First-Timer's Guide to National Federation of the Blind National Conventions
This guide is intended to give the first-time convention attendee some important
information about state and national conventions of the National Federation of the
Blind (NFB). It is available on cassette, in Braille, in large print, and on our
Web site at www.nfb.org. You can also download this document in ASCII, Rich Text,
or Microsoft Word Formats by selecting the appropriate link below. Detailed information
about specific conventions may be found in the Braille Monitor, the Voice of the
Nation's Blind, on our NFB Web site, or in specific convention agendas. First-time
attendees should also plan to attend the Rookie Round-up, usually held on day one
of the convention, also referred to as set-up day. NFB State affiliates may, or
may not host such an event however the number of attendees is significantly smaller
than that of those attending the national convention. This gathering is specifically
for first-time attendees such as yourself.
From the President
"I am extremely pleased to welcome you to your very first national convention of
the National Federation of the Blind. This information will help you better understand
the unique role the national convention plays in the life of our Federation.
Your presence at convention is important! By your presence, you are a part of the
largest gathering of blind people held anywhere in the world. The Federation needs
your ideas and your voice, and you need the strength and knowledge that comes from
common association and collective action. I hope you come to feel the power and
unity of purpose this convention brings to those blind persons who choose to attend."
Some Brief Organizational History
The NFB was established in 1940. Representatives from seven states gathered in Wilkes-Barre,
Pennsylvania, for the founding convention. Those seven states were: California,
Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The founder and first President of the NFB was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. tenBroek
had been mentored in his youth and taught about the importance of self-organization
of the blind by Dr. Newel Perry of the California School for the Blind. In the early
part of the twentieth century, Dr. Perry himself had organized the alumni of the
California School for the Blind in order to-- as he put it-- "escape defeatism and
to achieve normal membership in society."
Dr. tenBroek spent most of his working life in Berkeley teaching at the University
of California. In his youth, however, he taught for a short time at the University
of Chicago School of Law, and he was teaching there at the time he founded the NFB.
Today, the NFB has 52 state affiliates: one in each of the fifty states, plus the
District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
What is meant by the Phrase "Federation Philosophy"?
You will hear people discussing what they call "Federation Philosophy." What they
are referring to is the Federation's positive belief system about blindness. The
Federation came to know the simple truth many years ago that blind people are simply
normal people who cannot see--we are not defective sighted people. Blind people
are as different as sighted people are; that is, we are a cross-section of the broader
society and, therefore, are not all alike as some assume. Given proper training
and opportunity, the average blind person can compete in all facets of society on
an equal basis with the average sighted person. Blindness is a physical characteristic,
and the limitations resulting from this normal characteristic can be overcome using
alternative techniques to do without sight what an individual would do with sight
if he or she had it. It is respectable to be blind, and, given proper training,
blindness may be reduced to the level of a nuisance or inconvenience.
The real problem of blindness is not the loss of vision itself, but is wrapped up
in all of the public misunderstandings, misconceptions, and superstitions about
it. Because of these incorrect attitudes with their resulting stereotypes, the blind
have organized for the same reasons other minorities have--to make positive social
change through collective action.
What is the Function of the National Convention?
The national convention is held once each year in a location chosen by the President
based upon successful negotiations for needed space. At this convention, national
officers and board members are elected by the general membership, decisions concerning
the organization are made, and policies are set for the following year or years.
To quote briefly from the NFB Constitution (last revised in 1986):
"The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature
of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of
policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full
and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all
convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make
or second motions, propose nominations, and serve on committees; and is eligible
for election to office except that only blind members may be elected to the National
The national convention also has some very practical benefits for attendees. Parents
and teachers of blind children can observe and meet successful role models; expectations
can be raised; friendships can be made and renewed; the latest adaptive technology
for the blind may be observed; tours of interesting places may be taken; and hope
for the future may be kindled. The convention is, in a sense, a large family gathering,
and has been described by one observer as being analogous to an annual meeting of
the Scottish clans.
How Big is The Convention?
NFB national conventions have experienced enormous growth through the years. There
were sixteen representatives from the seven founding states at the 1940 meeting.
Just two years later--at a 1942 Des Moines, Iowa, meeting--150 representatives from
fifteen state affiliates were on hand. The convention first recorded more than 1,000
attendees in 1971 in Houston, Texas. Attendance went over the 2,000 mark for the
first time in 1988 in Chicago. By the convention held in New Orleans in 1997, registration
topped more than 3,000 for the first time. Currently, between 3,000 and 3,500 attendees
will be present.
