banquet ticket and convention registration? I have no idea how much it costs to get from your home to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. You need to do the research. In addition, the banquet is a highlight of the convention and you don’t want to miss it. Many people choose to share rooms and you will start seeing roommate requests posted to our announce list starting soon.

B) What can I afford myself? No one will be going to convention for free. The Jernigan Scholarships and McDonald Fellowships do not provide all the funding for convention for first timers. Individuals requesting financial assistance should expect to make a significant contribution to your convention expenses. You should be factoring in this expense into your budget.

C) What is my chapter contributing? Your chapter is a resource for financial assistance. Do not come to the Virginia Affiliate requesting financial assistance if you have not asked your local chapter. I will be following up with chapter presidents to understand how you are contributing at the chapter level to programming and fundraising.

D) How much are you requesting from the affiliate? After considering other sources, how much are you requesting from the Virginia affiliate. Please note that we do not provide funding in advance. Mark Roane will provide funding at convention but you need to work locally to get your travel and room expenses addressed. You should definitely expect to attend the Virginia Caucus, probably Tuesday evening, July 8 at 10:00 PM to receive the financial assistance. It is not Mark’s job to hunt you down at convention and it is not Mark’s job to provide you funds as you walk into the hotel. However, Mark will gladly sell you some Virginia Peanuts.

Speaking of selling, fundraising is the means through which we have the resources to provide financial assistance. When I talk to your chapter president, I am checking to determine if you are engaged in the chapter and affiliate fundraising. We will certainly be selling items at the Virginia table at convention and you will be expected to help with that activity if you receive financial assistance. You should also plan to participate in working the Independence Market and other responsibilities as we all work together to make the convention a success. You should be hustling throughout convention and afterward back in Virginia to sell our products to fund our movement.

We are asking that requests are submitted no later than June 1, 2019. You should be planning in advance, booking your hotel room and taking advantage of the early registration pricing.

We want everyone to join us in Las Vegas and we hope this guidance clarifies the process. However, if you have questions, I am glad to address them.

As you can see, there is lots already in the works and much to look forward. There is a place for you in all our activity, and if you have not already gotten involved, please talk to us. We need you to help us go out and build the Federation!

Yours sincerely,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“There is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. …” Thus spoke St. Paul two millennia ago. And so it must be with us today in this broad land. There is neither Jew, nor Greek, nor African, nor blind man, nor former convict-but only the free man and citizen in the society of equals to which we aspire.”–Jacobus tenBroek, Three Out-Castes of American Society from the February 2019 Braille Monitor

Ringing in the New Year with RISE
By Kathryn Webster, Project RISE Program Coordinator

Each month, our program continues to expand; and each week, our students feel the overwhelming love and positive impact of the National Federation of the Blind. Over the weekend of January 26-27, our Project RISE students and mentors participated in a leadership and self-advocacy seminar coordinated by our national career mentoring program.

Several of our Virginia students from across the state joined with students from Mississippi’s mentoring program for interactive sessions and activities focused on public speaking and leadership development. Students practiced their elevator pitches, team-building, and problem-solving scenarios, considering how they would advocate for themselves in challenging situations. Further, our students shared a banquet dinner with over 35 leaders from the National Association of Blind Students, who were having their leadership seminar in the same hotel.

One student said, “I had a blast this weekend and I am so inspired by everyone.”

It is these moments that prove that the work of our coordinators and mentors pay off, as we influence the lives of Virginia blind youth.

Our state-wide participants are eager to join us in May at our national headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland; and our Northern Virginia students are anticipating our fitness and wellness session on March 2!

For the first time, we were excited to welcome several of our Project RISE students at our Richmond seminar and in our teams on Capitol Hill during Washington Seminar. We are extremely impressed by our Project RISE students and how these growing leaders are showing interest in Virginia student and affiliate activities! It is admirable to see our high school students contributing back to our student division in both leadership and experiential opportunities.

For the next couple of months, we are diligently working to coordinate summer jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities or blindness training programs for many of our students. If your workplace might have an opening for a student intern, or a job-shadow opportunity, please contact the Project RISE coordinators at . More importantly, if you yourself is willing to participate in an informational interview facilitated by one of our students, please let us know as our members are the most valuable to our youth.

We’d like to take a precious moment to thank our continuing mentors: John Bailey, Jeremy Grandstaff, Sarah Patnaude, and Evelyn Valdez. A huge, warm welcome to Joe Orozco of Northern Virginia as he is joining our mentor team for the remainder of this year’s program. As our program expands, so do our mentors, so we’d like to also give a shout out to Michelle Abdi and Jimmy Morris, who are inaugurating our statewide mentor team. Our impact would be minimal without the support and wealth of knowledge from these dynamic leaders in their communities and our Federation family. We look forward to an exciting spring and summer with our Project RISE students!

True North: Discovering the Strength of Your Inner Compass
By Kathryn Webster

Editor’s Note: During the last weekend in January, Kathryn organized a joint conference for Project RISE participants and leaders from the National Association of Blind Students. On Saturday evening, the two groups came together for a banquet and keynote speech that merged the goals of both tracks in one inspirational presentation. Following is the text of Kathryn’s remarks.

We learn from Jillian Michaels that people believe practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t. If you’re making a tremendous amount of mistakes, all you’re doing is deeply ingraining the same mistakes. In high school, I, like many of you, made a ton of mistakes and I am still reflecting each day to ensure I am not making the same errors. In losing my sight quickly and uncontrollably, I let external pressures overtake my autonomy and even my values. I leaned on those who didn’t believe in me as I shaped my future.

Now, I ask myself why? Why did I seek advice from my high school guidance counselor on a weekly basis, when her low expectations were blatant as she pigeon-holed me into colleges that I saw as subpar and incompatible? I had an above average GPA; I proved myself through my scores on standardized tests; I was a Girl Scout Gold Award recipient; I was a cheerleader, ran track, rowed; and the list goes on. On paper, I was worth it. Mostly worth it because, as a blind woman, I felt that I had no choice in the world but to excel more than my sighted counterparts to be given serious consideration in several elements of life. To my guidance counselor, I was not enough solely because of my blindness.

I could have been the valedictorian; still, my disability created this blurred line of what I could and could not do, almost literally crossing out my qualifications to prove that something just wasn’t all there. Still, I craved her approval and expertise throughout one of the most defining choices of my teen age years. Socially, I disguised my insecurities with extreme confidence and poise. I wanted to be known for anything in the world but my blindness. Truthfully, I wasn’t even blind. I was a visually impaired girl who wouldn’t use a cane because I was scared of what the cute boys would think. I say this now; and I am simply mortified.

Back then, it was true. I worked out excessively to make sure I had everything else going for me because this prominent defect could only be overcome by excellence and exception in all other aspects of my life. Again and again, I sought thumbs-up from people that were supposed to matter. I pitied myself but no one would have ever known. On the surface, I was a young independent woman with lots of sass and attitude. Internally, I struggled.

Those repetitive experiences brought me to the lowest point. J.K. Rolling teaches us that rock bottom becomes the solid foundation on which one rebuilds their life. Stripping your core to the bare minimum requires grit, dedication, resilience, and most importantly, loving yourself. While I am not proud of some of the actions and choices I made; I am grateful for the wake-up call that allowed bright red blood to leave a lasting mark on my character, pushing me toward maturity, authenticity, and true confidence. Had you known me six years ago, you probably could have never imagined me as a successful young adult with a bright and challenging career at a top management consulting firm; or the national student president of the most powerful blindness advocacy organization in the world. Had I not encountered those years of struggle and pain, I would never be where I am today.

And now, this idea of leadership and mentorship comes full circle as we reflect on the meaningful conversations had today. We cannot create leaders without guidance from others. Whether formally or informally, those we look up to have a tremendous impact on our actions and decisions as we progress through our lives.

So far this weekend our Virginia and Mississippi students have learned about branding themselves in a positive and powerful light, understanding that teams are made up of talent from all walks of life. Our national student leaders have learned that our actions are watched and admired. We discussed the idea of first impressions and how each motion we make can be scrutinized and observed by anyone at anytime.

This makes me think of a special day in 2015. I was not yet on the NABS Board and I was a sophomore at Wake Forest University. From a title perspective, I was nothing in the National Federation of the Blind. I was in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Boston at the annual Massachusetts State Convention. As I was chugging down my much-needed coffee, an energetic and curious 18-year-old guy approached me. He was weirdly impressed that I was put together, smiling with my shoulders back and head held high; he was impressed that I was walking swiftly around the hotel; he was impressed that, in doing these small actions, I was confidently holding a straight white cane in my right hand. This young adult was impressed that I was carrying on with my day as anyone else would, but he was impressed because I was blind.

This young man and I got to talking and I learned that he was losing his vision faster than he could have even imagined or understood. He was frightened; his family was frightened, and he really thought that his chance of being successful was no longer feasible. These feelings of low self-worth hurt my heart so much. Even more, I felt the pain because I had known that same pain just years prior.

So, how do we fix this pain? How do we, as leaders, leave lasting impressions on our youth so they not only understand, but truly believe that they are remarkable individuals with a shot at greatness? Each of us bring a unique perspective to the table. Some demonstrate leadership by example, others by gentle and intentional guidance, and some through encouraging reflection at the individual level. None of these approaches represent the gold star to leadership. For me, I am a direct and intentional leader, emphasizing accountability and growth. I set higher expectations for people than they do for themselves. I do this because I believe. I believe in pushing oneself to the next level because I want each of us to grab onto our untapped potential and thrive. When we don’t have the internal strength to trust in our actions, we will never take risks and develop as ambitious young people. This young man in Massachusetts didn’t believe in himself. In hearing him share his story with me, I saw a spark in him that radiated throughout our whole conversation. He wanted to be a lawyer, a father, and a husband; most importantly, he wanted to give back to this world. In losing his vision, he couldn’t see how that was possible. I left an impression on him that gave him a glimpse of hope. Each of you have the ability to influence others, but that starts at your core.

Three years later, I share this story with so much pride and joy in the young man that is still developing each and every day. He left his home state and local college to gain blindness skills at one of our NFB training centers. He flew across the country to give himself a chance at greatness. Now, he is a student at a top notch school with a killer GPA. He is on his way to law school in the next year. Most significantly, he is giving back to our world in a way he never saw as possible. While the first encounter we had brought me sadness, it brought him a sense of hope. This guy, who is a year younger than me, encourages me every day to be more relaxed, less hard on myself, and to create spaces of greater openness. Each day, I teach him to be diplomatic, intentional in his words, and reflective in his actions. Each day, I am so grateful for that day in Massachusetts because it brought hope to someone I now call a brother.

Syed Rizvi serves as first Vice President of the largest student organization of blind people in the world. Our peer mentorship to each other brings a sense of challenge to both of us. It is stories like these that make me understand that our interactions leave lasting impacts on everyone; but it is on us to initiate those meaningful moments.

“The blindness journey isn’t easy for anyone, but the power of unity and togetherness emphasizes how important it is to advocate for ourselves and others; to pave the path for every single blind person who may walk in the room right after you. We learn from Brad Paisley that “The world tries to clip your wings.”, The National Federation of the Blind makes sure you know that you won’t let the world have that much control. Once, I was insecure and scared of tomorrow. Through my transition to accepting my blindness, I masked those insecurities with confidence. I pushed myself to come off as stronger than I felt inside. In doing so, I recognized my self worth in a way that allowed others to believe it. In our organization, our family, we lean on each other for the pure sense of comfort we so deserve. And, we also learn from our NFB brothers and sisters that there is a world ahead of us that we must grasp onto and run with. Our dreams can start in this room tonight, but it is your ambitious attitude, bright mind, and dedicated soul that will bring these dreams full circle.

I want to leave you with this piece of advice: be true to yourself, be curious about everything, and take risks. You define your future and we are here to witness your achievements. I promise that the doubt that exists within you is felt by so many others. I also promise you that as we tear down society’s misconceptions of blindness, those doubts will continue to diminish. Keep making me proud.

Calling All Blind Parents
By Jessica Reed

Editor’s Note: Jessica Reed hails from the great historical Fredericksburg chapter, our most recent state convention hosts. Given our work on ensuring the equal rights of blind parents, it makes sense that we should jumpstart a dedicated initiative to supplement our advocacy efforts, and who better to usher that mission than the feisty, hard-working mother of two children? Here is her invitation to a preliminary meeting to discuss all the possibilities.

I don’t think any of us can deny what a shining star Virginia is on a national level. We are often in the top five for PAC, we have a thriving senior and student division, we rock at cultivating our future leaders threw our chapter Leadership Enrichment Program! For some time now though, I have noticed that there is one group of blind Virginians we are not tapping into. I am talking, of course, about my self and other blind parents. Until now…

On February 25th at 8:00 PM I would love it if you would join me on the first ever blind parents conference call! A number of states have thriving blind parents divisions that serve the blind parents in a number of ways. Some have provided workshops on the “How-to” of infant care, traveling with small children, and on exploration of which baby supplies is most needed for parents who are blind. Some have broken through the isolation of being a parent on top of a blind parent by holding annual family oriented social seminars. All have woven together a fabric of blind parents who empathize with the frustrations geographically specific to one and other. All have been integral in the passage of the blind parenting bill we have attempted to get passed here for a number of years. I would love to see all on the above conference call on Monday the 25th prepared to shape our Virginia Blind Parents in which ever way would be most helpful to you!

The call information is:

Call in number: 218-895-6875

Access Code: 2018

Top Ten Benefits of Being a Blind Parent
By Jessica Reed

Editor’s Note: Parenting is hard, no matter which way you look at it. In this follow-up piece, however, Jessica points out in no particular order a few items for which we might embrace some advantages as blind parents.

10. When changing a poopy diaper you don’t have to see it.

9. When littles are sleeping, you can still sneak into their bedroom to grab things without turning on a light and unleashing the monster of a woken child.

8. While at a playground, instead of half paying attention to our kids while sitting on the side staring at Facebook on our phones and raging with jealousy over all the ridiculously perfect friends who’s lives seem so much more glamorous, we are the parent climbing the play structure. We are the one’s just making giggly memories to last a lifetime.

7. As stay at home parents, we need to get out and get our children out or we go nuts! When joining support groups (such as MOMS and MOPS) we may need rides to specific events. These are fantastic opportunities to cultivate one-on-one friendships with fellow moms who just get how hard being a stay at home parent can be.

6. In my experience there are two types of parents. There are those types of parents who want to do nothing but talk about their children, and then there are those types of parents who want to do anything but talk about their children. The first group will detail their birthing stories all the way up to how little Susie picked her nose for the first time! The second category of parents love their children and would do anything and everything for them but admit they need a mental break! Yes I am Mama, and I love it, but I’m also Jessica! In parenting groups, whether we like it or not, blindness is something that tangibly separates us from fellow parents. In my experience, Mom’s tend to view this perceived vulnerability as a gateway to connect.

5. Like many things with blindness, there are a number of alternative techniques when it comes to parenting. Whether it’s finding rides, using public transportation, reading to our children in braille, or organizing in a specific way, we are inadvertently teaching our children to think outside the box. There is often more than one way to skin a cat.

