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.