December 2020/January 2021 Minute Message

Fellow Federationists:

Happy New Year! The year 2020 was like none we’ve ever experienced. The chapters, divisions, and membership did a tremendous job of pivoting to a virtual environment and staying connected. Though most of our fundraisers and large events had to be postponed, we engaged in more advocacy than ever before and held a significant number of activities, including the largest convention in NFBMD history. We’ve learned about ourselves and our movement, and we’ve demonstrated that we won’t let even a pandemic keep us from fighting for equality for the blind. Please read below for information and activities around the State.

Open Letter of Apology

I issued the below letter via our NFB of Maryland listserves on December 16, 2020 in the aftermath of allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct in the blind community.

Letter from Ronza Othman, President, NFBMD

Content Warning: The following letter addresses sensitive topics regarding sexual misconduct and violence.

Federation Family,

Some have recently been discussing the history of sexual misconduct, violence, harassment, and disrespectful behavior within the activities of our organization and among the blind generally. I welcome a thoughtful, loving, and productive discussion. We should validate those in our family who have been hurt in the past by their blind colleagues. I want to first say that I am sorry. I’m sorry that our family members have been hurt. I’m sorry that our family members have done the hurting. And I’m so incredibly sorry if I did not do enough to prevent the hurt and stop it from occurring. I promise to do all in my power to support survivors, to change from within aspects of our culture that create opportunities for this sort of misconduct, and to implement real and lasting mechanisms for preventing sexual harassment and other abuses from taking place.

To those of you who are survivors, my heart breaks for the injustice and injury that you experienced. Simultaneously, I am awed by your courage in sharing your pain. You’ve trusted us with your story, you’ve made yourself vulnerable, and you are reliving the pain and fear. I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, I admire you, and I love you. I am committing to earn your trust back.

Every blind person, regardless of background, wherever they might be on their journey in life, deserves to benefit from the unique life-changing experiences of the National Federation of the Blind and the remarkable training available through our three NFB training centers. We cannot succeed in our struggle for equality if we injure and exploit our colleagues, friends, and Federation family members. Racism, sexual harassment, discrimination, and other abuse are unfortunate flaws of our society, and regrettably our organization is not immune to them. These behaviors tarnish and undercut the incredible work of our organization, and we must proactively root out these behaviors and change the culture so that they are not only non-prevalent but also impossible in the future.

I believe it is essential to talk about the prevalence of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior and to proactively work to eradicate this behavior. I also believe it is essential to have a blindness philosophy that uplifts the blind, and that this philosophy should be administered by our organization and training centers. I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe both are dependent on one another. We are a people’s movement. The individuality of the people are simultaneously our greatest strength and greatest struggle. But I believe in the capacity of humans to grow smarter, become better, and advance for good on the whole.

As President of our Maryland affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, I reaffirm my commitment and our organization’s commitment to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment that is safe for everyone. I will do everything within my power to swiftly act upon the concerns that have been raised and support the leaders of our movement as we effectuate change. We can and will do more. In the coming weeks and months I will work with the affiliate Board of Directors to establish mechanisms in our affiliate to integrate meaningful changes that will ensure that all members are safe. I will work with the national leadership to implement real, positive, meaningful, and lasting change. As a leader, I promise not just to react, but to proactively prevent. We will incorporate a “culture of consent” through training, outreach, and, when appropriate, discipline. I will help educate our long-standing leaders in Maryland to ensure that our leadership structure understands the relevance of this moment in our evolving movement. I will affirmatively seek diverse leaders and role models to ensure that blind people from all cross sections have a voice in the solution. I will take time to further understand the nature of these problems and how other organizations have made progress. I will work as an ally with those who want to support our national leaders’ effort to advance positive change. I will listen to survivors and trained mental health professionals so that they can guide us in our efforts. I will do more, we will do more. I ask for your patience as we work on proactive change – it’s critical to do the right things instead of the quickest things.

We need to have this conversation to figure out what more needs to be done. And we need to have it without disenfranchising or further harming blind people. The Federation is ours to build. Please help me and the many other leaders and members who want to be a part of the solution and commit to change and healing.

I echo President Riccobono’s sentiments in the “Open Letter of Apology,” which is copied below. I am sorry, I pledge to do better as a Federation leader, and I promise to stand with survivors not just in words but in my actions. #MarchingTogether

Ronza Othman, President
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

Letter from Mark Riccobono, President, NFB

Content warning: the following letter addresses sensitive topics regarding sexual misconduct and violence.