4. I have read that children with blind parents become more verbal and descriptive sooner than those with sighted parents. I don’t know if this is true, but my four-year-old daughter has known her right and left since she was three. I never sat down and specifically taught her, but she has often heard others providing me directions while we are walking. At four-and-a-half she has begun describing things around us in new environments… whether I want her to or not.

3. Whether we choose to acknowledge it, our children grow up seeing our differences and struggles. They are born into an idea that life is not always easy. There is struggle. It is how you choose to handle struggle that counts.

2. Studies have shown that children with parents with disabilities tend to grow up to be more compassionate and empathetic people. They are already born into “different.” I take this to mean that our children will be less likely to be afraid of difference, and more likely to befriend those that society segregates and dismisses.

1. Parents who belong to the National Federation of the Blind can raise their children as part of a large and supportive network. You don’t have to belong to the NFB to be a successful blind parent, but the organization does a great job of reminding us we do not have to face this alone.

Facts about Blindness … According to Me
By Joe Orozco

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared on my personal blog at, currently under reconstruction. Please get in touch with your own questions and answers, and who knows, maybe we could create some sort of resource playfully answering some of the more popular curiosities.

What have you always wanted to know about blind people but was always too afraid to ask? My thoughts are not the definitive view on the subject. Contrary to popular assumption, we’re not all related to each other, and our opinions are as diverse as the people that make up this small segment of society. Still, it’s a good start.

Will it offend you if I refer to you as blind?

Actually, “blind” is preferable to visually challenged, seeing impaired, sight handicapped or any of a growing combination of politically correct terms. These attempts at politeness are fumbling conversation starters and only confuse the bottom line that I can’t see as well as you can. There was a point when the fact that I am not totally blind would have prompted me to correct another person’s understanding of my visual acuity, but let’s start with blind and then work our way into color, lighting, and depth.

Has your hearing improved to compensate for the loss of your sight?

A person may concentrate more on his hearing when the eyes don’t work, but concentration is a far cry from the pinpoint sonar people attribute to blindness. Actually, my hearing feels below average compared to what I notice other people pick up. Whatever you do, please do not ever go to the other extreme and raise your voice at me. I’m an easygoing person, but my cane may find its way to your ankle at high velocity. What, I’m blind, and you were in my way!

For what it’s worth, my sense of smell also seems supremely underwhelming.

What is one of the most misunderstood aspects about blindness?

“Blind people are so cool because they don’t judge others by appearance…” Yeah right. First, appearance has more to do with overall presence, not just physical characteristics. Second, we’re every bit as observant as anyone else, and while my ears and nose may not be anything to write home about, I would have never dated a girl whose voice got on my nerves or whose body odor made my skin crawl. Also, don’t be surprised if we ask our sighted friends to give us their assessment of you. I would have personally not have taken a friend’s opinion at face value, but if enough people pointed to the same flaws I might start believing–where there’s smoke, there’s fire and all that. Rest assured your judgment of me will never measure up to the harsh criticisms of a fellow blind person…

What advice would you give to someone who’s just lost their sight?

Blindness is pretty dull as far as disabilities go. Maybe it’s a matter of perception, but I would think we’d be far worse off if we could not hear, walk on two legs, or carry a mental illness that prohibited traditional interaction. No doubt there are representatives of these conditions who would tell you their life is every bit as fruitful as ours and list ways they too are misunderstood. See what I mean about blind people and prejudice? My point is that assuming blindness is the only characteristic; your life will shift to new ways of doing things but is hardly a dramatic alteration.

Did you see that movie? Wait, sorry, did you hear it?

Let’s not get hung up on semantics. Yes, I saw the Harry Potter movies, at least the first three, and I don’t know that the British did the stories justice.

Think of it a different way: I’m pretty sure deaf people could be backhanded as much for what they say as what they sign.

Do you ever get depressed because of your blindness?

I went through my brief periods of depression. I went from good sight to nearly nothing and am therefore aware of what I lost. I don’t know that I ever felt overwhelmed. I had good teachers, high parental expectations and enough blind role models among peers to know things would ultimately be okay. That is not always the case, and if you are one who still struggles with your condition, drop me a note. We’ll talk through it.

Don’t get me wrong. You never stop wishing you could drive a car or see the faces of loved ones. With time you learn to cope and find other ways of enjoying similar sentiments. When the day comes that I am totally blind, I will come back and reread this passage, and I’ll do my best to remember that things did not go completely off the rails when I first started noticing the deterioration of my sight when I was a kid. I have had so many great experiences and have met so many great people that I would otherwise have never met if I weren’t blind.

If you could undergo a surgical procedure to restore your sight, would you?

Any surgical procedure has risks. I could gamble away what little sight I have left, and to take the leap of faith would suggest I am dissatisfied with my current condition. I would give it long thought but would probably pass.

How do you cross lighted intersections without help?

When I had Gator, my first Seeing Eye dog, people assumed it was the dog that did the intelligent crossing. I suppose there could be a way to get around the color blindness, but I am alive today mostly owed to my own common sense and good education. At its simplest, you cross with parallel traffic, which is to say the flow of traffic moving in the same direction as you. There are complicated intersections where the traffic flows aren’t as straightforward as east/west immediately following north/south, or streets crossing at a slant as is true of downtown DC, and in those cases I don’t mind standing at the corner studying the pattern until I feel comfortable enough to venture out. I may look foolish standing out there on the corner, but at least I’ll be around to enjoy people’s comments about my foolishness. Eventually I walk a route enough times to measure the distance between lights, and if I’m in a hurry, I may start paying attention to my parallel traffic halfway down the block to get a rough sense of how much time I have to cross when I arrive at the corner.

Regardless of the intersection, I’ve learned not to follow the flow of pedestrians. Too many people cross on red lights, and I am not one of those people who would jump off a bridge if all my friends got together and decided to do so.

For your reference, guide dogs do not know when to cross an intersection; however, they do know how to intelligently disobey their handler. A guide dog will not cross a street if it sees an oncoming vehicle. It will not deliberately walk a pedestrian off a train platform. Now, one could argue these skills can be attributed to superb training, and maybe that is true. Yet I’m thinking the dog is invested in its own survival. We just happen to be holding its harness.

What are some of the social aspects of being blind you wish people understood?

Speaking for myself, I don’t really look forward to buffet lines. Independence is partially about looking graceful, and in my opinion there is nothing graceful about feeling around for serving spoons and running the risk of dipping a finger in the casserole, embarrassing yourself and making the other guests feel dubious about where your fingers may’ve been. There are methods to handling such tasks of course. You could move your hand inward over the table surface, find the rim of the dish and move around its edge until you find the utensil. I paid attention in my independent living classes. Yet independence is also about seizing conveniences, so you could also just ask someone to help load your plate and go on about your business. I feel far more confident about carrying a tray and drink to my table than I do about navigating someone else’s logic about the way dishes should be laid out.

I walk fast when I walk alone. In fact I experience my own version of pedestrian’s sidewalk rage, but I feel slow and stumbling when walking with someone else because my attention is divided between carrying a conversation and stopping myself from colliding with a lamp post. In some cases I would rather walk with a hand on the person’s elbow to ensure the smooth continuity of both our conversation and our journey. This is especially true in crowded restaurants.

Something else that comes to mind is my attitude about how the rest of the world perceives me. As I grow older it matters less. If truth be told it probably never mattered enough, but there was a point when I wondered about the stain on my shirt or the syrup on my cheek or the rip in my jeans. If you saw either on a fellow sighted person, you would attribute it to laziness or wouldn’t think of it at all. If you saw this on a blind person, however, your first thought might be that it was because the person was blind. I’d like you to point it out to me in the spirit of open communication. No one likes to walk around attracting the wrong kind of attention, but don’t be surprised to discover that I can be every bit as careless or clumsy as you.

When you see me board a train or bus, it’d be nice if you offered me the seat near the door. I will turn you down, but it’s the thought that counts. My independence will not be threatened by the same type of courtesy I would extend if I were sighted and came upon a blind person. To that end, I may not always take advantage of the discounts and freebies offered to senior citizens and persons with disabilities. If I don’t, chalk it up to a desire to equally contribute to society and not because I am an ungrateful person. I worked hard to be a tax payer.

How do you handle household chores as a blind person?

When I cook I first ensure the location of all supplies and ingredients. I memorize the heat level for the dial positions on the stove and oven. I use a fork to test the state of cooking meat or vegetables. I also listen for changes in the way the food sizzles to gauge states of readiness. There are tactile dots on the microwave and other appliances with touch screens. I now rely on my iPhone to keep track of time and will probably use the iPhone in the future to find recipes. Otherwise, I follow basic safety steps like using oven mitts when pulling pans from the rack. If I don’t cook more often, it’s partially because I’m a perfectionist, and what should take an hour to prepare often takes me two. Blind or sighted, nothing works better in cooking than tasting the meal in progress.

The proper way for a blind person to sweep a floor is to do so in bare feet. The idea is that you can feel whether or not you are catching all the dirt and grime. I’m not above such strategies. I just find vacuums much faster. I periodically check with my hand if a wooden floor seems fine. Carpets are a little more difficult, but the way that usually works for me is to vacuum in continuous patterns to ensure every inch is covered at least three times. The same is true of scrubbing tubs, cleaning toilets, wiping counters and washing dishes.

Laundry is straightforward. For the moment I can still distinguish colors, but when I can no longer do so, I have different baskets for lights and darks. I’ve marked the machines. My stepmother would be disappointed to learn I no longer iron as often as I did in high school, or even college, but that too is a process of orientation and using your hands to smooth, flatten and iron in patterns for equal coverage.

Remodeling is also doable. There are blind people far more handier with tools than I will ever be, so let’s just be clear than when I say “remodeling” in my case I mean moving furniture up and down stairs, into and out of trucks and from one end of the house to the other. My point here is that blind people are not inept, really can lift heavy objects, and are perfectly capable of helping you move.

Until then, is there anything I missed? Or, is there something I got wrong? That’s technically impossible since so much of what I wrote is subjective, but alternative views are always welcomed in the Comments.

NFB BELL Academy – Placing Hands on the Future

The NFB BELL Academy helps blind and low-vision children, ages four through twelve, develop the literacy skills that will empower them to achieve their academic goals and live the lives they want. This year, with the assistance of our Wells Fargo partners, we provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and touch their future and dreams; by not only raising expectations through Braille instruction, but by nurturing their development of tactile arts and graphics. Through the generous support of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, each student participant in the 2019 NFB BELL Academies will be provided with an intact Sketchpad.

Harrisonburg, Virginia – July 28 – August 2, 2019

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia will host a residential NFB BELL Academy on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. Day students are also welcome. Tuition is $500 including a $50 nonrefundable registration fee and includes: lodging, meals and field trips. Scholarships may be available. Transportation is not provided. Families should arrive on Sunday, July 28 between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. Parents are invited to a graduation on Friday, August 2 at noon with a 2:00 pm departure. Please note: Eastern Mennonite University is not a sponsor of the NFB BELL Academy.

For more information contact:

Nancy Yeager


Beth Sellers

Announcements From Winchester

On Saturday, February 23, 2019 from 10 AM to 6 PM the Winchester chapter will be participating in the valley health community wellness festival.
There will be over 100 exhibitors including the Winchester chapter which will be providing information and resources to our community and out reaching to those in our area. Providing support, information and resources.
The festival will take place at the Apple Blossom Mall located in Winchester, Virginia. There will be Health screening test, blood pressure, testing, hearing testing and much more.
We invite everybody to come out. The chapter has been doing this for the last three years and we are proud to be part of our community.

Earlier this month Chapter President Chris Walker delivered a presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Old Town. The Kiwanis Club of Old Town Winchester meets at noon on the second and fourth Monday of each month for lunch and a speaker at the Godfrey Miller Home on Loundoun Street Mall. President Walker addressed the club as part of his overarching plan to better connect and engage with the local community.

And, finally check out this video clip of Chris Walker!

Explore. Connect. Attend NFB EQ!

Attention Blind and Low-vision Students:

Join the National Federation of the Blind at our NFB Engineering Quotient (EQ) program this summer. NFB EQ is a week-long program of hands-on lessons and various recreational activities that does not require a specific level of previous engineering experience. Not a student? Share with a blind or low-vision teen today!

Enriched experiences. New friendships. More independence.

Visit our NFB EQ web page to learn more and to apply!

The Specs

Who: 30 blind and low-vision teens

What: A weeklong summer engineering program

When: June 16-22, 2019

Where: Baltimore, Maryland.

Why: To meet new people, learn new things, and have an exciting adventure!

How: Apply Now!

Applications are due March 17, 2019.

Cost: No registration fee! Read the FAQs for more detail about cost.

Additional Information

* To be eligible to apply students must: be enrolled in grades 9-12 during the 2018-2019 school year in a school (public, private, charter, residential, or home school) in the United States, be blind or have low-vision, and be available to attend the entire program.

* Participant’s transportation to and from the program will be arranged by the National Federation of the Blind. Students will travel to Baltimore on Sunday and will travel home on the following Saturday.

* This is a residential program; students will stay in dormitories at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and all meals will be provided.

What Are People Saying About NFB EQ?

“NFB EQ gave me more confidence to keep doing what I want-no one can stop me! The program opened my eyes to even more options in the field [of engineering] and it gave me some confidence that I can do some mechanical stuff that I didn’t think I could do before.” – Michael, Texas

“I increased my drawing skills at NFB EQ. The tactile drawing board helped me, because I could feel what I drew. Visualizations also have gotten easier [going from drawing to model to prototype]. In engineering, you have to picture an idea in your mind and then draw it before you can build it. When you draw it, you can really see how it’s going to come together.” – Trey, Kentucky

“I am amazed at how the people involved in organizing this program made everything so easy for us. From organizing logistics to making sure the schedule was running smoothly for the students-the whole event was very successful. The staff’s warmth and attention to detail really eased my mind and made me feel good about leaving my son at the program for the week.” Mark (father), North Carolina

“I was looking for a rigorous, highly academic science program that promoted and modeled independence and the National Federation of the Blind was offering everything I was looking for. Still, I was hesitant. What if it wasn’t a good use of my students’ resources, or what if they weren’t safe? My fears were unwarranted, from start to finish. NFB made the health, safety, academic rigor, social experiences, and general well-being of our students paramount. Every detail was professionally planned and handled, ensuring that every moment, for every student, was as meaningful as it could possibly be.” Laura (teacher of the visually impaired), Kentucky


Send them to:


Phone: 410-659-9314, extension 2418

Mail: National Federation of the Blind

c/o Mya Taylor
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

NFB Newsline: Tapping Your Knowledge

NFB-NEWSLINE Subscribers,

Did you know you can access NFB-NEWSLINE on your iPhone, iPod and iPad through the iOS Mobile App? Whether you want to learn more about NFB-NEWSLINE mobile, or just need a refresher, join us on Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 at:

8:00 PM Eastern
7:00 PM Central
6:00 PM Mountain
5:00 PM Pacific

for an NFB-NEWSLINE mobile training session! You will learn how to gain immediate access to over 70 magazines, how to share breaking news stories on social media, use the global search function to find articles on specific topics, navigating your favorite publication, the differences between publications and subscriptions, and much more.

