The Vigilant: December 2017

The Vigilant: December 2017

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

With the holiday season now drawing to a close, it is a great time to appreciate friends and family and appreciate plans with them in the coming year. Our Federation Family in Virginia is thriving and I am truly proud of the work we are completing together. I am even more excited of what we will accomplish in 2018.

Here are a few highlights from this year:

  1. Legislative – As you are enjoying this season, please take a few moments to consider joining us in the important work of legislative advocacy through
    our Richmond and Washington Seminars. The deadlines are approaching in late December and early January to tell us if you are joining us in this important work and you will want to make your hotel reservations. Your voice is important and together we can make a difference. In Richmond, we will have two bills in the General assembly and we expect to field 10 teams to communicate our message to every member of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. In Washington, there will certainly be some new legislative priorities and we will have an exciting experience on Capitol Hill.

  2. Project RISE – Our pre-employment transition program is moving ahead with open houses in December, participant intake interviews, and fast paced efforts to get all the logistics in place. If you have connections to individuals ages 14-21 living in Northern Virginia, please ask them to visit our project RISE web site,, or contact our Program coordinators at
  3. Membership -In November, Sandy Halverson, John Halverson and I had the pleasure to visit with the new Prince William County Chapter to adopt the constitution and elect officers. The chapter is now up and running with an outstanding slate of officers:
    • Marc Canamaso, President
    • Oscar Montiel, Vice-President
    • Alysha Hiller, Secretary
    • Mark Ross, Treasurer
    • John Dubois, Board Member
    • Andrew Hiller, Board Member

    We look forward to a vibrant and growing chapter in Prince William County.

  4. Communication – If you have a message to communicate to our Virginia Announce List, please send it to our new Corresponding Secretary, Sarah Patnaude. Sarah will be responsible for most Virginia Announce distribution and she can be reached at:
  5. Funding the movement – Finally, the work we do together is vitally important to students, parents, seniors and working age adults. I am hopeful you have personally benefited from our great community and the work we do together. We wanted to thank all who have contributed to our efforts and prepared this appreciation video. Please consider checking It out and sharing it with others.

Please consider a tax deductible contribution to the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. Checks can be sent to:

NFB of Virginia
3230 Grove Avenue,
Richmond, VA 23221

You can also give online to the National Federation of the Blind.

Please enjoy what’s left of this season and we look forward to our work together in 2018.

Tracy Soforenko
President, National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“Business ownership isn’t for everyone. It requires discipline, and in some ways your business can be the worst boss you ever had. It doesn’t care whether you’re sick or tired. It tells you what to do, and you either do it or you don’t. On the other hand, your business will never tell you that you shouldn’t try something because you’re blind. It doesn’t really care about your blindness. It will never pity you, speak in a condescending manner, or help you find stairs that you were perfectly able to find for yourself. In that sense, it’s the ideal boss.”–Mike Bullis, from the December 2017 Braille Monitor

1st Legislative Reminder: Richmond Seminar

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia is a powerful force advocating for blind Virginians. Please join us for the Richmond Seminar on January 15- 16, 2018 to ensure our voice is heard in the offices of the General Assembly.

If you have never attended a Richmond Seminar, we strongly encourage you to attend and participate in representative democracy in action. Everyone is assigned to a team with an experienced leader. The General Assembly members and their staff are very receptive and welcoming. They know we are organized, articulate, and well versed in the subject matter.

We will put everyone on the team to work, sharing our issues and answering the questions of legislators and their staff.

The issues we will bring to Richmond are still under consideration but will most likely include:

  • Access to travel independently without a driver’s license in autonomous vehicles being developed in Virginia;
  • Blind Parents Bill of Rights;
  • Defending Virginia’s Randolph Sheppard priority; and
  • Support for Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired (DVBI) as a separate agency.

The final list of issues will be presented at the board meeting on Monday, January 15. We have bills being drafted that will need co-sponsors. Chapter Presidents should make contact with their General Assembly members in their local offices before the end of the year. If you need assistance in identifying them, contact our Richmond Seminar Legislative committee Chair Derek Manners at:, or on his cell at 903-271-6494.