Dear Fellow Federationists:

Many NFB members, former members, and people within our blindness community are hurting. For some, the pain comes from their lived experience of being abused or violated by one of our members and/or made to feel like no one else was listening or came to their defense at a Federation event or training program. For others, what they feel is empathy for survivors who were harmed by participating in the National Federation of the Blind, recognizing that we have not done enough within our movement and systemically within our community. We are deeply sorry that this is true and apologize for where we have failed. As the elected President of this movement, I carry the responsibility of this pain. I am profoundly sorry that anyone has been harmed by experiences in our movement. As a husband, father of three children, and leader who tries to live by a strong set of ethical values, I hurt for the survivors, and I deeply regret that I have made mistakes along the way. At each opportunity that I have to sit with my young children, I am directly reminded how fragile the balances are in our lives and how much our actions can have a lasting impact on others. I live with the regret and sorrow for the mistakes I personally made in dealing with inappropriate behavior in the past. Sometimes my mistakes have only been illuminated later through the honest reflection of a friend or the vulnerable sharing of someone who has been harmed. How do you adequately write a letter to apologize for that? How do you spread this sentiment to an entire movement of people including those who have left our organization? How do we, collectively, create an adequate action plan to promote healing, prevent future incidents, and continue our development of a culture that is welcoming, safe, and eliminates the barriers to bringing concerns forward for resolution? This letter attempts to explore those questions, but this is merely a single moment in these needed conversations.

Our hearts break for the survivors of abuse and sexual misconduct who have bravely shared incidents that have happened within our organization over the decades. During the past couple of weeks, a number of courageous individuals have shared painful stories about their experiences on social media and in individual conversations. We thank those brave survivors for sharing their stories because we recognize how difficult that is and how each story creates a unique set of emotions and challenges. We deeply regret that over our eighty years we have not handled each situation appropriately or been able to heal the pain that such incidents create. We do not reject these feelings of pain. In fact, we want to find and establish better ways to hear them and continuously eliminate the actions that caused them. We have no intention of debating the circumstances of any instance. Instead we acknowledge that if a survivor was left feeling the situation went unaddressed, then we have failed. The membership demands we do better. I, as President, demand this of myself and expect it from our movement. We will do better. In addition to calling upon all Federationists to listen better, honestly reflect upon your own biases, and to actively align our actions to our words, I call upon you not to dismiss those who cannot believe that our intentions are sincere or those who have had the courage to come forward. It is our individual and collective action, positively focused on making things better that will create belief. That is what has been true for us since 1940, and it will continue to be true for us going forward.

Let us get down to the hard facts. Words appear to mean nothing without actions, so below I’ve outlined six steps that we are committing to in the near future. Before I list them, please understand that these are initial steps, and we are committed to exploring and implementing whatever policies, programs, trainings, or resources necessary beyond these steps to appropriately address these horrible situations.

Improvements to Reporting of Incidents

We are currently thoroughly reviewing the pathways for reporting incidents and how those paths are handled. We are open to revamping all of the reporting mechanisms we have. We are in discussion with outside consultants who are expected to do a complete review of our processes with a specialized emphasize on sexual misconduct and harassment. We will rebuild all of our procedures if needed. We expect our revised processes to involve a third-party entity, but since we do not yet know how that will turn into actionable efforts within our organization, we cannot be specific about that process. Our hope is to be more transparent about our partnership and timelines for action during the first quarter of 2021. We hear you about the uncomfortable position some people feel is created by the current reporting system when a person must report through members they will later need to deal with personally. Regardless of the reporting mechanisms we maintain and create, we must be very clear on one point: Every elected leader of this organization must be prepared to take concerns seriously and to act upon information they are given as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Furthermore, the safety of blind youth who are under our supervision is our highest priority, and any incident that is discovered must be dealt with immediately.

Open Meeting and Supporting Survivors

We are committing to hold an open meeting or series of listening sessions to discuss these issues and solicit feedback on what support and resources victims and survivors need. We have not yet detailed what the open meeting and conversations will be. Because we do not want to unintentionally contribute to further pain among survivors, we want blind people with lived experiences and our consultants to guide that process. In the meantime, we continue to answer calls and emails from Federation members seeking clarity about these issues and offering solutions that we will carefully weigh as our learning continues. We are grateful to those of you who have reached out directly offering your personal experiences as a guide to future development. The members of the Federation are expected to shape what we do, and your readiness to bring solutions makes a big difference. Our goal is to provide support and healing to victims and survivors.

Enhancing the Code of Conduct Work

Prior to recent events and the stories that have emerged, we were in the process of considering and implementing several enhancements surrounding our code of conduct and its related procedures and programs. We have now paused those efforts. Why? Because we are listening. We have done horribly at messaging and sharing our internal procedures and our plans for effectively administering our organization's code of conduct. I say paused because we want to carefully evaluate where we are and our next steps guided by the expertise of anti-sexual-violence experts from outside our movement. If we must completely reset, that is what we will do. For now, our code and existing procedures are in place to set expectations within our organization. We will carefully evaluate current grievances to ensure that they continue to be safely and swiftly investigated even while our procedures are under review.