To participate in the training, please use one of the options listed below.

Join Zoom Meeting on your computer or mobile device.

Tap on your mobile device to be directly connected to the conference call:
+1 646 876 9923
Meeting ID: 842577801

We look forward to talking to you on the 26th.

Tech it Out on Accessible Entertainment

We live in the age of smart TVs, streaming, and voice-guided narration. But with all the options for fun can come confusion. That’s why we’re tackling entertainment at our next Tech It Out. We’ll discuss things like:

  • Where to find audio-described content
  • How to get the most out of a Smart TV
  • > What the options are for streaming content

Come to get a few tips, share your experiences, and learn from each other.
Accessing Entertainment with Technology

Date: Tuesday, February 26th

Time: 8:00 PM Central

Phone: +1 929 205 6099

Meeting ID: 468 325 263

One tap mobile: +19292056099,,468325263#


Judo “try it” Clinic

Presented by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission
Washington Metropolitan Association of Blind Athletes

Sunday, February 24, 2019
From 12 noon to 4pm

Presented in cooperation with: Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, College Park Community Center, College Park Judo Club, Hui-O-Judo Beltsville, USA Judo Inc. and the Washington Metropolitan Area Blind Athletes Association (WMABA)
Sanctioned by: USA Judo Sanction # 21072
Site: College Park Community Center, 5051 Pierce Avenue, College Park, MD 20740
(Located near the College Park/University of Maryland Metro stop on the Green line)

Event Director: Kevin Tamai, Godan, Hui-O-Judo Beltsville
Clinician: Lori Pierce – Para Olympic Silver medalist in Judo
Mail entry form, signed waiver to: Kevin Tamai, 2973 Fox Tail Court Woodbridge, VA 22192
Online registration Judo Try It Registration

Information: For more information contact Kevin Tamai at 703-622-6861
If you need transportation assistance from the metro to the community center, please contact us.

This “Try it” event is targeted at our local blind and low vision friends in the Washington Metropolitan DC area. It is part of the National Fitness challenge presented by the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

Come “Try judo” with us

We extend a personal invitation to you to come, experience, discover and enjoy the sport of judo. We encourage character development, achieving personal goals, improving fitness, developing proficiency, promoting sportsmanship and enhancing physical training. Judo is an Olympic sport founded by Dr. Jigoro Kano in 1882. Judo, which is translated to “gentle way”, prescribes the principle of flexibility in the application of the techniques. This is the flexible or efficient use of balance, leverage and momentum in the performance of the techniques. Skill and timing are the essential ingredients for success in judo, rather than brute strength.


The Metro Washington Association of Blind Athletes (MWABA) is a 501(c)(3) organization of blind athletes and their sighted peers who believe that recreational and competitive sports opportunities should be open to everyone, regardless of their ability to see. We hold programs for blind and visually impaired youth and adults from Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia to discover new sports or practice familiar ones in an open and welcoming environment. Our mission also includes teaching blind athletes the physical techniques and body movements that they may not have had a chance to learn through physical education classes. We also share the best way to teach athletic and kinesthetic skills to the blind and visually impaired population with educators in our area. MWABA events are all about trying new things, meeting new friends, staying or becoming fit, and having fun! We support one another in achieving a fit and active lifestyle.

Judo is one of many activities that MWABA is a part of. Before learning to throw an opponent, or being thrown himself; the student is first taught the history, customs, and courtesies of Judo. The next lessons deal with the art of body protection (Ukemi, the art of falling without pain or injury); and the principles of balance. In addition to 40 throwing techniques, Judo includes: hold-downs, choking techniques, and arm locks… all of which can be safely used in contests of sport judo as well as self-defense. Adapting the sport to those with visual impairments simply requires participants to maintain contact while sparring.

Other activities MWABA provides:

Goalball is the only team sport specifically designed for the blind. It is played by men and women around the world, including in the Paralympics. MWABA launched its Goalball program in June 2015, by hosting a Goalball clinic at Trinity Washington University.

Yoga – Our Yoga program now meets regularly at Bluebird Sky. The studio is at 3101 12th St. NE, near the Brookland/Catholic University metro station. The instructors would like folks to sign up in advance if possible so they know how many people to expect, and you can do that by going to this link and selecting Eyes Free Yoga from the list of workshops.
Get more flexible…develop muscular strength…take advantage of all the benefits that Yoga has to offer. Our volunteer instructors aim to provide excellent instruction for all of our visually impaired participants, and provide one-on-one help when necessary. These classes are open to everyone, but priority will be given to visually impaired participants. Please contact Karla Gilbride at to find out when the next class will be held.
Tandem Cycling
We have rides on Thursday evenings from either the Bethesda or Eastern Market Metro stations. For more information contact Karla Gilbride at

Running Groups – In conjunction with the DC chapter of Achilles International, MWABA organizes weekly group runs/walks where blind athletes can partner with a guide and run, jog or walk outside for whatever distance is comfortable for them. To learn more about these group workouts, visit us online, or email

We can be reached by phone, Monday through Friday, between 9:00am and 5:00pm.
Karla: (202) 631-2426 or Justin: (941) 585-9503

Visit our website at

More about Judo

Dr. Kano felt that healthy social attitudes, as well as a sound mind and body, could be developed through the proper judo training. He stated this philosophy of Judo in the form of two maximums. The first maxim, “Maximum efficiency,” means that whatever one does, it should be with the optimal use of one’s mental and physical energy. In judo, you learn how to make the most effective use of both body and mind. The second maxim, “mutual welfare and benefit,” simply means that we should be considerate of and helpful to others. In Judo, the students quickly learn cooperate and help each other to advance in their training. This is basically the idea of give and take. This concept of cooperation can all be applied in our association with others in life. The final aim or goal of judo, as expressed by Dr. Kano, is self perfection or “the harmonious development and eventual perfection of human character.” Simply stated, the true goal of Judo is to make a person the best that they can be.”

Judo is many things to different people. It is a fun sport, an art, a discipline, a recreational or social activity, a fitness program, a means of self-defense or combat, and a way of life. It is all of these and more. Judo was introduced into the Olympic Games in 1964 and is practiced by millions of people throughout the world today. People practice Judo to excel in competition, to stay in shape, to develop self-confidence, and for many other reasons. But most of all, people do Judo just for the fun of it. As in all sports, Judo has a strict set of rules that governs competition and ensures safety. For those who want to test their skills, Judo offers the opportunity for competition at all skill levels, from club to national tournaments, to the Olympic Games. There are separate weight divisions for men and women, and boys and girls. Judo is best known for it’s spectacular throwing techniques but also involves considerable grappling on the ground utilizing specialized pins, control holds, arm locks, and Judo choking techniques. Judo emphasizes safety, and full physical activity for top conditioning. Judo is learned on special mats for comfort and safety.

Judo is unique in that all age groups, both sexes, and most disabled persons can participate together in learning and practicing the sport. Judo is an inexpensive, year-round activity, that appeals to people from all walks of life. Many people over sixty years of age enjoy the sport, as well as very young boys and girls.
Judo develops self-discipline and respect for oneself and others. Judo provides the means for learning self-confidence, concentration, and leadership skills, as well as physical coordination, power, and flexibility. As a sport that has evolved from a fighting art, it develops complete body control, fine balance, and fast reflexive action. Above all, it develops a sharp reacting mind well-coordinated with the same kind of body. Judo training gives a person an effective self-defense system if the need arises.

Benefits of Judo for the visually impaired. While taking part in sports or competitions is a highly recommended pastime for everyone, such activities assume particular importance in the case of persons afflicted by physical or sensory handicaps. Far and above the inherent objectives of all physical and sporting activities, it represents for them, a means of escape from a sometimes sedentary existence and from the isolation often imposed by a disability. For blind persons and those with low vision, Judo can be instrumental in (re)attaining independence of movement and in developing physical capacities which permit better adaptation to everyday life. Blindness can cause certain motor problems such as difficulty in attitude integration and body-awareness (since sight is an important factor here); balance problems; problems with motor co-ordination; posture problems; and orientation difficulties. Apart from the numerous motor and physical qualities which Judo helps to develop in people with normal health, it is perhaps, useful to mention the manner in which these are indispensable for blind people.

Falling: It is essential for a blind person to learn to fall in a suitable manner, since uncertainty of movement, due to blindness, often leads to painful falls. By learning secure positions, blind people can avoid accidents in everyday life.

Balance: This is a fundamental element of Judo and an indispensable factor for the blind. It helps to encourage the visually impaired person’s integration in space.

Exercise: Just like sighted people, a blind child must learn to develop his or her physical capacities. He/she will then be able to know and control the body better. Improved control over the motor forces, such as strength, speed and agility, will provide a weapon to combat the consequences of blindness which can otherwise include a sedentary existence.

Kinesthetic sensations: It can be said without exaggeration that blindness does not constitute a serious problem for a Judoka. In practice, seeing persons do not look at their opponents during combat; they try to distribute their strength and adapt their behavior. A blind person is, therefore, not impaired in the discovery of these physical sensations or in their refinement. It is the perception of the strength and behavior of the opponent which induces the choice of the appropriate reaction. Sight does not play a preponderant part in this process.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: December 2018

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

For a large part of the country, December 25 is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For others, it is a time to consider our relationship with the wider society. We do not have to share the same faith to appreciate what the season provides, an opportunity to love and just as important, an opportunity to be loved.

Please reach out and love your fellow members in this great organization. Help them feel welcomed and included, regardless of their blindness skills. Michael Jordan was not born with a basketball in his hands. He had to start from scratch just like everyone else. Please do your part to spread the gift of positive independence, and of course, completely aside from the NFB, please reach out and love someone you may have neglected recently.

Please allow others to love you. It’s very easy to extend yourself to others. It is a beautiful thing to feel and act on a spirit of service, but sometimes we forget that we might be depriving someone of that beauty when we prevent them from helping us.

If there is anything sad about this time of year, it is that we are too quick to forget that these feelings of love and fellowship should be characteristics we ought to be expressing all year long. Pain and suffering do not wait until the end of the year to manifest themselves. People should not bank on the holidays to receive the love and kindness they ought to be entitled to on a regular basis. As a member of the NFB of Virginia, you already belong to a great family. Some of your relatives here will annoy you just as is true of your birth family, but just like your birth family, I want you to always feel as though you have a place among us you can call home.

Yours, with love,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.” – Leo Tolstoy

Presidential Report

Editor’s Note: The following was delivered to the NFB of Virginia convention on the morning of Saturday, November 10 by our affiliate president, Tracy Soforenko. Here is the text of that inspirational presentation.

Good Morning Virginia Federation family!

The NFB 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.

I love our 1-minute message.

What are the characteristics that define you?

The characteristics that define me are: Husband, Father, Community and synagogue leader, technology geek, Fed, Member of the National Federation of the Blind.

My blindness does not define me.

What are the characteristics that define the NFB of VA?

I would propose there are six characteristics that define our movement in Virginia and around the country: collective Action, respect, courage, full Participation, democracy, and love.

In 2018, we have embodied these characteristics.

Collective Action

At the core of our movement, we come together to achieve results we could not achieve alone.
Here are this year’s examples.

Vision Zero – In Alexandria, bob Hartt and Jeremy Grandstaff helped to make a plan for safer streets through the adoption of a vision Zero plan and greater access to public transit.

Williamsburg Housing and Transport – In Williamsburg, the late Elsie Castleman worked with the Mayor to make housing and transit more accessible for blind people.

Meet the Blind – In Fredericksburg, Richmond, Woodbridge, Winchester and Arlington, our meet the blind programs have educated the public about the capabilities of blind people to live full and active lives.

Statewide – At a statewide level, our legislative advocacy, led by Derek Manners, moved our legislative priorities forward:

  • ADA Rights – We defeated legislation to weaken the Virginians with Disabilities Act by itemizing all the harm caused by this ill-conceived legislation.
  • Blind Parents – We moved forward our legislation to secure greater rights for blind parents. The House committee agreed that there is a problem but we were not able to agree on the remedy. Our partnership of disability advocates was unable to defeat the Virginia Bar and Virginia’s most prestigious lobbyist. We have ideas on new ways to advance the fight in the coming years. True change takes time and commitment. We will not be deterred and we will not accept useless band-aids that simply state Don’t discriminate. Valuable civil rights legislation requires processes and supports, not just a kind statement. Disabled parents in Virginia deserve rights, not window dressing.
  • Education of Blind and Low Vision Students – Throughout the Fall and Winter, Derek Manners and Fred Schroeder partnered with AER (the Association for the Education and rehabilitation of the Blind) to prepare legislation that we all could be proud of. No more fighting between advocates for blind and low vision kids. We stood united. Unfortunately, local jurisdictions recognize that providing an equal education might cost the schools more and fought back. We will look to build broader partnerships in the coming years to improve legislation for Virginia’s students.

However, our advocacy for students doesn’t stop in the legislature.

  • To ensure a quality education, we are committed to helping students and their parents in IEP meetings and in the courts.
  • Chincoteague, Ashburn, Clark County, Stafford, Springfield, Chesapeake, Tazewell and Harrisonburg-Sandy Halverson, Nancy Yeager, Chris Walker, Fred Schroeder, and Patrick Johnson have crisscrossed the Commonwealth helping
  • We have assisted with legal representation for Maddie Martin to try to secure a quality education in Loudoun County and Kim Pfifer Snow to get access to the PowerSchool educational platform in Chesterfield.
  • Blind and low vision students deserve a quality education and we will not settle for less.


We believe in the capability and dignity of blind people and know that society’s low expectations are false.

There are at least three women who set high expectations thanks to the support of their Federation family.

Evelyn Valdez fought both society’s low expectations, her own doubts, and injuries to run her first Summer Sprint triathlon this July, placing first in her age bracket.

Naomi O’Toole- Chesapeake Bay Chapter member Naomi O’Toole was a participant in the Virginia Beach BELL Academy. Naomi uses braille as part of her academic and extracurricular work including a very stellar vocal talent. Naomi just signed a gospel recording concert where a portion of the funds profit will go to the NFB. Next month, Naomi will bring her talent to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s 700 Club.

Jody Silverberg started a new business, Little Herbs Bakery in Fredericksburg. This month, at the Marine Corps University cafeteria in Quantico, you can purchase items from her bakery at Leon Anderson’s dining facility.

Our members show that high expectations set within our Federation community can help us achieve greatness.


Fighting for freedom takes perseverance and unwavering commitment.

Today, I am going to highlight some of the challenges faced by blind parents.

I have some yes or No questions where I am seeking a response:

– All successful blind parents have stellar blindness skills?

– Blind parents cannot successfully raise a child with special needs?

– Going away for blindness skills training means you are abandoning your kids?

If you think these are absurd questions, welcome to my world.

Edward Tweed is a blind father in Virginia Beach. Edward’s son lived with the mother and had some challenging behavioral issues
. In 2016, The son was moved to live with Edward and his new wife Sheena.
In 2017, after living with Edward and Shena for nine months, Edward’s son was removed from their home and placed in foster care. The courts and child protection system were not convinced that disabled parents could address the needs of children with special needs.