A meeting with our elected legislators in their home districts will go a long way in establishing the recognition that is needed for our visit to Richmond. All Chapter members are encouraged to participate. If you intend on doing a meeting or need help setting one up, please contact Derek Manners.

Our board meeting is scheduled for Monday afternoon, January 15, which is Martin Luther King Day. The Board Meeting will likely be held on the DBVI campus on Azalea Avenue in Richmond, but details will be worked out shortly.

Our General Assembly visits will be Tuesday, January 16. The affiliate will reimburse transportation expenses and hotel expenses.

Chapter presidents should arrange cost effective transportation for their chapter members. Individuals are expected to share hotel rooms and must obtain hotel reservations themselves at the NFB of Virginia rate. If you need assistance identifying a room share, please contact Derek Manners.

Hotel rooms are available at the Delta Hotel (formerly the Crowned Plaza.) The complete contact information is:

Delta Hotels by Marriott Richmond Downtown
555 East Canal Street
Richmond, VA 23219

The group rate is $129 plus applicable taxes. You may begin making reservations at any time by calling the reservations line at 844-781-7397 and referencing NFBVA. Please note reservations must be made no later than Thursday, January 4, 2018. Note guests will receive a $10 discount toward parking.

If you run into any problems with making reservations or need assistance at the hotel, please call our Operations Coordinator, Joe Orozco, at: 202-810-4023, or reach him via email at: .

Do not delay, book your room today.

Chapter presidents must provide an initial list of the names of the individuals planning to attend from their chapter to Derek by Friday, January 5, 2018 and additional names as they are known so we can establish and update teams in advance.

Finally, if anyone in your chapter is interested in being a team leader, have them reach out to Derek Manners directly. If you have any questions, please contact Derek Manners at or on his cell at 903-271-6494.

2nd Legislative Reminder: Washington Seminar

Hello Virginia Federationists,

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Although it may seem like it’s still two months away, Washington Seminar is fast approaching. I wanted to send out some info to help you begin thinking about reserving your room and making arrangements in your schedule to attend.

The legislative Committee needs to begin creating teams of those who will be attending Washington Seminar and start scheduling appointments with members of Congress. So the earlier you can let us know whether you will be attending, the better. Please let us know by December 28 whether you plan to attend. When you let us know, please provide the name of your member of the House of Representatives. If you don’t know, please provide your address including street address and ZIP code so we can easily look it up. If you want to look it up yourself, you can access this information at

The Great-Gathering-In is scheduled for Monday, January 29, 2018. The deadline for making hotel reservations with the Holiday Inn Capitol is December 28, 2017, and although I know most of you are busy as we approach the holiday season, the hotel would certainly appreciate getting your reservations as early as possible to ensure that you secure your reservation. Sleeping room rates are $192 for single, double, triple, or quad rooms, and the tax rate is 14.5% per night. The address of the Holiday Inn Capitol is 550 C Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. You may also make reservations by calling 1 877-572-6951 and referencing booking code FB8.

A few members of the Northern Virginia chapters may have a guest room available for those who would consider this approach. You will need to be extremely self-sufficient to make this model work and requests should be submitted to me by December 21. Please contact me and I can see what can be done to accommodate your request.

Last year, we had a record number of Virginians attending! Please encourage all your chapter members, friends, and acquaintances to attend so we can show Congress that blind Virginians are committed to our important issues!

If you have any questions or concerns, you may contact me, your co-legislative director, at or call me at 9099643699.


Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2018

“About this time each year, we provide you with details regarding annual adjustments in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. In 2018 approximately 65 million Americans will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase of 2 percent in their benefit amounts. Thus, come January, monthly checks will be a few dollars higher.” To read the entire article, please visit the December Braille Monitor.

BELL on YouTube

The Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies in Virginia were a tremendous success. This year, we produced an outstanding video to introduce parents, students, sponsors and volunteers to the program and we wanted to share this great video with you. We look forward to introducing more students to BELL academies in 2018. Please help do your part to help spread word of this wonderfully enriching opportunity.

