April 2020 Minute Message

Fellow Federationists:


We continue to live in a time of uncertainty and tremendous change due to the unprecedented challenges that have arisen from the COVID-19 crisis.  I am so moved by the outpouring of support that our Federation family has demonstrated for one another.  This support has taken the form of contributing financially to the NFBMD COVID-19 fund, volunteering to make masks and other PPE for one another, helping navigate inaccessible forms and websites that are used for teleschooling and unemployment applications, and checking in on one another.  We are first and foremost a family, and I, along with the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland want to share our hope that our members and supporters are staying healthy and safe.  We recognize that we are living in a time of uncertainty, and for many, anxiety, and we want each of you to know you are not alone, the NFBMD is hear for you, and we’ll get through this together.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any member of the NFBMD Board if you need assistance or just someone with whom to talk.  Together, we will come out of this crisis stronger than we’ve ever been. 


Please read below for information about news and upcoming activities. 

NFBMD Response to COVID-19

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is working to proactively respond to the COVID-19 crisis while maintaining regular operations.  We are of course performing our work virtually so as to comply with Governor Hogan’s Stay-at-Home order and national social distancing guidelines.  We have created a webpage to share information and resources in connection with COVID-19 that can be accessed by visiting http://www.nfbmd.org/covid19.  This page will be updated regularly.  The NFB National Office has also established a web page for information about COVID-19, which can be accessed at https://www.nfb.org/resources/covid-19-resources.  COVID-19 information is also available in the Breaking News section of NFB Newsline.


 NFBMD has taken the following steps to respond to the coronavirus outbreak:

  • We have established an NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.  Blind individuals and their families may request financial assistance for essentials such as groceries and medication.  Anyone interested in donating to this fund may contact me for information on how to do so.  Additional information about this program is available later in this newsletter.
  • We are holding weekly affiliate calls on Wednesdays at 8:00PM.  We are spending the first portion of each meeting sharing updated information and new resources related to COVID-19 and the remainder of the meeting as a forum for members to connect socially.  Sometimes we may have a guest presenter, such as the April 29, 2020 meeting when the Blind History Lady, Peggy Chong, joined us to share stories about Maryland’s history as it pertains to blindness.  To join the Wednesday evening meeting, use one of the following methods:
    • Online direct link: https://zoom.us/j/6248138327
    • Meeting ID: 624 813 8327
    • One tap mobile:
      • +16468769923,,6248138327# US (New York)
      • +13126266799,,6248138327# US (Chicago)
    • Dial by phone:
      • +1 646 876 9923 US (New York)
      • +1 312 6          26 6799 US (Chicago)
      • Meeting ID: 624 813 8327
  • WE are hosting virtual workshops on a variety of topics, including how to use Zoom, how to use the Victor Reader Stream, how to make masks, and other matters of interest.  To suggest a topic or to offer to lead a workshop, please contact Debbie Brown at deborahb14@verizon.net or at 301—881-1892.  Please visit our COVID-19 web page at http://www.nfbmd.org/covid19 to find the most up-to-date list of virtual seminars. 
  • Given that the usual methods of public transportation are diminished or altered, we are seeking and providing volunteers to assist our members with running essential errands and transportation to medical appointments.  If you are interested in volunteering to assist with this initiative, please contact me at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110.
  • WE provided transportation for those individuals who needed assistance getting to an in-person voting site in order to vote for the April 28, 2020 District 7 Special General Election.
  • We will provide transportation where possible for Maryland voters who need it in order to get to in-person voting sites for the Maryland Primary Election on June 2, 2020.  Individuals who need transportation should contact me at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110.
  • We are providing assistance filling out forms and accessing the Maryland Beacon System, the platform that administers the Maryland unemployment application and reporting program since it is not fully accessible at this time.  Those needing assistance should contact Sharon Maneki at NFBMD@earthlink.net or call 410-715-9596.
  • We are providing assistance to members who do not have the technology or otherwise cannot complete their IRS Non-Filer Forms in order to ensure that those individuals receive their economic impact payments.  Such individuals are generally those receiving SSI, SSDI, Social Security retirement, or VA benefits and need to complete this form in order to receive the economic impact payment for dependents.  Those needing assistance should contact Sharon Maneki at NFBMD@earthlink.net or call 410-715-9596.
  • WE are working to ensure that drive-up COVID-19 testing facilities also serve the blind given that they cannot “drive up” as well as working to ensure that walk-up testing facilities are accessible to the blind.
  • We are monitoring and engaging in advocacy related to situations that arise due to COVID-19 that disparately impact our blind community.  If you know of an entity or establishment that is serving the public but is refusing to serve the blind, please contact me immediately at 443-426-4110 or at President@nfbmd.org.  Such situations may relate to drive-through restaurants not allowing blind pedestrians to order and purchase food, COVID-19 testing facilities refusing to provide services to individuals who cannot drive, inaccessible technology for those who are engaging in teleschooling, and similar refusals/denials of service. 
  • We are working hard to ensure that the blind of Maryland have equal access to essential services and information.  These efforts include but are not limited to:
    • working to ensure that Maryland Executive Orders and information are accessible; and
    • Collaborating with government entities to ensure that COVID-19 testing and response procedures are accessible.