In 2018, the City was seeking to terminate Edward’s parental rights and put the son up for adoption. We stepped in to provide Edward solid representation and connect him with positive blind role models. Our Chesapeake Bay Chapter has welcomed the Tweeds, offered to help get Edward the mentoring from other blind parents, and ensure that the city respects the rights of blind people to parent. Based on our work together this Summer, the city has suspended its decision to pursue termination of parental rights and added family reunification as its focus.

This is a travesty. Can you imagine 2 years without your child? Edward and his wife Shena are here with us today. By next year, I hope their son is home with them and with us at our next convention.

Asia Hurtado is a newly blind Woodbridge Mom who sought blindness skills training at the VRCBVI. She is also trying to retain custody of her children. Lawyers told her that Virginia courts would view her efforts to leave her kids at home so she could get great blindness training as abandonment of her children. Have you ever heard something so absurd? But, our rights to be parents are not clear and the legal system is not in our favor. Don’t believe the doubters.

As you herd this morning, she did attend VRCBVI and has developed strong blindness skills to both work and raise her family. She is making us proud.

Discrimination happens in Virginia. Don’t believe the doubters.

In addition to the many resources for blind parents found at blind parents .org, we just established the Virginia Blind Parents List serve as a tool to help blind parents here in VA.

Our federation family grows with new Moms like Jessica Reed, Brittany Ingram, and CJ Fish.

Full Participation

Blind people have the right to live fully and equally in society.

Before highlighting a few of our students, please know that starting something new is really, really hard. Kathryn Webster and Arielle Silverman have invested love, hope and determination to make Project RISE a success.

Our mentors are: Sarah Patnaude, Marc Canamaso, Evelyn Valdez, Jeremy Grandstaff, John Bailey, Derek Manners, and Suzy D’Mello. They have built lasting relationships with our students.
I suspect that when you include this weekend, nearly 100 positive blind role models have volunteered their time to invest in our Project RISE students.

For example, we had a Spanish speaking falls Church high School student who had difficulty with communication and big goals but no idea how to achieve these goals. Through mentoring, he has been transformed. His English Language skill went from pre-K to 6th grade. He now uses his cane, communicates with peers, and had a work experience. Before Project RISE, he dreamed of becoming a baker, but he had never baked. At our first event, he helped bake cookies. By this Summer, he had a job at a bakery.

One of our Stafford High School Graduates would describe himself as timid, genuine and thoughtful but he had difficulty making friends. Through Project RISE, he built lasting friendships and was eager to share his love of music and desire to edit, mix and DJ. He secured a great job at a music store in Culpeper. This experience culminated with and electronic dance music (EDM) show with his friends, colleagues and family.

Both students will be back for year 2.


We are a democratic organization representing the needs of our members.

The NFB was instrumental in ensuring an independent private ability to vote through the Help America Vote Act. Now, we seek to remove additional barriers to voting. In the past month, we partnered with LYFT to provide blind Virginians with vouchers to use this service to get to the polls. Each time a blind person votes, we share in democracy and increase our power as Americans and as a movement. Sarah Patnaude was instrumental on this front in our affiliate.

Our new Chapter Leadership Institute will grow leaders and help invigorate our chapters to put everyone to work in our chapters. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.

Visiting Chapters is an important role of my job. I have visited Chesapeake Bay, Peninsula, Tidewater, Greater Williamsburg, Prince William County, Fairfax, Greater Alexandria, and Potomac. I have some chapters to visit in the coming year, so please tell me as your chapter plans events, especially on weekends. Some chapters are changing the Guard, including: At Large, Winchester, Richmond, Fairfax and perhaps a few others. Change can be good. I look forward to working with the new leadership in these areas.

Through our chapters and the affiliate, we are growing leaders who are more diverse, more engaged, and who represent the interests of all blind and low vision Virginians.


The NFB provides a loving, supportive, and encouraging family that shares in the challenges and triumphs of our blind brothers and sisters. Like you, I joined the NFB because I built relationships. I joined the Federation to be part of this Warm Federation community. Today, many of my mentors and friends are in this room. there are many new people attending their first convention. Take the time to make a new friend and welcome these new members into our Federation family.

Hosting National – At our National Convention, we showed Virginia Hospitality and love as Host Affiliate through the following:

  • The Welcome Table organized by Earl Everett
  • The Hospitality Suite organized by Nancy Yeager
  • The Welcome Concert guided by Kathryn Webster
  • The outstanding opening ceremonies where Brian Miller arranged for our Barbershop Connections and my true friend and advisor, Joe Hobson, helped me with my remarks.

So many of you volunteered throughout the convention to show warmth and friendship to all.

Relationships are important in our Federation Family. All of you have made this year possible but I need to highlight a few.

Kathryn Webster led or helped to organize student, youth track, career and parent programming.

Joe Orozco has upped our game through convention operations, the newsletter and the chapter leadership institute.

Sandy Halverson is the best Vice President I could ask for and she tells me when I am full of baloney.

Joe Hobson is my closest counselor and friend.

Mark Roane has been busier this year than any other year in his years as affiliate treasurer. He keeps us in line and ensures our bills are paid. I am exceedingly grateful for his friendship and his fantastic work on behalf of our affiliate. Did I mention everyone in Richmond thinks Mark is our paid lobbyist?

I would not be able to do this role without the fantastic support of my family. Sharon Soforenko has been instrumental throughout the year. She helped with the agenda, the food in the presidential suite, editing, and keeping me grounded. My daughters Jessica and Rebecca are my technical support and they were instrumental in the Project RISE video. My family deals with the constantly ringing phone and my commitment to this work because they know I love our work in this Federation.

Our Federation family is built on fostering lasting relationships between our members based on these 6 characteristics: Collective action, respect, courage, full participation, democracy, and love. These relationships, based on mutual trust, support, and commitment to one another, are the covenant that holds our community together.

As we look back on 2018, our 60th year, it is a time to look at our community and decide collectively who we want to be. We are NFB – a band of brothers and sisters. So, let us now begin our future together, as one family, and as one community. I am proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.


Editor’s Note: The important work of the Federation is carried out by resolutions introduced and voted upon by the membership. The following is a list of resolutions passed at our most recent state convention.

Resolution 2018-1: The UEB Versus Nemeth Mathematics Code

WHEREAS, the standard braille codes for teaching mathematics to blind students are either the United English Braille (UEB) or Nemeth codes; and

WHEREAS, the Braille version of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning (SOL) mathematics test for elementary school children is only made available using the UEB mathematics code; and

WHEREAS, both students and the teachers of blind students are only now beginning the process of becoming proficient in the use of the UEB mathematics code with a preponderance of teachers and students continuing to rely on the tried and true Nemeth code of Braille mathematics; and

WHEREAS, Virginia is one of seven small states which has adopted the UEB mathematics code while 34 states continue to provide Nemeth code instruction to teach mathematics since proficiency tests and the Nemeth code offer a more compact form of mathematics notation when compared to the UEB code; and

WHEREAS, the regulation to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 at 34 C.F.R.Part 104.35(b)(3) states, “Tests are selected and administered so as best to ensure that, when a test is administered to a student with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the test results accurately reflect the student’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factor the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the student’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (except where those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure)”; and

WHEREAS, Braille tests using a mathematics code not familiar to the student test taker will not measure mastery of the subject matter but reflect the lack of knowledge of the testing Braille code, thus reflecting issues of the student’s blindness and not measuring mathematics competency; and

WHEREAS, there appear to be no certified UEB mathematics Braillists in the commonwealth of Virginia; and

WHEREAS, requiring only the UEB code appears to meet administrative desires and not reflect the requirement that the individualized education plan must be designed to meet the student’s individualized educational needs; and

WHERE AS, THE updated Virginia plan regarding administration of the SOL tests (updated as of September 2017) indicates that new SOL tests will be produced only in UEB; and

WHEREAS, the VDOE plan continues to include the potential relaxation of that standard which may be considered for individual students who require additional support, due to the changes in the braille code, thus acknowledging that students need not take the SOL tests in UEB Math if doing so would not be appropriate for the student: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, that this organization demand that the SOL tests be offered to blind students using the preferred Braille code the students customarily use while learning Mathematics; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Virginia Department of Education support the parents’ right to select the appropriate mathematics code for their children to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Virginia Department of Education communicate this policy to all local education agencies (LEAs), teachers of blind students, and parents of blind students throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Resolution 2018-2: Concerning the recent proposed policy changes to college sponsorship under DBVI’s direction

WHEREAS, The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) is committed to the education and the informed choice of blind students across the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, The NFBV values our partnership and continued collaboration with the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired and seek to ensure that its college sponsorship policy fully embraces the potential of our students; and

WHEREAS, the proposed policy restricts and limits the options of institutions of higher education for blind and low vision students to the lowest cost; and

WHEREAS, the policy does not offer financial support for the cost of boarding until after the first two years, unless an extenuating circumstance arises; and

WHEREAS, This policy strictly prevents students from independently exploring their educational options, encouraging ambitious students to minimize their goals due to the financial implications posed by the state; and

WHEREAS, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, specifies that an eligible individual must be able to exercise informed choice in the selection of service providers, including institutions of higher education; and

WHEREAS, This policy explicitly thwarts the law’s requirement that each individual must have the opportunity to exercise informed choice on their own merit; and

WHEREAS, The primary reason given by DBVI for this proposed policy is to reduce cost at the expense of blind students, given the recent budget implications, and thus, impeding their eventual employment outcomes; and

WHEREAS, Rather than throwing the blind under the bus as a cost-cutting means, DBVI should join with NFBV to advocate for increased funding for higher education and vocational rehabilitation to ensure the future of blind professionals is thought of proactively, rather than retroactively; and

WHEREAS, by encouraging students to reach their true potential, DBVI will have the ability to take initiative from the start and witness our blind and low vision students fuel the economy as they rightfully should: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, that the NFBV take a strong stance in opposing the DBVI draft higher education proposal in its current form; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization advocate for increased vocational rehabilitation funding through their continued mission of supporting the blind and vision impaired of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Resolution 2018-3: Commending the Fredericksburg Area Chapter, NFBV Leadership and Membership for a Job Well Done

WHEREAS, our National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) conventions continue to grow and administration of the convention becomes more complex; and

WHEREAS, in 2018 , our Fredericksburg Area Chapter took on the opportunities and challenges of hosting the historic 60th state convention; and

WHEREAS, our 2018 state affiliate convention operated efficiently and smoothly: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia that we , as a NFB Affiliate of the Commonwealth of Virginia , thank our Fredericksburg Chapter for a job well done!

Announcing Braille Readers are Leaders

The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, in partnership with the NFB Jernigan Institute and The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, again announces the annual Nation-wide Braille Readers Are Leaders (BRAL) contest for kids. Students must be K-12, and must reside in a state registered for the contest. Entrants compete to read the most Braille pages, going against other students in similar grades across all participating states. The contest runs for seven weeks, encouraging students to be proud of their Braille reading ability and to work to improve their Braille skills — while possibly winning prizes in the process.

A thumbnail sketch of the contest:

  • For each student who enters, a certifying official (parent, teacher, etc.) must fill out and submit a registration form. This can be done as early as November 1 2018 and as late as January 19 2019.
  • Students enter in one of five grade categories: K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, & 9-12.
  • Participants record Braille pages read between December 1 2018 and January 19 2019 on a reading log.
  • The certifying official must submit the completed reading log form by February 2 2019.
  • Prizes in each grade category are: first, $25; second, $15; third, $10.
  • Every contestant, whether a winner or not, will receive a gift bag of Braille-related items at the end of the contest.
  • To get the complete contest rules, registration form, and the reading log form, visit the website,
  • Both the registration form and the reading log form can be submitted by email as attachments to Deborah Stein at Please put Nationwide BRAL plus the contestant’s name in the subject line, or call 773-203-1394. Alternatively, you can mail to: Deborah Stein, 5817 N. Nina Ave., Chicago, IL 60631
  • In addition to awards in the five grade categories, Kelly Doty Awards of $25 will be given to students who have met unusual challenges in order to learn and read Braille. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, having other disabilities in addition to blindness or being an English language learner.

Harnessing Up with VAGDU

The Virginia Association of Dog Guide Users (VAGDU) is alive and harnessing up for some work!

The division met during the state convention. WE had twelve persons in attendance and we didn’t count the number of dogs. WE held elections and set out our list of issues on which we want to focus over the next twelve months, and likely beyond.

We elected the following officers:

President: Brittany Fraer
Vice-president: Terri Nettles
Treasurer: Bob Hartt
Secretary: Jackie Larrauri
Board Member: Jeff Lucas
Board Member: Joy Relton

We will be holding quarterly conference calls. Our first will be in January. Please stay tuned for the call details.

Below is the list of issues to which we will be giving our attention in some manner.

  • Ride share–reporting bad and good experiences
  • Educating community, officials such as cab drivers, police, hospitals about: techniques in using, rights, and policies
  • Airlines and air travel
  • Choosing a school
  • Travel on cruises with dogs–health requirements, laws, rights, concerns, requirements dog left in room or cabins unattended, relieving areas
  • Law enforcement: educate about rights dogs in stores, restaurants, ambulances, emergency shelters, Ensure dogs needs going to bath room laws, techniques
  • Training how to relieve on ships and other situations
  • Toileting harness
  • Clicker training
  • Using GPS with dogs

For more information please join the VAGDU email list.


Joy Relton, Board Member

Party with the Potomac Chapter

Hello Colleagues,

Save the date, Potomac Chapter Holiday Party

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Location: Bone Fish Grill

Address: 1101 South Joyce Street, Arlington, Virginia 22202

Time: 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM

Cost: $30 includes tip and tax

RSVP: to Sarah Blumberg by December 11

Phone: 202-427-4814


Now, to the most important part. The menu is below.


House Salad
Our salad mix tossed with a citrus herb Vinaigrette, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, hearts of palm and topped with pepita seeds

Classic Caesar Salad
Romaine lettuce tossed with our house-made Caesar dressing and croutons


6oz ATLANTIC SALMON* Served with your choice of Mango Salsa or Lemon Butter sauce

LILY’S CHICKEN Sautéed spinach, goat cheese and artichoke hearts topped with lemon basil butter

PECAN PARMESAN-CRUSTED RAINBOW TROUT Artichoke hearts, fresh basil and lemon butter

VEGETARIAN PASTA Cavatappi pasta, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and asparagus tossed in a creamy pesto sauce


Garlic Whipped Potatoes Potatoes Au Gratin
Jasmine Rice French Green Beans

Key Lime Pie with roasted pecan crust
Jen’s Jamaican Coconut Pie Creamy coconut custard, Myer’s Rum sauce and fresh whipped cream
Macadamia Nut Brownie Flourless brownie, raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with macadamia nuts

I hope to see everyone at this festive event. Happy holidays!

John Halverson, Ph.D., President
Potomac Chapter

And Then Party with Greater Alexandria

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday! No doubt you exhausted yourself with food, family, and turkey-related fun, but take a nap and get some rest, because the season is just getting underway!