A Mother’s Advocacy

The following remarks were delivered to the NFB of Virginia state convention on November 4, 2017 by Gao Lai.

When my son was 6 months old, the doctor said my son would never be able to see the world like me. It was scary. My mind was flooded with questions. I can tell you my biggest
worries were how will my son be independent and take care of himself when I die? Will he graduate from college? Will he have a career? Will he ever move out of my basement? How will he get around? I was looking at a 6-month-old and I was petrified for his future.

My name is Giao. I am a mother of a legally blind child. My son drops the word legally and just identifies himself as blind.

When my son entered our local school system, I had no real knowledge or support other than what came from the school district. I put all of my trust in them. And in return, they did not provide Braille or cane training. Instead, they just passed him from one grade to the next while he fell further and further behind.

Although my gut instinct told me that wasn’t right, I told myself they were the professionals and Maybe my son could only do so much, and it made me even more worried for his future.

When my son was 2 years old, someone told me that I would be his biggest advocate when he started school. I would be his voice starting out. I can tell you I had no idea what she meant until last year when my son was in 3rd grade. I remember telling one of the school supervisors, “maybe I need to start looking at the school for the blind? Maybe, he needs to be around people that understand him and in a place that can properly educate him.” I remember her saying to me, “we cannot go that route, because we haven’t provided everything this county had to offer.”

What did she mean, “We haven’t provided everything this county had to offer “.

My son had been in school for 4 years, everything should have been provided! I was angry, but someone told me don’t get angry, get educated. That’s when I realized I needed to do more.

I needed to go with my gut feelings that had started 4 years earlier. I started reaching out to anyone that would help, and started educating myself about the services for blind children like my son that still has some remaining vision.

There is a misconception that children with some vision should use it to do everything whether reliable or not. Unfortunately, the truth is that the reading volume will continue to increase while the fonts get smaller throughout his education.

My son loves to write. But, he was unable to put everything he wanted on paper, because he could not see enough to write what he wanted or to read what he had written.

My son loves to read. But, the only books he could choose were those at a kindergarten level because of their large font size.

The school wanted to continue educating my son with audio and print materials utilizing his remaining vision. He began to suffer from eye fatigue and headaches after school. Having someone else read to my son was taking away his literacy. I believe my son needed to learn Braille and cane skills while he learned alongside his sighted peers.

Every day I had off from work, or in my spare time, I was running my son to an evaluation to prove my district was wrong. I went to different doctors for second opinions to back up what he needed. I reached out to the NFB through the NOPBC Facebook page, as well as other sources. NOPBC and others provided the advocacy and support I needed so desperately. I was not going to stop pushing for a better education for my son until he got what he was entitled to. I had strong advocates from NFB who supported me every step of the way. They would back up my demands and provide information that reinforced my gut feelings. They were with me at the meetings and were available between meetings. It took 7 long months, but last April we walked out with the strongest IEP my son has ever had.

Last summer, my son participated in the BELL Academy and loved being with blind adults and children. He was around confident blind adults he could look up to. He wants to learn Braille because he knows it will help him for the rest of his life.

I can tell you today that I no longer fear for my son’s future. I am excited about how far he can go with Braille literacy and a white cane on his journey to be an independent productive adult.

I am not saying that by doing all of this my son will succeed, but to succeed or fail should be solely his choice. not because the school system or I failed to equip him for his future. This is your child’s future, don’t settle for less.

National Federation of the Blind of Virginia Presidential Report

Delivered to the 59th State Convention of the NFB of Virginia on November 4, 2017 by President Tracy Soforenko.

In the National Federation of the Blind, we believe that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day, we raise expectations, 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.

While some have locked in on our tag line, Live the life you want, I want to talk about something related but different.

If I stated:

  • Every child gets a quality education
  • Every person can achieve full employment
  • Every person can have the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
  • People should believe in themselves

These ideas would not be viewed as radical. They would be viewed as self-evident.