What Can I Expect at a National Convention?
NFB national conventions are seven-day events. Day one is set-up day, parents' seminar,
a national orientation and mobility conference, technology seminars, and other special
meetings and events. On day two, registration begins in the morning, and the Resolutions
Committee meets in the afternoon. There are also other special meetings which are
noted in the Agenda. On day three, the national board of directors meets in the
morning (the meeting is open to all) and various committees, groups, and divisions
meet in the afternoon and evening. Day four brings the opening of the formal convention,
with the roll call of states in the morning, and the Presidential Report and other
program items in the afternoon. There are also committee and divisional meetings
on the evening of day four. On day five, the formal convention meets in the morning
only, and the afternoon is reserved for tours. There are also other afternoon and
evening committee and divisional meetings. Day six has three formal sessions: morning,
afternoon, and the annual banquet in the evening. Day seven is reserved for internal
Federation activities and adjourns promptly at 5:00 PM.
If you hear someone say that "the convention is following the regular schedule this
year," they mean that the convention begins on Saturday and ends on Friday afternoon
The Presidential Report
One of the major presentations each year is a report to the entire convention on
the Federation's activities and progress during the previous year. All attendees
are urged to be present for this major event which is held on day four.
For many convention attendees, this may be a rare opportunity to do some sightseeing
away from their homes. Therefore, for many years the afternoon of day five has been
reserved for tours in the convention city. Information about tours is available
in the Braille Monitor or from the host affiliate.
Committees, Groups, and Divisions
In addition to the four days of general convention sessions, many smaller groups
affiliated with the NFB hold their annual meetings at the time of the National Convention.
These are groups such as blind students, blind lawyers, parents and teachers of
blind children, blind secretaries, blind businessmen and women, blind teachers,
blind guide-dog users, blind computer users and blind rehabilitation professionals.
These meetings are open to all, and the first-time convention attendee should look
at the Agenda to select those which might be of interest to him or her. Attendees
are encouraged to attend more than one division meeting if they have interest in
more than one area. Some of these committees or divisions collect dues, and some
Registration starts on day two. All attendees are requested to register, and the
outstanding hotel group rates are not available to those who do not. In addition,
to be eligible for door prizes you must be registered. An official badge is issued
to each registrant and should be worn throughout convention week. Banquet tickets
for the banquet held on the sixth night of convention week are available for purchase
when you register. Banquet tickets should be purchased as early in the convention
as possible and are not available for purchase after the beginning of the morning
session on day five.
The convention agenda is available at registration and is also available at a number
of other locations at the convention site. The agenda is also available on the NFB
Web site at www.nfb.org as soon as it is final. The agenda
gives general information about the convention, hotel rates, and other hotel information,
and it shows the times and locations of the various meetings and general sessions.
The Banquet Ticket Exchange
All convention attendees are encouraged to attend the annual banquet on the sixth
night of convention week. When the convention and banquets were smaller, attendees
simply went to the banquet hall, waited in line to enter, and found a seat once
inside. Now, because more than 2,000 people will be present, a system for reserved
seating has been developed. Purchase your banquet ticket at the time of registration,
and your state president (or designee) will collect individual tickets and turn
them in for assigned group seating, usually with others from that state affiliate.
State Deligations in the General Sessions
During the four days of general convention sessions, the meeting hall will be set
up with flags indicating the location of each of the state affiliates. The number
of seats per delegation is based upon the registration figures. Generally, attendees
sit in their own delegations. In this way, people can be located easily if they
are needed, and official voting delegates have the membership at hand if they wish
to poll the delegation on voting issues, or if they wish to determine the consensus
of their affiliate's representatives.
The general sessions consist of program items, reports, panel discussions, elections,
and official votes on policy issues. General convention sessions customarily are
chaired by the Federation President. Floor microphones are available for comments
and questions from the audience when time is available.
Often, on votes for elections, motions, or for the adoption of resolutions, the
President will call for voice votes. In such cases, it is usually clear that a vast
majority has voted one way or another. However, if the outcome of a particular vote
is not absolutely clear, then the President will ask for a roll call vote. In such
cases, only official delegates of the state affiliates may vote.
