[Nfbnet-members-list] Open Letter of Apology from President Riccobono

National Federation of the Blind webmaster at nfb.org
Wed Dec 16 17:21:21 UTC 2020


National Federation of the Blind logo and tagline live the life

Open Letter of Apology from President Riccobono

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, Icarry 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 
ofsomeone 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 notreject 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 
andtimelines 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 
havereached 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, ourcode 
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 
conductinvestigations. 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 coordinatingtraining­that 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 
conductpractices 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 doingbetter. 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 
youcan 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
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19462&qid=4709062>officeofthepresident at nfb.org, 

The National Federation of the Blind Board of 
Directors shown below requested that the 
President write an open letter regarding our 
commitments. By signing below, each of us affirms 
our support and commitment to the content of the 
letter above. Anybody with concerns regarding the 
content of this letter, the commitments that have 
been expressed, or potential incidents that may 
have happened at Federation events are welcome to 
contact any of the individuals endorsing this statement.

Pam Allen, First Vice President and Board Chair, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19463&qid=4709062>pallen at louisianacenter.org, 

Ron Brown, Second Vice President, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19464&qid=4709062>rb15 at iquest.net, 

James Gashel, Secretary, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19465&qid=4709062>jgashel0923 at gmail.com, 

Jeannie Massay, Treasurer, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19466&qid=4709062>jeanniemassay at gmail.com, 

Denise Avant, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19467&qid=4709062>davant1958 at gmail.com, 

Everette Bacon, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19468&qid=4709062>baconev at yahoo.com, 

Amy Buresh, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19469&qid=4709062>amy.buresh74 at gmail.com, 

Shawn Callaway, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19470&qid=4709062>callaway.shawn at gmail.com, 

Norma Crosby, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19471&qid=4709062>ncrosby at nfbtx.org, 

John Fritz, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19472&qid=4709062>president at nfbwis.org, 

Ever Lee Hairston, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19473&qid=4709062>ever.hairston at gmail.com, 

Carla McQuillan, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19474&qid=4709062>president at nfb-oregon.org, 

Amy Ruell, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19475&qid=4709062>aruell at comcast.net, 

Joe Ruffalo, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19476&qid=4709062>nfbnj1 at verizon.net

Terri Rupp, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19477&qid=4709062>terri.rupp at gmail.com, 

Adelmo Vigil, 
<https://www.nfb.org/libraries/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=19478&qid=4709062>nfbnewmexicopresident at gmail.com, 

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