You won’t want to miss the second annual Greater Alexandria Chapter holiday party, scheduled for Saturday, December 15, beginning at 6:00pm, at the lovely home of Bonnie O’Day and Robert Hart. There will be hot food provided by a caterer, so a contribution of $20 is requested. Financial assistance is available upon request – no one should miss this party because they do not have the fiscal resources.

The address of the O’Day/Hart home is:

4005 Ellicott St.
Alexandria, VA 22304

Bring your holiday cheer, your elf shoes, reindeer noses, and bring a friend! Bring two friends! Feel free to bring your favorite holiday beverage as well.

Please RSVP by December 11 to Bonnie O’day at so that we can give the caterer a head count.

I look forward to seeing all of you there!

Brian R. Miller, Ph.D.
Greater Alexandria Chapter

The Greater Alexandria Chapter Plays A Role in Community Action That Advances the Blind Agenda
By Jeremy Grandstaff

On October 25, the Greater Alexandria Chapter adopted its official strategic plan which included a reaffirmed commitment to engaging in direct action to make our community safer for blind people. This is a continuation of the chapter’s already started efforts in the past years and has the potential to raise our level of credibility within the city.

In fact, our members have already been playing key roles in advocating for safer streets for people who bike and walk. Two members of the chapter sit on the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee and have been vocal in advocating for the city to pass a Vision Zero Policy and Complete Streets policy. Vision Zero is a public commitment from the city that no lost lives or people injured are ever an acceptable result of a traffic crash. Complete streets ensure that when the city makes transportation-related decisions, they will ensure that streets are designed for all users. Together, these policies create a priority that pedestrians, blind people, are protected and assured safer and more accessible paths while walking.

In addition to representing the blind community on city committees, NFBV Greater Alexandria also played a key role in helping launch a new advocacy organization in July 2017 committed to telling the impactful stories of people who have been crashed into by a car. Alexandria’s Families for Safe Streets is committed to creating safer places for people to walk to their destinations; and we’re honored to be helping to steer that organization as it tackles its strategy over the coming years. We even showed up to city council to tell the stories of personal injury that resulted from car crashes while walking. Check out the videos on the AFSS Facebook page and see if you can find a member you know that testified.
Whether members take concerns to city council, call the city to report unsafe intersections, or play more key roles in advancing pedestrian advocacy, this helps to raise the credibility of the chapter, as it demonstrates the competence and confidence that blind people bring to steering the city to be safer and more accessible for our community.

The Future of the NFB of Virginia

Editor’s Note: The following remarks were delivered by Tracy Soforenko to the state convention on Sunday, November 11.

Extra Extra Read All About It, Historical news is being Made!

The Newspaper Headline would be NFBV Building on Success

From my high school English class, Newspaper articles tell who, what, how, where, and when.
I will use that model for our conversation on Building Our Future.

Who are We? Now and Tomorrow

We are more diverse than ever. Reflecting the mosaic of the Commonwealth, we are taking steps to ensure we are welcoming.
Where there is singing, there is someone who is horribly off key. It hurts to hear them sing. You have someone in mind.

At the banquet, with our fabulous Federation singers, you probably thought it was me.

Our growing strength comes from that diversity. However, this diversity means you will have more interactions with people who are quite different from you.
Race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics, economics and other factors.

In our society today, there are pressures to just connect with the people who are like you. We need to fight that pressure to connect with people who are different from us. If we are going to grow to reach our full potential as a truly inclusive federation family, we need to embrace that diversity.

What 1: Becoming A Member Should Mean Something

I’d like to share my personal story.

After my first meeting, it took multiple calls from Larry Povinelli and other Potomac chapter members to get me to come to a second meeting. Billie Ruth Schlank put me to work at that second meeting.

Then, I was invited to Sandy and John Halverson’s to discuss NFB Philosophy. I had very different views and they were all patient with me.

We must teach them our NFB Philosophy. It is not enough to take their 5 bucks and hope they figure it out on their own. These people will have a different perspective and views on blindness. Accept people where they are. They may not share all our views. They may not do things the way you do them. They may not always use their cane. Here’s the thing though: If we want to grow and be an inclusive community, we need to accept people where they are.

We must implement formal training on our philosophy to help people really understand how we work and how they work the NFB network. Otherwise, we are just a social club.

What 2: Change with Changing Times

I was listening to a couple talking about their experience with a non-profit organization. “People don’t want to join. We held a brunch, had a speaker, and we had the usual people. We even served lox. Why won’t this next generation participate. All they want to do is take.”
Were they talking about millennials? No, it was my parents talking about college students when I was a college student. I walked in and used my best Tevya voice, Tradition! We have always done it that way.
No college student wants to attend a 9:00 AM weekend brunch.
Millennial’s want to participate in hands on programming that is exciting and lets them connect with others. So does everyone else.
People want service projects, training classes, and other ways where people can interact outside of a chapter meeting and get a direct benefit.

What 3: Building on Our Success with Services

Throughout the convention, we have been talking about the connections made through our 2 week Braille Enrichmond for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies. This 2 week day camp is very successful, but the day camp model is hard on parents who need to commute long distances for their children. Following the approach used in 7 other states, we will pilot a 1-week residential program in the Summer of 2019. If this is interesting to you, find Sandy Halverson, Beth Sellers or Nancy Yeager.

One year ago, Project RISE was just a concept. Our target was at least 10 students in the Northern Virginia pilot program. By the end of the pilot over the Summer, we had 16 students. Now, we have 32 students in a program that has expanded state wide. We will look to identify new approaches to teach resilience, develop programs with other NFB Career Mentoring programs across the country and activities across the Commonwealth.

How: Working Differently – What we Do is Changing.

The change seems great until the way you have always done it changes.

We need to transform Our chapters.

1. invite them to come leveraging all our resources and contacts
2. Entice them with great programming. No one wants to go to a boring meeting. Change things up.
3. Work Them; by giving everyone a job
4. Love them into our Federation Family by building a valued relationship that helps us retain new people

Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute

We need to build a new generation of chapter and affiliate leaders who are:

1. Trained – Trained in our philosophy
2. Innovate – Able to bring innovation to our chapters
3. Experiment – Willing to experiment and
Supported – Supported by resources across the state
4. Wacky – – These leaders will come back with wacky ideas. Only some will work. We will help each other achieve them.


We can’t be everywhere, but we need to grow our presence west of the Blue Ridge and in other parts of the state.

We need to increase the participation in our great At Large chapter.

Finally, we need to form an At Large Chapter in Spanish. Language should not be a barrier to connecting with positive blind role models and developing your own NFB philosophy.

When – this depends on you?

We will use our board meetings, visits to chapters, and the CLI program to move these ideas forward. The pace of change will be driven by the willingness of our membership to step beyond the comfort zone.

If we want change, we need to be the change. The ideas that move forward will have a champion from our membership.

Join Mr. Off Key in song, We are the champions, no time for losers, cuz we are the Champions … of the World.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: October 2018

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

We hope you took some time to enjoy the start of a gorgeous Fall and appreciate our many blessings. In our household, the key topics in our home are college applications and the National Federation of the blind of Virginia Convention.

2018 National Federation of the Blind of Virginia Convention

The theme for this year’s convention is diamonds in the Federation: Building Our future. We are implementing programming that highlights our past, our present, and our future. Preparations for the 60th Anniversary Convention of the National Federation of the blind of Virginia are at a frenzy. The agenda will be published later in October and we are really proud of the program we are building together.
To make it truly special, you need to join us and invite some friends to come with you. We need you to help encourage others to participate in this year’s convention.

As a reminder, the southbound bus originally scheduled to depart after convention had to be cancelled due to lack of interest. The twelve prospective passengers who had previously expressed interest will need to find alternative transportation.

Finally, on the point of state convention, remember I am still looking for personal stories, accomplishments and successes, that can be incorporated into the presidential report. The presidential report is a highlight of all our victories across this affiliate family. Please help me showcase the best of our work over the past year. If you have something to share, please do so by Sunday, October 28.

Project RISE Growing State Wide

I am truly thrilled by the success we are experiencing with Project RISE. We had 15 students at our Northern Virginia kickoff event in September. The students learned to barbecue and I was grateful to enjoy the last burger at this vibrant event. We have nearly thirty students signed up for the program and the program is still growing. Our students are having a remarkable experience and they are sharing the program with their friends. Expect to see many of these students at our state convention. If you know students between the ages of 14-21, have them check out our web site: or contact the coordinators at

Please note that in order to fully participate at the Project RISE specific programming at the state convention, we need students to apply to the program in early October. Details on applying online can be found at the web site listed above.

Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute

I am thrilled to share that we have 10 participants in the Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute with the program kickoff event scheduled for Thursday, November 8 at the state convention.

The following individuals are signed up to participate.

  • Naim Abu El Hawa
  • Marc Canamaso
  • Annette Carr
  • Susie D’Mello
  • Mike Davis
  • Brittany Crone Ingram
  • Jimmy Morris
  • Sarah Patnaude
  • Christopher Walker
  • Kathryn Webster

Virginia Affiliate Nominating Committee

All elected officers are up for re-election at the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia State Convention. I am pleased to announce the members of the 2018 Virginia Affiliate Nominating Committee. The committee members are:

  • Fred Schroeder
  • Corlis Jones
  • Domonique Lawless

Virginia Affiliate Audit committee

the following individuals have agreed to serve as the 2018 Virginia Affiliate
Audit Committee

  • Andre Tines, Chair
  • Jacki Brown
  • Sean McMahon

Visiting Chapters

I am excited to participate in the October 13 River and Bay Chapters Walk with the Blind. Hopefully, you can come join with other Federationists at this event or at one of the many Meet The blind events within your local community.

There’s a whole lot going on. Please, make it out to state convention. We would really love to see you, and please bring friends into the family reunion.

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“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.”–Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind, from this year’s national presidential report

Platinum Sponsor:
Free Aira Site Access at National Federation of the Blind State Conventions

The National Federation of the Blind has partnered with Aira to provide free Aira Site Access to NFB members during our 2018 state convention. Aira subscribers who are National Federation of the Blind members can use the service at our convention for free without having minutes deducted from their plans. In addition, those interested in Aira have the unique opportunity to try out the service for free while at our convention. This convention-wide, free site access is available only at NFB state conventions, giving NFB members an exclusive opportunity to test-drive Aira in a convention setting.

Aira allows blind individuals to connect via live video to a trained agent through a mobile app or wearable glasses to get real-time visual information or assistance. Learn more about Aira and special pricing available for NFB members at

How it Works

Before you head to convention or as soon as you get there, download the free Aira app from the App Store, and create a guest account if you are not already an Aira subscriber. Also, make sure your phone’s GPS feature is enabled. When you enter the convention Site Access location, your phone will receive a notification letting you know that the space you are in is part of the Aira Network. When you connect with an agent, he or she will also confirm that you are now covered by the network, and no minutes will be deducted from your account.

When you leave or enter convention areas that are covered by the Site Access network, you will be informed by the Aira agent.

To learn more about Aira and the special plan available exclusively to NFB members, visit

Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired: ANNOUNCEMENT OF PUBLIC MEETING

During the fall of 2018, the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) will conduct three public meetings providing stakeholders an opportunity to make comments regarding DBVI programs and services. DBVI seeks input regarding agency strategic planning, development of agency policies and procedures, and implementing services and supports to potentially eligible and eligible individuals who are blind, vision impaired, and deafblind. DBVI is particularly interested in comments regarding the following programs, services, and divisions:

  • Independent Living/Rehabilitation Teaching
  • Low Vision Services
  • Deafblind Services
  • Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired Programs
  • Rehabilitation Technology Services
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Workforce Services
  • Library and Resource Center Services
  • Virginia Industries for the Blind
  • Virginia Enterprises for the Blind

The next public meeting will be:

Fredericksburg Area

In Conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind

State Convention

Fredericksburg Hospitality House Hotel and Conference Center
2801 Plank Road
Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401

November 9th, 2018

5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Written and e-mail comments may be submitted prior to December 31, 2018 to:

Susan K. Davis, Policy and Training Coordinator, DBVI
397 Azalea Avenue
Richmond, VA, 23227
804-371-3140/1-800-622-2155 (Voice/TTY).

Individuals requiring interpreters or other special accommodations should contact Susan K. Davis (800-622-2155) at least two weeks prior to the meeting to request the preferred accommodation.

Introducing You to the Hospitality House
By Joe Orozco

Daring to describe the layout of a hotel to a bunch of blind people is, quite frankly, a little daunting. I don’t have the knack Mrs. Jernigan has, and so I’m sure one or two of you will arrive at the hotel property and immediately pick up on three or four things that were poorly described. If my descriptions confuse you, and you get lost, get your phone out and use that Aira service I keep hearing about.

Special thanks to my daughter, Vicky, who ventured out with me to Fredericksburg back in August, in part, to help prepare this description for you.

The hotel is roughly shaped like a U, except the top of the U has a portion that juts out. This protrusion is where Ledos Pizza, the front desk and main lobby, the Palm Room, and Shannon’s Grill are located. In the center of the U shape is the courtyard, swimming pool, and gazebo are located.

Now, let’s break this down a little.

You’ll be greeted by an automatic door at the front entrance. Immediately to your left will be a small seating area. Walk a few steps forward , past this seating area, and on your left will be a pillar and daily events stand. Walk around the pillar, and you’ll be at the front desk. If you were to follow the corridor left of the front desk, you would come to a set of restrooms on your right. Ledos Pizza is at the end of this corridor.

To the right of the front desk is a staircase that will take you to the second floor. When you get to the top of this staircase, make a U-turn, and you’ll end up at the Fredericksburg Ballroom. This is the ballroom students will use for the vast majority of their activities. The only other meeting space we will use on the second floor is the Commonwealth Room, and this will be for the parents’ luncheon and business meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Okay, come back down with me to the lobby. To the right of the staircase is another small seating area. To the right of this little seating area is a short corridor primarily used by staff. The Palm Room, however, is located at the end of this short corridor. The Palm Room will be used on Thursday evening for CLI participants and a couple other breakout sessions, but the important thing to note about the Palm Room is that there are doors in this room that lead out into the courtyard, and cutting through the courtyard is a quicker way to get to the conference center. I’ll describe the courtyard for you momentarily.

Back to the lobby, and to the right of the short corridor is Shannon’s Grill with another small seating area and piano located just outside its doors.

If you’re not confused by now, you’re my new hero. So, let me recap what we have so far. Come in through the sliding glass doors. Walk forward until you find the pillar on your left. I’m going to use this pillar as a reference point. This means that the front entrance is now at your 6:00. The small seating area is at your 7:00 and 8:00. The corridor taking you to Ledos Pizza and the restrooms are at your 9:00. The front desk is at your 11:00. The staircase to the second floor is at your 12:00. The seating area adjacent to this staircase is at your 1:00. The short corridor taking you to the Palm Room is at your 2:00. Shannon’s Grill and the piano are at your 3:00. Described this way, it sounds like a huge lobby. It’s actually not. It’s pretty cozy, but it does feel a little busy considering all the options.