Please visit the NFBMD COVID-19 webpage often for updated information and resources.


NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund

We have established an affiliate COVID-19 fund to assist individuals and families that are experiencing financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis.  This fund is available to blind individuals and families with a blind household member living in Maryland.  The financial assistance must be needed due to a change in circumstance, e.g. loss of employment income, because of COVID-19 or associated government directives like the Stay-at-Home order.  Assistance is limited to essentials such as groceries and medication.  This Fund is being administered by the NFBMD Financial Assistance Committee.  Anyone who is wishing to request assistance should contact me at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110.


In addition, we are seeking contributions to augment the NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.  Those interested in making a monetary donation may do so by sending a check to NFBMD, 15 Charles Plaza, #3002, Baltimore, Maryland 21201 or by using the PayPal donation link on our website located at http://www.nfbmd.org/COVID-19Fund


NFB and NFBMD Events Impacted by COVID-19

Your health and safety is of vital importance.  In order to ensure the safety of our members, all chapters and divisions will meet virtually until further notice.  Please pay attention to our listserves or reach out to your chapter and division presidents for information on how to join our virtual meetings.  We have established a Zoom platform for the majority of our meetings, and thus the usual conference phone number and password may not get you access to the particular meeting you wish to attend.


In addition, we have postponed the below events. 

  • Basket and Bag Bingo – formerly March 13 and now August 21, 2020
  • NFBMD Bid for Opportunity and Scholarship Auction – formerly April 4 and now September 19, 2020
  • National Harbor Tenth Anniversary Celebration – Formerly March 13 and now TBD
  • MDPOBC Bake Auction – formerly March 21 and now TBD
  • MDPOBC Spring Seminar – formerly May 2 and now TBD
  • MDABS Student Seminar – formerly May 2 and now TBD
  • Muir’s Tavern Homecoming Fundraiser – formerly May 9 and now TBD
  • New Presidents and Leaders Seminar – formerly April 4 and now TBD

Note: We will share rescheduled dates for all events as soon as they are determined.


In addition, the following events will take place but will be conducted virtually.

  • NFB National Convention – July 14 – 18, 2020 (see additional information later in this newsletter)
  • NFBMD BELL Academies – June, July, and August, 2020 (see additional information later in this newsletter)


The following events are still scheduled as planned, but they are subject to change based on Maryland social distancing and public health orders.

  • NFBMD Crab Feast – August 8, 2020
  • NFBMD Blind Cruising 2020 – September 27 – October 4, 2020
  • NFBMD State Convention – November 6-8, 2020


Please contact me at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110 with questions about any of the above.


NFB National Convention Is Coming!

The National Federation of the Blind 2020 Annual Convention will soon be upon us.  Though we will have a virtual convention in that we will not be travelling to Houston, this convention promises to be the biggest and best in history.  The Convention dates have changed slightly in that the Convention will last five days instead of six.  The new dates are Tuesday, July 14 through Saturday, July 18, 2020. 


NFBMD is hoping to have some in-person activities in Baltimore should State public health and social distancing rules permit us to do so.  We are hoping to have an in-person Caucus on Friday, July 17 and an in-person banquet on Saturday, July 18, 2020.  We are also exploring other events that may take place in person.  Any events that are in-person will also have a virtual component for those who cannot physically travel.  We will share information about the Maryland events associated with the 2020 National Convention as we finalize them. 


Given that our National Headquarters and our National President are in Maryland, and given that the virtual NFB Convention will be broadcast from Maryland, I am taking the position that Maryland is now the host of the 2020 NFB National Convention.  Other affiliates claim that every affiliate is a host of the 2020 National Convention, but I think we can show them that Maryland is the true host.  We can do this by having the largest number of Convention registrants and participants.  I am urging you all to register for the convention as soon as you can by visiting https://www.nfb.org/registration.  Registration is free!  If individuals need assistance filling out the online registration form, they may contact their chapter presidents or me for assistance.  I can be reached at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110.


NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition!

the NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition will teach critical nonvisual techniques and Braille literacy to blind children nationwide ages 4 through 12.  Due to the public health considerations associated with COVID-19, the NFB BELL Academy will be offered virtually rather than in person.  NFB BELL will be condensed into three nationally taught and coordinated sessions with support from NFBMD.  Each two-week session will take place Monday through Friday for 45 minutes at 11:00AM and 6:00PM (participants need only attend one of the daily sessions).  The dates of the three sessions are as follows:

  • June 1 – June 12, 2020
  • June 22 – July 3, 2020
  • July 27 – August 7, 2020

Note: the 11:00AM session from June 22 – July 3, 2020 will be conducted in Spanish.


Each registered student will receive the materials to complete all sessions alongside their parent/guardian by mail.  There will be two daily opportunities to connect with an experienced teacher by phone or web during each session.  NFBMD will provide additional support and assistance throughout the sessions.


Registration is free to families.  Participants may register by visiting https://www.nfb.org/form/nfb-bell-academy-home-edition.  Anyone needing assistance with registering should contact NFBMD BELL Coordinator Lizzy Muhammad at lizzy.muhammad@outlook.com or at 484-624-9778.


Do You Feel Lucky?

The NFBMD spring raffle is underway. During the months of May and June, you have the opportunity to win $50 Sunday through Friday, or $100 on Saturday. Purchase a 3-digit number raffle ticket for $10. You will be the only one who has this number. You can get your tickets from chapter and division presidents, Board members,  affiliate leaders, or from me at President@nfbmd.org. This raffle has gone digital, so please get in touch with me or an NFBMD leader to get your tickets today.  Help us sell all 1,000 tickets! 


Update on Voting Access

NFBMD has worked tirelessly to ensure that Maryland’s blind voters were not excluded from being able to vote given the Maryland State Board of Election’s decision to move the Maryland Primary Election on June 2, 2020 and the Maryland District 7 Special General Election on April 28, 2020 to Vote-by-Mail.  Originally, the Board was not going to have any in-person voting sites, which would have precluded many voters with disabilities including the blind from being able to access the elections.  Though Maryland administers an absentee ballot for making selections that NFBMD fought to make accessible several years ago, this method will not work for all blind voters because it excludes those without printer capabilities and those who cannot mail out their ballots (this ballot can be voted accessibly but it is not submitted via the internet and thus must be printed and sent in to cast the vote). 


NFBMD advocated to the Maryland State Board of Elections, Maryland Department of Disabilities, and directly to the Office of the Governor, and through our efforts and those of our Disability advocacy partners, the Maryland State Board of Elections reversed course and implemented same-day in-person voting sites in Maryland.  Each of the three counties in District 7 had one in-person voting site for the Special General Election on April 28, 2020.  Each of the 24 counties will have at least one in-person voting site for the Maryland Primary Election on June 2, 2020. 


I urge everyone who can safely vote in person on June 2, 2020 to do so, adhering to social distancing and public health rules such as wearing masks.  Given our ongoing efforts to desegregate voting in Maryland due to disability, we need as many voters as possible to use the Ballot Marking Devices and share their experiences with us.  If voters need assistance getting to their in-person voting locations, they should contact me at President@nfbmd.org or at 443-426-4110.


Important Upcoming Dates

  • June 1 – June 12, 2020 – NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition
  • June 15, 2020 – Final Payment Due for Blind Cruising 2020
  • June 22 – July 3, 2020 – NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition
  • July 14 –18, 2020 – NFB National Convention, Houston, Texas
  • July 27 – August 7, 2020 – NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition
  • August 8, 2020 – Annual Crab Feast - Tall Cedars, 2501 Putty Hill Ave., Parkville, MD 21234
  • August 21, 2020 – Basket and Bag Bingo at The Lodge, 2832 9 Mile Cir. Catonsville, MD.
  • September 19, 2020 – Scholarship Dinner and Bid for Opportunity at VFW Post 9619, 6527 Suitland Rd, Morningside, MD
  • September 27 – October 4, 2020 – Blind Cruising 2020, Carnival Pride, Departing from Port of Baltimore
  • November 6-8, 2020 – Annual State Convention, Towson, Maryland