Illuminating Expectations

You may already know, but the board made its annual revisions to the code and procedures process on December 5, 2020. When we went to post the revisions, we realized that the FAQ we planned to post after the December 2019 review did not happen. No excuses, that was a pretty big dropped ball. That document is intended to answer questions like what happens when a grievance is filed, how is information kept confidential, and what communications can a filing party expect? Overall, we have failed to communicate broadly the procedures we have been using. For example, we allow for advocates to participate with parties who are involved with code of conduct investigations. Moreover, these FAQs will also be informed and expanded based upon questions that continue to be raised. They will also evolve as we implement additional avenues for raising concerns and for training members of the organization. We take ownership for the misinformation that is now circulating. Please keep those questions and suggestions coming.

Continuous Training

Training on issues around misconduct and abuse is something we have only skimmed the surface of in the recent past. We have done a minimal amount of training for affiliate presidents and workshops at our national convention. We were not satisfied that our training was sustainable, so we have been seeking other partners. That has been unreasonably slow. No excuse, we understand. We are going to be putting together training with the specific goal of preventing misconduct and abuse at Federation events and to strengthen the level of comfort with reporting. We have also hired an individual to assist in a number of areas including coordinating training—that person only started on November 30, which is why we had not yet introduced her to the membership.

Consistency across NFB Training Centers

A lack in consistency in practices across the three training centers that are affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind has been raised as a concern. It is worth noting that only BLIND Incorporated, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind have made the specific partnership commitments necessary to be formally and officially affiliated with the organized blind movement. On a regular basis, I have been meeting with our training center directors with the specific goal of better aligning our practices and policies. There is more work to do there. We expect these centers to fully commit to our code of conduct practices and set the highest standard of professional practice in all programs. During the most recent revisions of our code of conduct, we discussed the topic of consistency in handling and reporting concerns at our centers. We will be conducting a full review and implementing consistent training for the personnel at each of our centers. I stand with those who have been harmed by any employee, contractor, or volunteer at one of our centers, and I am prepared to help eliminate ineffective practices and urge the termination of those employees and contractors (as well as the exclusion of volunteers) who violate our policies in this area. Let me also add that our training centers have made a great difference in raising the standard of training for blind people in this nation and all around the world. As a graduate of one of our centers, I share that pride for the training I received but also the pain that even one person coming through one of our centers would have had a harmful experience. The employees at our centers are some of the most dedicated and thoughtful folks I know, and they are committed to the safety and wellbeing of program participants. However, that does not excuse harmful incidents that have happened in our training programs. I know our centers are committed to doing better. I know the executive directors and boards of each of these training centers will be prioritizing the advancement of these conversations. Most importantly, I know they feel your pain in a very deep and personal way.

Again, these are immediate actions and commitments. This is not a complete roadmap for the years to come, but it outlines some of the forthcoming actions we are focusing on. We know that we need to examine more ways to support our members such as mental health resources and the expertise of crisis professionals. Members of the Federation have a right to demand information about what is being done, and Federation leaders are expected to share that information. When we committed to the code of conduct in 2018, we made a commitment to a much-needed journey. Our commitment has not wavered even if we have not been outwardly demonstrating a commitment that you can trust. As leaders, we will continue to work to earn your trust and we will remain committed to continuous improvement and an open dialogue for organizational change. We are committed to finding ways to heal that pain, while preventing any future pain that results from unacceptable behavior. We are going to need the ideas and support of the members of this movement to do that in a meaningful and effective manner, so all are welcomed.

You continue to be our wise teachers. You who have shared your personal experiences and who have dared to open yourselves continue to guide us. In the National Federation of the Blind, we value diversity, we strive to be fully inclusive, and we want to be the safe space for all blind people. Every blind person in this nation deserves what this movement has to offer, and we recognize we have work to do so that every blind person feels like there is a place here for everyone. We are going to get there together. We apologize that we have not yet made it all the way, but we pledge that the commitment is deep and it is real. We are not done with our changes.

With love and commitment, we are #MarchingTogether.
— Mark Riccobono, President

Successful Week in Annapolis!