Now, just to tick you off a little, this is the first of three lobbies. This is officially called Lobby 1.

Remember, all of this is located in that protrusion part of the U shape.

Alright, now, if you were to come into the hotel and make an immediate right, you would enter into a long hallway. This hallway is located to the right of Shannon’s Grill with windows running along your right side. The fitness room is located at the end of this corridor on your right, just past an emergency exit door. You’ll know you passed the fitness room if you hit a set of four steps. If you can’t do steps, there is a ramp on your left. Going up these steps will take you into the sleeping quarters and into what is considered A Wing. This is the left side of the U shape.

Stay with me, because after you go up that short set of steps, you are now on the second floor of the hotel. Hey, what can I tell you. This thing was built on a hill.

The first set of elevators will be on this sleeping corridor on your left. That’s right. There are no elevators in proximity to the front desk. Yes, I was perturbed too.

When you hit the soda machine and ice machine on your left, you will make a left into B Wing. You’ll hit a short hall, make a hard right and another hard left, and start down a new corridor. This is the bottom of the U shape, and this too primarily consists of sleeping quarters.

When you get to the end of B Wing, you’re going to hit a dead end. Making a left will take you to additional sleeping rooms. Making a right will empty you out into a large open area that is Lobby 2. There’s another soda machine and snack machine immediately on your right. There’s a large seating area arranged out in front of you.

If you make an immediate left U turn, you’re going to find a staircase leading you back down to the first floor and into what is C Wing, the conference center. This makes up the right side of the U shape.

OK, so at the bottom of the stairs we’re going to use another clock face. This is Lobby 3. At the center of Lobby 3 is a seating area. This is where we will hold our pre-banquet reception on Saturday evening.

The Patrick Henry room is to your right, or 3:00.

There’s a set of restrooms at your 2:00.

The Governor’s Room is at your 12:00. The Governor’s Room will serve as our affiliate office, and I don’t really want you in there unless you are a board member, working registration, working the auction, working exhibits, or got permission from someone working these areas to visit in there. The office will be locked overnight if anything valuable needs to be stored.

To the left of Governor’s Room, at your 11:00, is an elevator. This is the most convenient means to reach the Presidential Suite on the third floor. The only other space we will use on the third floor is the Executive Lounge, which is where childcare will be held.

Now, if you were to come down those stairs and make a left, you’ll be in a long corridor, or C Wing, the right side of the U shape. On your left will be floor to ceiling windows and exit doors that take you out into the courtyard. On your right will be doors leading into the Presidential Ballroom.

When the ballroom is opened without partitions, it is called the Presidential Ballroom. When the partitions go up, the rooms, starting immediately on your right and extending toward the end of the corridor, the rooms are: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Washington and Monroe, at both ends of the large ballroom, are the larger of the four rooms. Jefferson and Madison are the smaller partitions.

The Washington Room, the partition closest to you, is where the Information Table and Audio team will be stationed. This is also where assistive listening devices can be checked out.

The Monroe Room, the partition farthest away from you down the corridor, is where we will hold the Exhibit Hall.

After Monroe, at the very end of this C Wing, there is a staircase taking you up to the upper floors.

The courtyard can be accessed through doors directly across from Washington and Monroe. The courtyard is a rectangular shape. There is grassy area, a pool, and a gazebo located here. The dog relief area will be directly across the gazebo, but at the time of this writing, I have not gotten a specific pinpoint, so please ask hotel staff to direct you or one of our marshals. They will be told where to find the designated spot.

Remember, the courtyard can also be accessed via the Palm Room. If you go out that way, you’ll come out onto a patio. The patio is on an upper level. You’ll need to walk down steps down into the courtyard level itself.

To use cardinal directions, the Palm Room is at the northwest corner of the courtyard. In the northeast there’s a parking lot and the dumpsters. The conference center, or C Wing, runs along the east of the courtyard. B Wing is at the southern boundary, and A Wing is on the west.

Again, if you get lost, use Aira, or ask one of our friendly marshals to point you in the right direction. Yes, this property is a little more confusing than the Westin last year, but once you get a rough feel for the layout, you’ll be the one helping others get oriented.

It is not about chapter size. It is about chapter effectiveness
By John Bailey, President – Fairfax Chapter

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of visiting many of our state NFB chapters.

One common wish I heard from chapter leaders was that they were frustrated because they didn’t have the membership numbers they wanted. After listening to them for a while, I realized they were comparing themselves to some idealized group with lots and lots of members, resources, and money in the bank.

I can understand their frustration and how easy it is to compare yourself to some ideal. But, the truth is that not every NFB chapter can be a mega chapter. And, that is a good thing.

The vast majority of chapters live in areas with less than ideal transportation options and low blind population densities. This is why there are so few mega chapters. People need to easily and affordably get to meetings and that isn’t always possible everywhere in the state.

So, if you can’t be a mega chapter, does that mean your humble little chapter is a failure? Absolutely not. Here is why.

A chapter is a chapter even if it has less than a handful of members. Limited transportation options and small chapter membership has no impact on how effective your chapter can be in your community. A small chapter can do as much as a mega chapter in terms of educating the public about the ‘truth about blindness’ while giving the local vision impaired a comfortable place to ask questions and have a good time with their peers. In fact, having lots and lots of small chapters throughout the state can be a very good thing. First, we are able to include those vision impaired in rural communities who could really use us. Second, having representation in as many regions as possible gives us clout when it comes to voicing our concerns to our legislators. They love constituents and having lots of chapters gives us that leverage.

The bottom line is, the vast majority of NFB chapters are not mega chapters. In spite of that, they are very effective in their educational outreach to the general public and to their local neighbor blind who need them the most.

Tech it Out! NEW Technology and Food Discussion

Did you see what Hadley’s been up to? Apparently they’re holding monthly conference calls to talk about different technology options. Here’s one of their latest announcements:

Our first Tech it Out discussion on grocery delivery services was terrific! So many of us shared experiences and questions that we didn’t get to the second segment: tapping into online restaurant delivery and cook-at-home meal kit delivery services. So that’s what we’ll do for our next discussion.
Call in and hear a few tips from Hadley and have a chance to share your own questions and experiences with these restaurant and food kit delivery services.

Tech It Out Discussion: Food, Part 2: Restaurant and Meal Kit Delivery

Date: Tuesday, October 30
Time: 8 PM Central
Phone number: (408) 638-0986; Code: 394939348#
iPhone one-tap: US: +14086380986,,394939348#

And for those who weren’t able to join the last call, here’s a link to the recording. Free of Charge. Open to All. Spread the Word.

Ricky Enger,
Technology Learning Expert
“>link to the recording. Free of Charge.

Open to All. Spread the Word.

Ricky Enger,
Technology Learning Expert

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

2018 – VABS Bowl With The Blind

I am writing to impress upon you the importance of registering for the VABS Bowl with the Blind event on October 6, 2018. With the event being two weeks away, I cannot tell you how important it is for all attendees to register with me if you plan to make it. If you are interested in attending the biggest student event for our division this year, please send an email to

with your name and phone number or a text with the same information to (804) 801-7674. Attendees that do not send me a registration will be unable to compete, as we have a cap and we are approaching the number soon. All registrations must be received by Friday, September 28, 2018.

If you are interested in using the ride share option in Richmond and Northern Virginia, please contact me by Monday, September 24, 2018. Anyone that has not registered and paid their fee for ride share by this date will not have a seat saved for them. I hope to connect with all of you at the bowling event and wish all of you the best in the coming weeks. Below is some information about the event:

  • Time: 1pm-4pm
  • Price: $10 (3 games and shoes)
  • Location: Pin Boys at the Beach
  • 1577 Laskin Rd.
  • Virginia Beach, VA 23451
  • Ride Share:
    • Richmond: $30 round trip
    • Northern Virginia $60 round trip

We are raffling tickets for a Google Home Mini smart speaker for the event. This will be done through a virtual ticket system for preorders and we will have physical tickets at the event. We will also do a live feed on our official Facebook page on the day of the event where we will take ticket orders for members who are not present. Tickets are $1 each or 5 for $3. VABS accepts CashApp and Venmo for these payments. Please contact Robert Parsons at (804) 801-7674 or Gerald Meredith at (804) 243-3980.

The Vigilant: August-September 2018

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send the editor an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

I hope you took some time to enjoy some end of Summer fun with friends and family. We just brought my older daughter down to college for her sophomore year and my younger daughter is getting ready for her senior year of high school. Wow, does time fly.

2018 National Federation of the Blind of Virginia Convention

We are ramping up for the 60th Anniversary Convention of the National Federation of the blind of Virginia. Plans are coming together and you should expect this convention to be extraordinary. But, to make it truly special, you need to join us and invite some friends to come with you. Tremendous effort goes into making the convention experience valuable to all. We need you to help encourage others to participate in this year’s convention.

Details on the convention will be provided throughout the month. Some highlights we can share at this time include:

  • Diamond Anniversary Celebration – Uricka Harrison, Sarah Patnaude, and Joe Hobson are planning special events for our 60th Anniversary.
  • National representative – Our national Representative, James Gashel, will be truly inspiring. Jim has been a key player in many of the major decisions of the past 50 years and he has a powerful understanding of where we have been and where we are going.
  • Training Opportunities – Dan Wenzel, Director of Blindness Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND Inc.) our NFB training center in Minnesota, will be joining us for this year’s convention. We will have presentations on Project RISE, Summer Work Experiences, and the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

We are currently working on the agenda and will provide the full agenda in October.

Southeast Regional Student Seminar

The Southeast Regional Student Seminar, held August 10-12 at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, was a powerful experience for the 50+ students from across 10 states. It was a pleasure to work with student leaders on Friday morning for a great program to grow their leadership potential. Robert Parsons, President of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, played a key role in the planning of this outstanding event and there were over 10 Virginia students and many leaders from across the Commonwealth invested in the programming. John Bailey joined me in working with students on Friday evening and Saturday and everyone had a blast. The students were really impressive and they were eager to learned from leaders and share their experiences.

Project RISE goes State Wide

Our pre-employment transition service for students 14-21 is now running 2 concurrent tracks. Based on the success of our Northern Virginia pilot, we are continuing with the Northern Virginia program running 1 Saturday a month between September and May with summer work experiences. Additionally, we are launching a state-wide program where students will meet quarterly (at events like the state convention and a weekend at the Jernigan Institute) and will work with our mentors throughout the year to develop their skills. We want to share details on the program with all eligible students and encourage people to go to our Project RISE web site, or contact the coordinators via email,

Please note that in order to fully participate at the Project RISE specific programming at the state convention, we need students to apply to the program in September. Details on applying online can be found at the web site listed above.

Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute

As voted upon at our August 4 affiliate board meeting, the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia will shortly be launching the Chapter Leadership Institute, a training program designed to cultivate tomorrow’s leaders at the chapter and affiliate levels. The Chapter Leadership Institute (CLI,) will replace the former Leadership Fellows Program as well as the Virtual Chapter Retreat. The Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute (CLI) is a bit different from past programs because we are not convinced we have all the answers in-house. We will balance use of Federation leaders and outside resources to grow chapter and affiliate leaders. Our focus is strong and vibrant chapters where we have many people sharing the load and working together.

Growing leaders in our movement is essential to our organizational success. It is vital to the continued success of our chapters and the Virginia affiliate. Most leaders in our movement remember that someone invested time and effort to develop them into the leader they are today. We know this is important to each chapter’s continued evolution and vitality. Chapter presidents have been tasked to recommend people for the program by September 15. If you yourself are interested in being considered for the program, I encourage you to please have a candid conversation with your chapter president.

The CLI will be coordinated by Joe Orozco of the Prince William Chapter and Domonique Lawless of the Richmond Chapter, both of whom have experience working for the Federation at various levels of the organization.

Visiting Chapters

It is an honor to participate in chapter programs and activities. It was a pleasure to participate in the 8/18 Potomac Chapter Auction and the Greater Alexandria 8/26 Strategic Planning Workshop.

Please let me know what your chapter is up to and maybe I can attend.

As always, I am encouraged and inspired by the work of our affiliate. You are a very important part of changing the lives of the blind. Please continue working alongside me. I believe together we really can bring about improvements anywhere our blind brothers and sisters meet challenges.

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

2018 NFB of Virginia Scholarship Program
By Brian Miller, NFB of Virginia Scholarship Chair

Deadline – Tuesday, September 25, 2018 at 11:59pm

The NFB of Virginia is pleased to announce the launch of its James F.
Nelson merit scholarship program for the academic year 2018-2019. Up to three scholarships of $1500.00 will be awarded based on academic achievement, community engagement, and leadership potential.

The NFB of Virginia believes that all blind and visually impaired students who apply for one of our scholarships can benefit from the experience of attending the state convention. As such, the NFBV will cover reasonable costs associated with attending the convention for all eligible applicants, including a room at the hotel shared with a fellow scholarship applicant, most meals, and the cost of registration and a banquet ticket. Scholarship applicants should work with their local chapter to explore transportation options, and should notify the scholarship committee if they encounter difficulties. Applicants are expected to pre-register in order to signal their intention to attend the state convention and to assist the scholarship committee to make hotel reservations.

To be eligible, all applicants must:

  • Be legally blind or have a visual impairment that qualifies them to receive services under IDEA or from a state vocational rehabilitation program;
  • Be a resident or be attending an accredited institution of higher education full-time in Virginia;
  • Plan to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in the
    2018-2019 academic year; and

  • Participate in the entire NFB of Virginia state convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities to be held November 9 to 11, 2018, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

To obtain an application, go to

For a Word version of the application, email our scholarship chair.

Convention Operations Report
By Joe Orozco, Chairman

My name is starting to pop up more frequently in your inboxes. Sarah is cranking up the social media channels. Tracy is fighting extra hard not to look his age. It must be state convention season!

Alright, here are the main highlights:

Convention Registration

There are 3 ways you can pre-register for the convention.

1. Register online via the Brown Paper Tickets site.

2. Call Toll Free: (800) 838-3006 to speak with a Brown Paper Tickets representative.

3. Download the Pre-Registration form from our convention landing page and mail it with payment included to:

NFB of Virginia
3230 Grove Avenue
Richmond, VA 23221

By pre-registering, you will save $10 on the registration fee and $5 on your banquet ticket. Pre-Registration ends on October 26.

Remember, if you pre-register, you are automatically entered into a drawing for $100.

Hotel Accommodations

The Convention will be held Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11 , 2018. Take note that programming will begin at 9 AM Friday morning, so take advantage of the discounted rates to arrive Thursday evening, if your schedule allows.

Hotel information is as follows:

Fredericksburg Hospitality House Hotel & Conference Center
2801 Plank Rd.
Fredericksburg, VA22401

To make hotel reservations, please call: 540-786-8321, or Book your room online!

Room rates are $79 per night plus applicable taxes for Single, Double, Triple, or Quad occupancy. Reservations must be made by 5 PM on Friday, October 26, 2018. When you call the hotel, make sure to tell them that you are attending the convention so that you will receive the special convention rate. For anyone seeking to spend extra time exploring Historical Fredericksburg, the rate is good three days before and three days after the event. Individual reservations will not be guaranteed without first night’s deposit or credit card.