Robert Kennedy said: Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream of things that never were and ask why not

Here are my dreams:

  • Every blind child gets a quality education
  • Every blind person can achieve full employment
  • Blind people have all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
  • We believe in the capabilities of blind people

There are those who say that we are militant and radical because we believe in basic ideas which should be self-evident. They state that the problems we experience every day are not real and we should just keep quiet. I can’t keep quiet while we are held back from living the lives we want.
Every day, we raise expectations because low expectations create barriers between blind people and our dreams.

Radical Idea #1: Every blind child deserves a Quality education

This morning, you heard about our two successful BELL programs, in Arlington and Harrisonburg, which introduced students and their parents to high expectations and a recognition that alternative techniques like Braille and the long white cane are effective tools to achieve equality
Our advocacy in Individual Education Program (IEP) meetings, have enabled students to get the services they need from their schools. Sandy Halverson has coordinated this effort and we are very grateful.
Our scholarship program, led by Brian Miller and a capable committee, has brought 10 students, all first-time applicants, to this state convention and we had a National scholarship winner at our National convention.
As you heard this morning, we enabled students like Michael Munn to participant in STEM programs to show that blindness is not a barrier in the careers of the future.
When hastily prepared legislation was introduced to weaken the requirements on literacy for blind students, Derek Manners, Mark Roane and Earl Everett scrambled to address this legislation and we arrange for the legislation to be withdrawn. We are now working with these same parties to agree on language that truly benefits blind and low vision students.
We had our largest contingent of Virginians at the 2017 Washington Seminar to advocate for Access to Instructional Materials in Higher Ed, access to books across the world and in Braille, and access to technology to achieve our educational and career goals. A shout out to Derek Manners, Deepa Goraya, Earl Everett, Jeannette Gholson, our team leaders and all who participated.
Nick, Stephen, and Leo are blind triplets in Arlington Virginia. As a parent of students in the Arlington schools, I hear about these young men from my daughter’s friends. Steven is the drum major, the student leader of the marching band, at Wakefield high school. As Commissioner Hopkins mentioned, it is vital for students to get internship and job experiences in high school to position themselves for future success. Both Leo and Nick have had multiple internships already
Leo Nick and Stephen have attended multiple ‘NFB of Virginia conventions and have been meant toward in federation philosophy by their father and longtime federation leader, Oli Cantos.
As an Eagle Scout myself, I’m aware of that commitment and responsibility required for Boy Scouts earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Boys must lead other boys and hold themselves to the highest of standards to achieve this rank. Leo Nick and Stephen met all of the requirements and help themselves to high standards to be awarded the Eagle Scout rank. They are the first line triplets to be awarded this rank in the 107 years of the Boy Scouts of America. Armed with training and opportunity, our blind kids can achieve at the highest standards. I am proud of these three young men and look forward to their future successes. They are here with us today.

If you want to pass the Bar Exam after completing Law school and become an attorney, a structured bar exam preparation program is the way to go. Barbri is the overwhelming market leader in exam preparation. Barbri touts that if you complete 70% of their training, you have a 90% chance of passing the bar. If you complete less than 50% of their training, then forget it, you aren’t likely to pass.
Unfortunately, Barbri isn’t supporting blind students in passing the bar.
Barbri’s Accessible materials either don’t exist, arrive after they are needed to keep up with the schedule, and are formatted so poorly that they aren’t navigable with a screen reader.
The online videos on important legal concepts are 4-5 hours long. I would probably need a cup of coffee and an occasional break to get through such a class. But, using a screen reader, you can’t pause the video.
The Barbri web site and many supplemental materials are not accessible.
For example, Derek Manners tried like crazy but was only able to complete 27% of the training due to all the access challenges. While Derek passed the Bar, many blind people are failing because the exam prep is not accessible.
. Potomac Chapter Vice President and Attorney Deepa Goraya identified a set of blind plaintiffs and pursued the case. Even though many suggested that the Texas court system where it was tried would not be favorable. These blind attorney’s won the case and Barbri will be making its exam preparation accessible for blind people. Congratulations to us all for this strong precedent setting victory.

Every day, we raise expectations because low expectations create barriers between blind people and our dreams.

