talkfor | the National Federation of the BlindPositive impact for millions of people.

by Ray Kurzweil
January 1, 2024

talk |

talk: Positive impact for millions of people.
for: the National Federation of the Blind
author: by Ray Kurzweil
date: July 2022

presented by

group: the National Federation of the Blind
web: home ~ channel
banner: Live the life you want.

card :: the National Federation of the Blind

talk |

An introduction.

It was great to hear president Mark Riccobono’s reflections on the state of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). His speech is a highlight of the year that I very much look forward to for the months leading up to this convention. Somehow I get asked to speak right after his brilliant speech. I’m not sure what I’ve done to be asked to speak after this high-point. But I will do my best.

Mark Riccobono spoke about this overall movement to understand what blind people can contribute to society — and to affect all people’s understanding of blindness + its capabilities. Even though there are still people in the world who share centuries old prejudices about blindness, this movement nonetheless makes exponential progress each year.

It’s wonderful to actually be together in person this year after a pandemic that kept us apart. The corona-virus pandemic was like nothing we’ve ever experienced. You would have to go back to the 1918 flu which is just a bit before my time. It does make a huge difference to actually be in the same room again.

I enjoyed Mark Riccobono’s quotations of people from diverse backgrounds and their views of the art of making changes in society. He quoted fmr. US President Lyndon Johnson who said: ‘There are no problems we cannot solve together — and very few that we can solve by ourselves.’

That reminds me of when I met Lyndon Johnson in the white house in 1964, when I was a senior in high school. He was meeting with me and 39 other young scientists as part of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. I had created a computer that could compose music. President Johnson gave us a speech saying something similar to this — to how we can solve problems if we work together. He also expressed a wish that we would never see war. He went on to describe how horrible war was and hoped we would never encounter it.

I believed — and still do — that he was honest about this at the time. But unfortunately, later on that year, he led the United States into the Vietnam war — which brought all of the horrors of war to my generation and the nation. I did get involved in a movement to oppose the war.

I also liked the quotation from Yoko Ono who said: ‘A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.’ That does remind me of the National Federation of the Blind and its dream that we are able to dream together.

But the quotation that I liked the best is from Martin Luther King Jr. who said: ‘A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people + institutions is a revolution.’

I’ve been involved with the National Federation of the Blind for 48 years — from 1974 to 2022 — and have come to its annual banquet each year since that time. That’s only 6 years after the death of Jacobus tenBroek PhD — the NFB founder + civil rights activist for the blind. So I wonder what it would have been like to have met him — he gave birth to this organization + movement.

The National Federation of the Blind has had an enormous impact not just on the blind, but on the lives of millions of people. It has greatly affected our institutions.

As just one example, it was vital to the Americans with Disabilities Act — which changed our institution — on how people with disabilities would be treated by law. I remember that the National Federation of the Blind was deeply involved in this enormous change in law — more than any other organization.

Many of the provisions were drafted here. I remember many by Jim Gashel. I recall him discussing how these changes would affect blind people — but also all people with disabilities. That is just one change the National Federation of the Blind has created to improve our institutions.

Despite all these changes, ancient ideas about blindness still exist as Mark Riccobono has stated. But these are becoming far more rare, particularly during the 48 years that I have been involved with the National Federation of the Blind.

I remember Martin Luther King Jr. very well. During the 1950s and 1960s I would go to civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington DC — and in the south of the United States. I would go with my mother and we were inspired by his view of how society could change. And we saw real changes among both people and in institutions that followed from King’s civil rights marches.

When I met Kenneth Jernigan PhD in 1974. I felt right away that he was the Martin Luther King Jr. of the blindness movement. I remember meeting blind people who were remarkably confident and capable — and found out that they all came from Iowa. I quickly discovered why. They had all learned from Dr. Jernigan, who was then the Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind.

They had been taught by Dr. Jernigan to put aside centuries of negative concepts of blindness and to be confident in doing everything that sighted people could do. Dr. Jernigan called his approach structured discovery. Over time his findings have been utilized by re-habilitation programs all around the world.

But most of all, he created the National Federation of the Blind in the way we know it today. He led a true revolution in how both blind people as well as everyone in society views the capabilities of the contributions of the blind. I’ve also been deeply satisfied at how the organization has continued to grow — and expand its influence — with the leaderships of Dr. Mark Mauer and Marc Riccobono.

Lately I have liked to look back at the couple of movements that I have been involved in. For example, I have been involved in AI (artificial intelligence) for 60 years. Just as I missed meeting Jacobus tenBroek by six years — I also missed by six years the naming of the computer field of artificial intelligence — which was named at a 1956 Conference at Dartmouth College.

At that conference, they made a pledge to understand written language by computer — in two years. Well it’s now 66 years later, and we’re still working on that. However we’re getting close to actually achieving that goal. The progress in AI has been growing exponentially.

And the other major field I’ve been involved in has been this movement — the rights and abilities of blind people. Along with the understanding that the best way to advance these concepts is with an organization that is run by blind people themselves.

As I said I have been involved with the National Federation of the Blind for 48 years. And I’ve been amazed at how, to modify Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, it is: “A movement that changes both people and institutions to create a revolution in our understanding of blindness.” All of us can be proud of the profound changes we’ve made to our institutions of understanding of blindness.


the National Federation of the Blind | home ~ channel
tag line: Live the life you want.

profile | Jacobus tenBroek PhD
profile | James Gashel — aka: Jim
profile | Kenneth Jernigan PhD — aka: Ken
profile | Marc Mauer JD
profile | Marc A. Riccobono

the King Center ~ for Martin Luther King Jr. | home ~ channel
tag line: The center for non-violent social change.

Image Peace ~ by Yoko Ono | home ~ channel
tag line: Imagine all the people living life in peace.

Dartmouth College

— notes —

aka = also known as
AI = artificial intelligence

ADA = the Americans with Disabilities Act
NFB = the National Federation of the Blind