Please Note: The group rate is the best rate. Government and military discounts do not apply. For the rate to be honored, please contact the property directly. Do not use a travel site for booking.

Future Conventions

I know, we’re not even out with this year’s state convention agenda. Yet at our August board meeting we took the opportunity to announce the location of future conventions. We plan far in advance in order to identify and seize the best rates at some of the better properties.

In 2019 we will be hosting the state convention at the Renaissance in Portsmouth.

In 2020 and 2022 we will be rejoining our friends at the Westin in Tysons Corner. Hotel rates are steadily increasing, and so we took advantage of a multiyear agreement to keep the rates below $90.

We have temporarily tabled discussion on 2021. Part of our site selection will depend on local chapter development.

With the convention being held in Northern Virginia as often, we will need to revisit the way host chapters shoulder the financial burden of providing hospitality. At our August board meeting a proposal was raised that would have asked each chapter to contribute a set amount to ease the load on the local organizations. The proposal failed on a tie. If you have ideas on minimizing the cost for hospitality, please talk to Tracy or bring them for discussion in November.

Sponsorships and Exhibits

Following closely on the heels of that last point is the matter of sponsorships. If we create a robust enough program, we will be able to minimize the financial burden on our affiliate and chapter treasuries. Please, if you have any contacts at companies with an interest in investing in our programming, Annette Carr needs to be introduced to them. If you need talking points or ideas on how to approach businesses, please let us know.

Learn more about our Sponsorships and Exhibits program, and help us cultivate new partners in our shared mission to help the blind of Virginia.

Northern Virginia Bus for the 2018 State Convention
By John Halverson, President, Potomac Chapter

The National Federation of the Blind 2018 state convention is rapidly approaching. It will be held in Fredericksburg Virginia from November 9-11. It has been suggested that we arrange a bus to go from Northern Virginia to Fredericksburg and to return to northern Virginia at the conclusion of the convention.

During week days there are many opportunities to take either Amtrak or the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) from DC, Arlington or Alexandria to the convention. However on Sunday, November 11, after the convention concludes, Amtrak is limited to an early evening train and the VRE does not run.

Please let me know by October 1 if you are interested in sharing the cost of a bus.

There are three options:

  1. No bus.
  2. A bus going both ways.
  3. A bus returning to northern Virginia on Sunday, November 11.

If we do not get a strong response, we can only assume that people are not interested in a bus either way. We speculate that the Sunday North bound bus is viable but we need you to contact me to let me know you are interested.

John Halverson
703 379-1141

Project RISE is Now Available Statewide

We are excited to announce that Project RISE (Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, and Employment), our program for transition age youth ages 14 to 21 will be starting it’s second year in September and is now offering programming state wide.

Please note that the deadline to participate in the Project RISE programming at convention in November is September 20. If you have any questions, please email or call (203) 273-8463. You can also visit the Project RISE website at

Resilience | Independence | Self-Advocacy | Employment

Blind students ages 14-21 throughout the entire state ofVirginia will have the chance to interact with and form lasting relationships with young successful blind professionals, who have overcome many of the obstacles placed before blind students and now are eager to teach their younger peers how to conquer life.

The statewide program will meet four times throughout2018-2019. Students will have the opportunity to further develop skills such as travel, home management, and technology through interactive and hands on workshops and community activities.

Through mentorship and a positive environment, students of all ages will learn how to communicate effectively with teachers and employers to ensure they receive the tools they need to succeed in school, and the work place.

Students will share their educational and career goals andProject RISE will help them reach those goals through, resume and interview workshops, and placement in summer internships or jobs that interest them. Join us in this journey toward independence, confidence, and success! Blindness will never hold you back.

For any questions or to secure your spot Email:, Visit, or call: (203) 273-8463.

How to be More Popular
By John Bailey, President, Fairfax Chapter

I was honored to be a part of the South Eastern Division weekend held at our National Center in Baltimore in early August. It was great to catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones.

One of the activities during the weekend I particularly found interesting was the breakout session where the students talked about the challenges they were facing and the ensuing conversations about how to resolve them.

One particular conversation that really caught my attention was where a student shared how hard it was to make friends and how challenging it was to get more socially active. This desire was shared by lots of their peers.

The problem sounded very familiar because this was the same challenge I had growing up vision impaired. It was tough being a part of the sighted community because you were not like them And, I didn’t know anyone else who was blind. It felt pretty lonely at times.

That all changed when I entered college. I met up with fellow students who really seemed to have it all together. They were interesting, popular, and were always being invited to parties and other social events. Two of them were my roommates and they were the Student President and Vice President. By watching them and following their examples, I was soon able to greatly improved my social situation.

The people I emulated were masters at being popular and here are the five actions they took that made them be people you wanted to hang out with.

Act Confident.

I have heard the phrase, “Confidence is sexy” many times and it is true. Even if you don’t look like a movie star or wear the latest clothes, being confident overcomes all that and more. But, how do you act confident if you don’t feel it? The answer is simple and with practice, people will begin to perceive you as self assured.

I said “act” confident on purpose. The first step in becoming more confident is by pretending you are. Act as if you felt cool calm and collected even if you don’t feel it. This will become easier over time because of all the positive feedback you will be getting from your new friends.

Listen more than talk

Every one wants to feel that they have something to say and you listening to them makes them feel good. And, that is what making friends is all about. When talking to others, spend most of your time listening. People will like you a lot more because you care enough to hear their thoughts.

Give and give some more

Friends help each other. So, don’t be stingy with your assistance. Make an effort to do something nice for every person you meet. Again, if you show interest in them, they will show interest in you.

Be the party!

Don’t wait to be invited to parties, host your own event and invite others. You know how being invited to something makes you feel special. What if you were hosting a party and made others feel special by inviting them. Making others feel special makes you special too.

Remember to smile

Because this is last on the list doesn’t make it any less important. When you smile, others will smile too. There is scientific research that shows that when you smile at someone, a part of their brain fires and they get good feelings about you. Smiling also communicates that you like them. People want to be liked. Smile while you are spending time with people and they will want to spend more time with you.

Wanting to be more socially accepted isn’t just a “blind problem”. It is a part of human nature to be liked and to have lots of friends. The actions I talked about will work for anyone who wants to better connect with others.

The bottom line to making friends is to make them feel special. If you make it a practice to be a better listener, be there if they need help, or just inviting them to an event, you will soon find yourself with lots more friends and much more satisfying relationships.

Quick tips-Making Our Meetings and Workshops More Accessible, Productive, and Fun
By Jeremy Grandstaff, 2nd Vice-president, Greater Alexandria Chapter

At the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV,) we have a number of meetings. At chapter meetings for example, we invite people to come to learn about NFBV, engage more effectively in our work, and to learn more about our own abilities to transform our lives to achieve what we want.

This month’s quick tip is about helping us be more intentional and successful with our meetings. Whether a chapter meeting, or committee meeting, or even a conference workshop (just another type of meeting), Here our five quick tips to help us achieve success with our meetings, which will then keep people engaged and coming back from more.

1. Plan the meeting: Identify the overall purpose, the agenda, who we need to target, and information we can send in advance for people to be most prepared. Using a small team to help us answer these questions makes it even better.

2. Have a strong and interactive agenda: Identify the logistics of our meeting, each agenda item, and for each agenda item, determine the purpose of that discussion and any ways that we can get people interacting with each other to achieve that purpose.

3. Send reports in advance and share with attendees: Ask committee chairs to give you brief reports that can be included in the agenda and preparation materials. This allows the meeting to stay focused on questions and dialog, making things more interactive and exciting.

4. Have at least one item each meeting that asks people to dialog with each other: by creating a space for small group discussion, all participants at our meeting or workshop will better process information, engage in the ask, and pay more attention. Having a speaker at an upcoming meeting? Ask them to talk for 10 minutes, break people apart to discuss what they heard, and then hold the Q&A of the speaker (we will notice a difference in the dialog and Q&A).

5. Have a great closing: Leave people with excitement about what’s happening after the meeting and make sure we have asked people to lead action items. Also, ask for some people to check out of the meeting by sharing one thing we are taking away from the discussion. Make it Fun and exciting that we came to your meeting.

At NFBV, it is critical that we bring confidence, excitement, and a collaborative spirit to our work and ensuring we are engaging new members at effective meetings will help us do just this. Here is an additional resource that might help: cheat sheet for effective meetings. We’re always hear to help our leaders succeed, so be sure to let us know how we can help.

Hadley: The Hidden Gem for Blind Entrepreneurs
By Joe Orozco

Reprinted from my personal blog.

After the economic bust in 2008 many people went into business for themselves, and while it is always a good idea to be educated on the nuances of planning and launching a new business, you don’t necessarily need a full college degree.

These days online education is nothing unique. Anyone can take advantage of sites like Khan Academy and Udemy to take courses in specific topics. In fact, for anyone, blind or sighted, interested in various online learning options, check out this helpful article from The Simple Dollar. For blind computer users, however, it’s nice to count on a service like Hadley you know is always accessible.

If you’re blind, interested in starting a business, and have not given Hadley some thought, it’s time to reconsider it.

From their website:

Founded in 1920 by William Hadley and Dr. E.V.L. Brown, Hadley offers courses free of charge to its blind and visually impaired students and their families and affordable tuition to blindness professionals. Today, Hadley is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind or visually impaired around the world, serving more than 10,000 students annually in all 50 states and 100 countries. Hadley is also the largest educator of braille worldwide. A 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, the school relies on contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations to fund its programs.

I want to turn your attention to Hadley’s Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship. The curriculum is broken into modules with specific concentrations ranging from social security, tax and accounting to legal, marketing, management and communications. While I have not seen any prerequisite requirements, I myself began, and would strongly recommend, the Self-employment with a Minimal Investment course as a starting point, because it provides a great panoramic picture of planning a business strategy.

Among other online courses, they offer:

  • Accounting for Small Business
  • Business Communications
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Fundamentals
  • Business Insurance
  • Business Law 1
  • Business Law 2
  • Business Writing
  • Market Research
  • Marketing: Conveying a Message

The online courses are all fully accessible with screen readers. It’s possible to stop and come back to your previous place in a module. The exams are laid out in a straightforward manner, and when you’re asked to submit assignments from your computer, the instructions are straightforward.

In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my Hadley experience. For no good reason, a dim part of me figured the courses were either too basic to be of any value or the instructors would be average at best. On the contrary, the class material has always been of solid caliber. The exams are well-balanced, and the instructors have always shown a firm handle of their subject. Without exception, they have been very responsive to e-mails and phone calls.

If anything, I sometimes wonder if Hadley is selling itself short. I take courses around my busy work schedule. If I had to pay a tuition fee, even a nominal amount, I might take my pace a little more seriously. The quality of instruction is so solid that you wonder if there’s a catch.

From the novice entrepreneur to the veteran, I think there’s plenty to be taken away from Hadley’s business-oriented adult learning curriculum. It proved beneficial in helping me draft a marketing strategy and revamp my overall business plan for my freelance business. I wish they would advertise their services a little better. I might very well be living under a rock, but I think Hadley could be making the mistake that blind people everywhere know it exists and what it offers.

If you’ve been talking about starting a full or part-time business but never got around to planning it; Hadley’s courses are an excellent means of taking that first crucial step.

Chapter and Division Announcements

Peninsula Chapter Annual Cookout

From Tasha Hubbard:

Hey there! Hi There! Ho There!

I know where I’ll be on 9 15 guess where?

At the annual cookout hosted by the Peninsula chapter

Full of fun, games, music and much laughter

Come from far and wide to join the celebration

Don’t you want to come help build the federation

So, aren’t you glad you asked?

Now, I’ll leave you with one small task….

Hmm What’s it going to be?

Just to please RSVP

And if you can’t make this particular celebration

No worries, we’ll gladly accept donations

When: September 15, 2018

Time: 1:00-5:00(or until you get tired)

Where: Deer Park Shelter 1 11523 Jefferson Ave. Newport News, VA

Cost: $10

Please RSVP by September 8, 2018 via email to:

Please send donations to Care of Nathan Branch

NFBV Peninsula Chapter
316 NanTucket Place Newport News, VA 23603

Walkathon in Colonial Williamsburg

From Corlis Jones, President, Greater Williamsburg Chapter

Walk With the Blind!

Join members of the Rivers and Bay chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia as we walk through Historic Colonial Williamsburg. Support us as we raise awareness of what blind people can achieve.

When: Saturday, October 13, 2018

9:00 AM: Registration Opens

10:00 AM: Kick Off

Where: Starting at the Capital Building (end of Duke of Gloucester St.), Colonial Williamsburg

Registration: $15

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay, Greater Williamsburg, Peninsula, and Tidewater Chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

“Living the Lives We want”

For more information, contact: Corlis Jones at phone: 757-565-1185, email: . Please make checks payable to NFBV and send them to: Carroll Bailey, 4700 Newport Forrest, Williamsburg, VA 23188

VABS Bowl with the Blind

From Robert Parsons, President, Virginia Association of Blind Students

Greetings Students and Virginia Federationists

With the fall season swiftly approaching, the season of advocacy is upon us once again. Yes, the month in which the nation’s blind raise awareness of our effectiveness and presence in local and national communities is finally returning. October is national meet the blind month and like our fellow affiliates, the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia is hard at work in preparing their local events to marry awareness and camaraderie between chapters, friends, and family. Last year, the Virginia Association of Blind Students executed their first meet the blind month activity with “Bowl with the Blind, “to overwhelming success and support. As a sign of future great annual events to come, VABS will be returning with this annual culminating event. The details are below:

Title: VABS “Bowl with the Blind.”

Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018

Time: 1pm-4pm

Price: $10 (Covers Three Games and Shoe Rental)

Where: Pin Boys at the Beach
1577 Laskin Rd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Stay tuned for ride share and car pool opportunities from Northern Virginia and Richmond. This year, VABS will be raffling a Google Home Mini during the event. Ticket prices for the prize will be $1 or five tickets for $3. If you would like to register for this event, please contact Robert Parsons at 804.801.7674 or . I look forward to connecting with all of you in October.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

2018 NFBV Convention Registration now Available

The 2018 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia will be held Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11, 2018 at the Fredericksburg Hospitality House, located at 2801 Plank Road, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401. To make hotel reservations, call the hotel directly at (800) 682-1049 or (540) 786-8321. Special room rates have been negotiated for registered convention attendees. When you call the hotel, make sure to tell them that you are attending the convention so that you will receive the special convention rate. The deadline to make hotel reservations is Friday, October 26, 2018. After the deadline, there is no guarantee that you will get a room at the convention hotel.