Radical Idea #2: Every blind person can achieve Full employment

We believe that blind and low vision students deserve the skills, attitude, and mentoring to achieve career goals. As you heard this morning, our pre-employment transition program, Project RISE, will help make that possible. Kathryn Webster, Luke Schwinck, Mary Fernandez, Joe Orozco, and many others have been working tirelessly to move the program forward.
Mark Ross is a member of our Fredericksburg Chapter. Mark has been unemployed for over 7 years. He has been job hunting throughout this time and has been really active in our Fredericksburg Chapter. Through his chapter, he met Leon and Maria Anderson, who run a dining facility on the Marine Corps University in Quantico. Mark has proven capable through our work in the Federation and is now working at this facility. Our Federation Family works and Mark is loved at the job.

Every day, we raise expectations because low expectations create barriers between blind people and our dreams.

Radical Idea #3: Blind people deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship

In 2017, we had our largest contingent at the Richmond Seminar. Our Parents Rights legislation passed the Virginia Senate and was vigorously debated twice in the House of delegates Courts of Justice committee. Our opposition to the bill stated that blind parents do not face any discrimination. Derek Manners worked long hours to outline legal arguments to change minds and Mark Roane and Earl Everett worked the halls of the General Assembly. While this new legislation didn’t pass this year, we will be back in Richmond in 2018 as we seek to take this over the finish line
They say we already have all the rights under the law and we are not facing any discrimination. Today, I am going to simply focus on blind parents and discrimination. I will share a story that could be really funny if it wasn’t sad.

CJ Fish is a blind Mom who wants to do Mommy and Me gymnastics with her pre-school daughter Moriah. While the studio space is designed for safety, the studio owner could not imagine how CJ could participate in this dangerous environment. She might fall in the ball pit, designed for people to fall. She might bump herself into the padded walls. Her cane might trip a participant and they might fall on the padded mats on the floor. While the space is designed for safety, a blind person cannot be safe. The owner stated, “I am a nurse and I know how things work. I know the law and I am not discriminating against these people.”

The owner suggested:
How about another parent to serve in the role as Mommy? Wait, the Dad is also blind, heck that won’t work.
We can have an instructor take your place doing the Mommy role.
Why couldn’t another student serve as the Mommy in the program.

Mike and CJ had kept calm even though they were enraged. The older boys love the studio and it is really convenient to have a class for all the kids at the same time real near to your home.

The studio even refused to refund their money.

Mike and CJ were not optimistic so they called me. I called the studio and suggested they call their attorney and ask them to read specific sections of the ADA. Magically, a class opportunity for Moriah is now available.

Not all stories end happy. As I have shared with some of you, there is a Chester man who is being threatened by the divorce attorney’s that he can’t take care of his blind child and shouldn’t have custody. The case is still in flux but we know that blind parents can be great parents. Low expectations are robbing us of our basic rights.

In Congress, HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform act would diminish the ADA, A powerful advocacy organization which supported this irresponsible legislation was doing a photo shoot last week in front of the US Capitol. Along with 40 others from the NFB and other disability rights organizations, John Halverson and I were part of a flash mob that prevented the advocacy group from getting the photo. Every time the group moved to cut us out of the photo, the disability advocates moved to ensure we were in their picture. Eventually, their legislative leadership met with us to discuss how this legislation was truly harmful.
We don’t have time today to cover all the cases of discrimination large and small. In accessible voting technology that prevents us from voting independently, drivers unwilling to allow us in their vehicles with our guide dogs, barriers placed because no one considered that a blind person would be out in the world trying to do what everyone else does. Together, we are working to break down the barriers that prevent full access and citizenship.

Every day, we raise expectations because low expectations create barriers between blind people and our dreams.
Radical Idea #4: We believe in Blind people

Our organizational Accomplishments happened because you made it happen. We achieve because we believe in each other.
For this reason, the Virginia Affiliate is Thriving
I am thrilled to observe that the Virginia affiliate is adapting to changing times. We are more diverse, more engaged, more willing to take on new ideas, and willing to experiment with new leaders and new possibilities.
Leaders are often those who recognize the talent in others and provide them the opportunity to grow into leaders themselves.