The 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly began on January 13, and we held our NFBMD Week in Annapolis from January 21 through 28, 2021. This year, in light of the virtual posture of the Maryland General Assembly, we expanded our usual Day in Annapolis to encompass an entire week. Members of the NFB of Maryland met with all 188 legislative offices to educate them about our 2021 legislative priorities. We will continue to advocate for these priorities at bill hearings and through letter writing campaigns throughout the session. This year’s legislative priorities are as follows:

  • The Accountability Act for Accessible K-12 Education
  • Desegregating voting based on disability
  • Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA)

Our first hearing will take place at 1:30 on February 2, 2021 for our voting bill, HR0243. Please visit and choose the Ways and Means Committee to view the hearing.

Washington Seminar Is Coming!

On February 8, Maryland will join Federationists from throughout the country to let Congress know about the priorities for blind Americans. The four issues that we will discuss are:

  • the Access Technology Affordability Act;
  • the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act;
  • the Americans with Disabilities Voting Rights Act; and
  • the 21st Century Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act

You may read the Washington Seminar fact sheets online or via Newsline. The Great Gathering In will take place at 5:00PM on Monday, February 8, 2021 via Zoom. Maryland will be meeting with our Congressional Delegation on Tuesday, February 9 and Wednesday, February 10, 2021. If you would like to attend the virtual meetings with members of Congress, please let me know by emailing or calling 443-426-4110. Please let me know you plan to attend by Friday, February 5, 2021.

NFB and NFBMD Scholarship Programs

The National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland each administer a separate scholarship program for post-secondary students. The deadline to apply for an NFB scholarship is March 31, 2021, and the deadline to apply for an NFBMD Scholarship is April 15, 2021.


National Scholarship Program

Each year, the NFB awards 30 merit-based scholarships totaling at least $120,000.


  • Scholarships range in amount from $3,000 to $12,000.
  • Scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement, leadership, and community service.
  • The 30 scholarship finalists are announced in the spring and attend the National Convention, where they are awarded a specific scholarship.
  • Application materials must be submitted (online or postmarked) by 11:59PM on March 31, 2021.
  • To be eligible, applicants must:
    • Be legally blind in both eyes;
    • Reside in the United States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico;
    • Be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, post-secondary course of study in a degree program at a U.S. institution in the Fall of 2020 (one scholarship may be awarded to an individual who works full-time and attends school part-time); and
    • Attend the entire National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind (and all scholarship activities) in New Orleans, Louisiana from July 6 through 11, 2021 (scholarship finalists will receive convention assistance).
    • To apply:

      State Scholarship Program

      Each year, the NFB of Maryland awards the John T. McCraw Scholarship to up to four students with a combined maximum total of $10,000. Though the Scholarship Committee will determine the amount awarded to each individual scholarship finalist, the minimum amount per scholarship is $2,000 and the maximum amount is $3,500. NFBMD may award a scholarship to a former McCraw scholarship recipient.

      • Scholarships are merit-based and awarded based on academic achievement, community involvement, and leadership.
      • Application materials must be submitted (online or postmarked) by 11:59PM on April 15, 2021.
      • To be eligible, applicants must:
        • Be legally blind in both eyes;
        • Be a legal resident of Maryland or be pursuing post-secondary studies at a school in Maryland;
        • Be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time or part-time, post-secondary course of study in a degree program in the Fall of 2021 and Spring of 2022 (priority will be given to full-time students); and
        • Attend the entire National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans, Louisiana from July 6 through 11, 2021 and the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland from November 12 – 14, 2021 (scholarship finalists will receive convention financial assistance).
        • To apply:

          do You Feel Lucky?

          The NFBMD spring raffle is underway. During the month of May, you have the opportunity to win $50 Sunday through Friday, or $100 on Saturday. Purchase a 3-digit number raffle ticket for $5. You will be the only one who has this number. Between now and April 15, you may purchase a $5 ticket from your chapter president or certain members of your chapter. If you want to buy or sell tickets, please contact Melissa Riccobono at Help us sell all 1,000 tickets to win prizes! Provided we sell all 1,000 tickets, we will enter the individuals who sell winning tickets into a drawing for a cash prize. We will also award prizes to those who sell the most tickets, provided we sell our entire stock of tickets.

          NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund

          We continue to operate 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 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.

          Important Upcoming Dates

          • February 6, 2021 – Regional Braille Challenge, Maryland School for the Blind
          • February 8, 2021 – Washington Seminar Great Gathering In
          • February 9 and 10, 2021 – Maryland days on the Hill
          • July 6 – 11, 2021 – NFB National Convention, New Orleans, Louisiana
          • August 7, 2021 – NFBMD Crab Feast, Parkville, Maryland
          • September 10, 2021 – Basket and Bag Bingo, Catonsville, Maryland
          • September 19 – 26, 2021 – Blind Cruising 2021, Carnival Pride, Departing from Port of Baltimore
          • November 12 – 14, 2021 – NFB of Maryland 55th Annual Convention, Baltimore, Maryland