Child care is available to the children of registered convention attendees (ages infant through 5th grade) during 6 sessions of convention. These sessions are:

  • Session 1 Friday morning 8:45 am to 12:15 pm
  • Session 2 Friday afternoon 12:15 pm to 5:15 pm
  • Session 3 Friday evening 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm
  • Session 4 Saturday morning 8:45 am to 12:15 pm
  • Session 5 Saturday afternoon 12:15 pm to 5:15 pm
  • Session 6 Saturday evening 6:45 pm to ½ hour after banquet adjournment

Snacks will be provided during Sessions 1, 2, 4 and 5. Even though child care will be open and fully staffed during lunch on Friday and Saturday, lunch will not be provided. Parents should either pick their child up for lunch at the end of Sessions 1 and 4 or provide a lunch for their child to eat in the child care room. Also, dinner will not be provided on Friday or Saturday evening. Parents should feed their child dinner prior to bringing them to Sessions 3 or 6. The cost of child care is $10 per family per session. If you need more information, please contact

Please indicate the number of children per session on the Convention Pre Registration Form.

On Friday and Saturday, box lunches will be available for a cost of $17.00 if purchased in advance on the convention pre registration form. Box lunch tickets are specific for each day and are not interchangeable. Box lunches can only be guaranteed for those purchased on the convention pre registration form. A limited number may be available for purchase at the convention.
On Saturday, student lunches will be available for a cost of $7.00 if purchased in advance on the convention pre registration form. Student lunches can only be guaranteed for those purchased on the convention pre registration form. A limited number may be available for purchase at the convention.

To register for the convention, you may do one of the following:

For more information about the contvention, visit our State Convention page

The Vigilant: July 2018

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

Fellow Federationists,

The 2018 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind was fantastic. Our affiliate truly came together to share warm Virginia hospitality with 2,500 Federationists across the country and the world. In this month’s newsletter, we share, in part, our appreciation for the tremendous efforts of all the affiliate members who invested time to make the convention a success for us all.

In December 2017, the affiliate officers and chapter presidents discussed the commitment required to host a National convention. We were a little nervous but decided to step forward anyway. The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia truly stepped up and helped make the convention experience better for everyone.

Welcome Concert

One of the highlights of this year’s convention was a special Welcome Concert featuring APL.De.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas and numerous Federation musicians. Making the concert a success required tremendous effort across a diverse team from the Virginia, Iowa and Florida affiliates. Kathryn Webster was instrumental in the planning and preparation for the concert. Sandy Halverson sold many tickets at the SUN table and Sean McMahon collected funds from everyone in our affiliate. There were many people selling tickets at the Welcome Table and the Host Affiliate Hospitality Suite.

Additionally, many people worked the event on July 6 including the following:

  • Marion Patnaude,
  • Dale Patnaude
  • Sarah Patnaude
  • Janet Shields
  • Alesia Meredith
  • Alex Castillo
  • Asia Hurtado
  • Montrell Rodgers
  • Uricka Harrison
  • Portia Baskerville
  • Fred Schroeder
  • Bernie Werwie
  • Susan Benbow
  • Amir Rahimi
  • Chimere Roberts.

Visiting chapters

On June 21, I had the pleasure to attend the meeting of our Fairfax chapter. The meeting was a blast and we all learned from each other. Please let me know what your chapter is up to and maybe I can attend.

August 4 NFB of Virginia Board meeting

Our next meeting of the Board of Directors will be held at the DBVI Library and Resource Center in Richmond. The meeting will be held on Saturday, August 4 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. We are trying a later time to help people address the Summer traffic challenges. The Virginia Association of Blind Students will be offering lunch starting at 12:00 PM, creating an opportunity to relax with friends over lunch before the meeting starts. Let’s see if this timing works well.

If you have topics for the agenda, please reach out to me.

As always, thank you for everything you do to make this affiliate, this organization, what it is. Truly we could not do it with out you.

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“How liberating it is to learn that it is just as safe to talk about our struggles as it is our successes and that we are not lesser Federationists because sometimes we hurt about things we have lost. What a relief to know that on some days all of us have to work hard to see the beauty in what lies ahead rather than dwelling on what was in the past and will never be again. The love that characterizes our movement is so abundant and is here for the taking by those of us still struggling with the loss of sight. This affirmation has meant the world to those of us who want to acknowledge what we feel and what we fear. At the same time we have come to know that many members in the organization we love have felt the same way and yet have come to put blindness in a place that does not define them or their future. In our fellow Federationists’ listening ears we find hope, and in their examples we are strengthened in our determination. There is a place for us in the NFB, and knowing that place allows us to be ambassadors to others who have hurt as we have hurt and doubted as we have doubted.”–Debbie Wunder, Transition to Blindness: A Conversation That Should Happen in the Federation from the July 2018 Braille Monitor

Thank You, Convention Hospitality Workers
By Nancy Yeager

The Virginia affiliate, along with Iowa and Florida, Hosted this year’s NFB Convention in Orlando. As one of our activities, we hosted the NFB Hospitality Suite on July third and sixth. The suite welcomed convention attendees, by offering snacks, beverages and providing a place for visitors to relax, reconnect with old friends and make new ones, many of whom were first time attendees.

Our efforts would not have been successful without the participation and support of many of our members.

As Hospitality Suite coordinator, I want to personally thank all of you who gave your time to this important activity. I particularly want to thank:

  • Sarah Blumberg;
  • Sean McMahon;
  • John Halverson;
  • Earl Everet;
  • John Bailey;
  • Tracy Soforenko;
  • Mausam Mehta;
  • Joanne Wilson;
  • Harold Wilson;
  • Michael Kasey;
  • Sandy Halverson;
  • Joy Relton;
  • Joe Hobson;
  • Mary Durban;
  • Uricka Harrison;
  • Sara Patnaude;
  • Brittany Fraer;
  • Theresa Willis;
  • Elizabeth Willis;
  • Felicia Willis;
  • Amir Abdolrahimi;
  • Montrel Rodgers;
  • Oscar Montiel;
  • Phuong dang;

2018 National Convention-The Table Chronicles
By Earl Everett

Greetings Fellow Federationists.

We are just getting back from what was a very exciting, informative and inspirational National Convention in Orlando, Florida. With Virginia along with Iowa and Florida being the host affiliates, we were provided 1st hand experience with the hands-on day to day operations of a national convention. In addition to being part of the planning of the opening ceremonies, we were involved in putting together the Hospitality Suite, Welcome Concert and the two that I was personally involved with, the Welcome Table and the Virginia Table.

I would like to give my heartfelt thank you and my appreciation to those Virginia Federationists who made the Welcome/Information Table a rousing success. Those individuals were:

  • John and Sandy Halverson
  • Tracy Soforenko
  • Nancy Yeager
  • Bernie Werwie
  • Mausam Mehta
  • Dr. Fred Schroeder
  • Michael Kasey
  • Mark and Melody Roane

You guys did an extraordinary job and I couldn’t have done it without you.

We also had our own Virginia Affiliate Table which I had the opportunity to manage. We were able to sell out famous Virginia Peanuts, our earbuds and a new item: a genuine leather carry bag that did quite well. Again I would like to thank the individuals that helped out by serving a shift or two at our Table.

  • Tracy Soforenko
  • Mary Durbin
  • Elizabeth Willis
  • Montrell Rogers
  • Annie Archer
  • Theresa and Felicia Willis
  • Robert Parsons
  • Gerald Meredith
  • Mausam Mehte
  • Yasiah Hurtado
  • Dr. Fred Schroeder
  • Uricka Harrison
  • Michael Kasey
  • Portia Baskerville
  • Chimere Roberts
  • Sarah Blumberg
  • Sean McMahon
  • Nancy Yeager
  • Rodney Neely
  • Sandy Halverson, who was our on call person

Hopefully I did not leave out anyone, but if I did it was not intentional. You all did a great job and made the Virginia Affiliate proud.

All in all the Convention was fantastic and I encourage everyone that can attend to come to the State Board meeting on Saturday August 4 to hear the reports from the various departments. I enjoyed it so much that if I am asked to manage the Affiliate Table at our next National Convention, I would gladly say yes. It was a definite learning experience for me and hopefully I did a good job for our Affiliate. Thank you once again and I look forward to seeing you all at the Board Meeting.

The Culmination | Project RISE Pilot Concludes with Bells Ringing!
By Arielle Silverman

During the weekend of June 8-10, Project RISE students gathered with our mentors and volunteers at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. There, we experienced a weekend of Federation philosophy, learning, and fun.

We kicked programming off Friday night with some team-building activities where small groups of students and mentors built balloon towers and went on a scavenger hunt through the building. On Saturday, the students did interactive workshops on budgeting, public speaking, self-advocacy, dressing for success, and how to “brand” themselves. They practiced elevator pitches, and had lively debates about blindness philosophy. However, our favorite part of the event was watching the students experience two Jernigan Institute traditions. On Saturday evening, Dr. Maurer showed us how to grill using sleep shades, and on Sunday morning, John Bailey taught us how to break boards using our bare hands-and the symbolism of breaking down barriers was not lost on our students.

We are very grateful for President Riccobono and all the staff at the Jernigan Institute for their hospitality to us. Huge thanks also to John Bailey, Bryan Duarte, Robert Parsons, President Soforenko, and our devoted mentors who worked hard to make the weekend a success: Susie D’Mello, Evelyn Valdez, Marc Canamaso, Sarah Patnaude, and Derek Manners.

Since this was our last official Project RISE event for this season, we asked the students their thoughts on the program as a whole.

One student said, “For me, it’s about the people that I meet. It’s about the people I’m able to connect with and the relationships I’ve formed, especially the mentors, they’ve been huge role models in my life and they’ve shown me what I can achieve.”

Our first season of Project RISE has been an overwhelming success! We certainly instilled the power of freedom bells in our students. We are gearing up for year 2 – a 12-month program for transition-age youth beginning in September. This coming year, the program will expand beyond the Northern Virginia area. More to come on that, but get ready for personal and professional development for students ages 14-21 throughout the Commonwealth!

If you are interested in getting more involved as a mentor or volunteer, contact the coordinators, Kathryn Webster and Arielle Silverman, at, or 203-273-8463.

State Convention 2018: Fredericksburg on the Horizon

With the National Convention now in our rear view, it is time to shift our focus to state convention.

First, everything you need to know about dates, hotel location, deadlines, and so forth can be found on our convention landing page. This page will be steadily updated with additional details in the coming weeks, so please bookmark the URL:

Second, if you have suggestions for the convention program, please bring them to the board meeting on August 4. If you cannot make the board meeting, please kindly email those to President Soforenko.

Finally, our sponsorships program has gone live! We are eagerly counting on you to help Annette Carr and her team find, pitch, and secure sponsorships for this year’s convention.

Pulling off a state convention requires many hands. We want to thank the Fredericksburg Chapter in advance for their willingness to host the affiliate. We also want to thank the many volunteers across the affiliate who will be recruited in advance to help oversee various aspects of the program in order to make this a fulfilling and worthwhile experience for you.

If you have any questions in advance about logistics, please email me.

Cordially yours,

Joe Orozco, Convention Operations Chair

News Items in Brief

The following is a list of items that may be of interest. They are not direct endorsements by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.

VFO, Owner of JAWS® Screen Reader, First to Implement Aira Access for Products – Aira

Today, VFO and Aira announced a new collaboration that will now equip all VFO customers with free use of the Aira service should they need visual access to a screen while using one of their products, such as the JAWS® Screen Reader. This new integration was driven by community data, with the goal of providing access to any information on a computer screen the specialized software may not able to interpret, while simultaneously increasing the user’s efficiency and prioritizing the features driven by the data. The integration will also help Chloe, Aira’s AI agent, to learn the gaps in the software powered by its trained human agents. Read more.

Google renames TalkBack app to Android Accessibility Suite with latest update

One of Android’s primary accessibility features is a tool called “TalkBack” that provides spoken feedback for anything on a screen so that visual impaired users can navigate devices. Google today renamed the assistive service to the Android Accessibility Suite. Read more.

Envision brings the visual world to life for blind people

Checking the time, buying something in the supermarket or simply spotting a friend from afar. All these require sight. Using artificial intelligence, Karthik Mahadevan’s (27) company, Envision, makes visual information accessible to the visually impaired. Read more.

Freedom Scientific partners with Computers for the Blind to give the best computing experience to those who need it

Nothing pleases us more than to learn how our technology has assisted our customers to realize their potential on the job, at school or in the community. We also regularly give back to the community by partnering with organizations serving the blind community who make a difference. So, when we had the opportunity to partner with an organization that makes a difference by putting empowering technology in the hands of people who may otherwise not be able to obtain it, we thought it was the perfect fit. Read more.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

NFBV Seeks a Marketing Coordinator

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) seeks a marketing coordinator for its youth program, Project RISE.

Program Description

Project RISE, (Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Employment) is a transition program, focusing on providing blind and low vision students with the skills necessary to become competitively employed. These skills will be useful whether the students attend an institution of higher education, a vocational school, or enter the job market directly after high school. Project RISE combines the knowledge of successful blind professionals, the positive philosophy of the NFB, and a strong curriculum to give blind students, between the ages of 14-21, the skills and confidence they need to be successful. This program has the potential of changing the future of blind students. Throughout the year, Project RISE will be coordinated in northern Virginia but we will be expanding the program to include students from across the Commonwealth.

Throughout the 9 months, for Northern Virginia students, students will meet one Saturday a month, for about five hours, participating in workshops designed to make them more competitive in the job market. For students across the Commonwealth, students will meet quarterly and work with mentors throughout the year. Some topic areas include: travel and transportation, independent daily living skills, communication and interview techniques, and dressing appropriately for job settings. Throughout Project RISE, students will have access to successful blind mentors. Finally, students will have volunteer or work experience during the summer months. The Saturday programs will run from September to April, with the final session as a weekend spent at the National Federation of the Blind national center during the month of May.

Role Description

The Project RISE program is looking for a Marketing Coordinator to lead our recruitment and publicity efforts. The Marketing Coordinator will focus on building relationships with and selling our program to parents, vocational rehabilitation professionals, TVIs, and other staff pertinent to the growth of transition-aged youth. You’ll be responsible for setting specific objectives to develop a cohesive marketing plan for our program. This position reports directly to the Program Coordinator and involves a variety of tasks, including recruiting and retaining students, designing marketing campaigns, and publicizing the RISE program on a diverse set of platforms. Ultimately, you should be able to increase our participant count to 25 and ensure brand consistency for years to come.

Application Deadline – Sunday, July 22

Approximate Time – 10 hours a week

Required Tasks

  • Set specific marketing goals and meet/exceed them;
  • Recruit and retain upward of 25 students to participate in our 9-month program;
  • Design and implement marketing strategies aligned with mission and vision of Project RISE and NFBV;
  • Develop digital campaigns to broaden awareness and sustain branding;
  • Put out biweekly press releases;
  • Build lasting relationships with community members, including TVIs, O&M instructors, teachers, etc.;
  • Distribute fliers, newsletters, and brochures to relevant stakeholders;
  • Research market to identify new and innovative opportunities for funding and participant audiences;
  • Generate innovative ideas to promote our program;
  • Create a program logo;
  • Manage Project RISE web site;
  • Perform other tasks as outlined by the Program Coordinator.

Application Details

This position is an independent contractor position and there are no benefits associated with this role.

We anticipate an August 1 start date and a position duration of 3-4 months.

To apply, send your resume in a Microsoft Office Compatible format to Tracy Soforenko,

Telephone interviews will be scheduled for the week of July 23.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact President Soforenko: 202-285-4595.