You might observe that our Virginia Leadership Fellows are an essential component of your local chapter and this convention. These leaders are inspirational. At a visit to our National Center in June, president Riccobono was impressed at the talent and commitment of our Fellows. He was also impressed by our Jernigan Institute Fellow, David Bagette, who was helping affiliates improve their web presence.

Yesterday, you heard from our McDonald Fellowship and Jernigan Scholarship winners who attended their first national convention. This is another program to grow leaders and show we believe in the capabilities of blind people.
We are growing membership throughout Virginia.
We have started the Greater Alexandria Chapter, we re-launched the Prince William County Chapter, and last night formalized the At Large chapter with a constitution.

Throughout the past 16 months, I have tried to visit as many chapters as possible.
I have visited the Chesapeake Bay, Tidewater, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Winchester, Fairfax, Potomac, and Greater Alexandria chapters. I have participated in the At Large Conference calls. I was in Williamsburg for the Rivers & Bays Walk with the Blind for the Peninsula, Greater Williamsburg, Tidewater, Chesapeake Bay, and Eastern Shore Chapters.
I learned Salsa dancing in Fairfax but unfortunately, missed the delicious chili served up by our Richmond Chapter.
Our divisions are thriving.

As you heard this morning, the Student division, led by Robert Parsons, has held monthly conference calls, the successful summer student blow out in Baltimore, and October’s VABS Bowl with the blind.

As you heard on Friday, our Seniors Division, led by Nancy Yeager, are running monthly conference calls and are planning great programming this afternoon.

A few weeks ago, at the Rivers and Bays Chapter Walk with the Blind, I had the pleasure to walk with Elsie Castleman. Elsie first started losing her vision as active duty in the Army in the mid-1970s. Her family was very helpful to her but over time, she outlived them and her vision continued to decrease. A few years ago, when her vision continued to decrease, Elsie connected with members of the Greater Williamsburg Chapter and her life began to come alive again. She attended our National Convention in 2016 and 2017, she is on Williamsburg’s Housing and public transit advisory committees. She is engaged in her community and having fun again. Blindness is not holding Elsie back.
At age 84, both the Mayor of Williamsburg and I struggled to keep up with her as she used her walker to outpace us on our walk. There is nothing holding Elsie back.

It is my privilege to serve as NFB of Virginia affiliate president. I am so fortunate to follow in the path of such great leaders as Michael Kasey, Fred Schroeder, Charlie Brown, and Alan Schlank.

It is my pleasure to preside over this great convention. I appreciate the hard work of so many to make the convention a success and for the great work of our host Potomac Chapter. An affiliate runs because so many people commit their time and treasure to this movement.

Truth be told, running the Virginia affiliate was harder than I anticipated.
My wife Sharon has been an amazing partner and sounding board. She puts up with constant phone calls and my over commitment to my iPhone. She has often taken on jobs that she didn’t sign up for.
In October alone, Sharon put up with almost daily Conference calls, helped with many messages sent out at midnight, assisted with the formatting of the convention agenda, purchased supplies for the exhibit hall passports, prepared for events in the Presidential Suite, and dealt with having her husband gone for days.

My daughters Jessica and Rebecca each filmed and prepared the videos we enjoyed this morning.
I am certainly biased, but I believe I have the best family in the planet and I am so grateful for their support and love. They know the importance of the work we do together and are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.

We also have an outstanding set of elected officers. Sandy Halverson is my sounding board and may be the best First Vice President ever. Uricka Harrison and Jennifer Shields are outstanding leaders who are running components of our convention this weekend. Finally, our Treasurer Mark Roane is keeping me on track and ensuring I don’t end up in an orange jumpsuit.

Joe Orozco has done an outstanding job running Operations and logistics and has stepped in to coordinate our Communications activities producing an outstanding newsletter and keeping us on message.

Finally, Joe Hobson is one of my greatest friends and advisors. His advice is invaluable and I am so grateful for his friendship.

In closing, our high expectations enable us to dream
As individuals, they are just dreams.
Together, you, me, your chapter members and our Federation family around this great country, we are turning our dreams into reality. Enjoy the remainder of convention and I look forward to serving with you in the coming year.

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.