In order to be as democratic as it can be in its decision-making, the Federation
has decided that each state affiliate will have one vote. At the opening general
session, each affiliate names its official voting delegate--and an alternate or
alternates in the event that the official delegate is absent at the time of a given
vote. Then, when a roll call vote is taken, only the official voting delegates may
cast votes. Therefore, a maximum of 52 official votes may be cast. The secretary
keeps the official tally and announces votes once decisions have been made.
Some have asked why the Federation does not follow the "one man, one vote" rule.
The concern with this method is that a very few large state affiliates could control
the outcome on every issue. Therefore, the Federation has opted to have the kind
of representation allowed in the United States Constitution for the U.S. Senate,
wherein each state has equal representation.
The Federation has a national board consisting of President, First Vice-President,
Second Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and twelve additional board members,
each of whom serve for terms of two years. The five constitutional officers and
six of the twelve board members are elected during national conventions in even-numbered
years, and the remaining six board members are elected at conventions during odd-numbered
At the roll call of states held on the morning of the first general session, each
affiliate designates its appointee to the Nominating Committee. The President then
designates one of these nominees to be Chairperson of the Nominating Committee.
This committee then holds a private meeting to come up with its slate of candidates.
This meeting is closed to the general membership so that free and frank discussions
may be held. Note: This is the only closed Federation meeting at the national convention.
The actual elections are then held during a designated general session. The candidate
offered for each position by the Nominating Committee is first placed in nomination.
The chairperson then calls for other nominations from the floor. In order to be
completely open and democratic, the Federation has a long-standing policy of calling
for other nominations three times before a motion to close nominations will be accepted
by the chairperson. In this way, it can never be alleged that a quick vote has been
pushed through without time for other nominations.
It is also long-standing policy that an individual will not stand for election unless
he or she has agreed to run. This policy avoids the problem of electing unwilling
The Federation has an outstanding college scholarship program; it awards thirty
national scholarships at each national convention, ranging in value from $3,000
to $12,000. Applications close on March 31 of each year.
As many as 500 to 700 individuals apply each year. Each April, the Scholarship Committee
meets in Baltimore, evaluates the applicants, and offers scholarships to the top
thirty candidates. These thirty scholars are then brought to the national convention,
all expenses paid. They spend each day with designated mentors.
When the students arrive, they know that they are one of the select thirty. It is
not decided until a meeting of the Scholarship Committee a night or two before the
banquet who will receive which of the scholarships. The students, of course, are
all winners; the only question is who will receive which one. The winner of the
top scholarship is offered the opportunity to speak briefly at the banquet. Previous
winners may also apply again for the opportunity to become tenBroek Fellows.
The annual banquet is the highlight of each convention. It is held on night six
of the convention week. The banquet features national organizational recognitions,
the scholarship winners, and a major address by the national President. These banquets
are recorded, and copies of these recordings are distributed free of charge.
Dating back to the 1970s, each banquet attendee receives a special commemorative
mug. The mug usually has something to do with the city in which the meeting is being
held. Additional mugs may be purchased later for a nominal fee so that attendees
have full sets.
There is a major exhibit area at each national convention. This gives convention
goers the opportunity to examine all of the latest adaptive technology, to talk
with officials from such agencies as the National Library Service for the Blind
or Physically Handicapped or the American Printing House for the Blind, to purchase
items from exhibitors, or to select items available from the National Federation
of the Blind in Baltimore.
Exhibits generally are open throughout the entire week, but they are not open during
any of the general convention sessions. The Federation's goal is to have all convention
attendees in general sessions.
As with other areas of the convention, the growth in the number of exhibitors through
the years has been gratifying. In Atlanta in 2004, the number of exhibitors topped
Significant door prizes are drawn throughout general convention sessions and at
the banquet. To be eligible to win, an attendee must be registered and present at
the meeting where the prize is drawn. Each morning session begins on time with a
drawing for a $100 bill. This practice encourages attendees to be present and on
time. Similar drawings occur periodically throughout general sessions and at the
banquet. The grand prize drawn at the banquet is much larger than the others.
Six different types of fundraising will be discussed during the convention. These
1. The White Cane Fund: A time will be set aside during the Convention when
buckets will be passed through the audience to receive cash donations for the White
Cane Fund. Affiliates will also make gifts or pledges to this fund. These dollars
go directly to the general treasury of the Federation.
2. The Jacobus tenBroek Fund: Donations will also be made to this fund for
the maintenance and upkeep of the National Center for the Blind property. This property
houses the operations of the National Federation of the Blind, and other entities.
3. The Elegant Elephant Sale: Items are donated and then sold at a booth
in the exhibit hall. The proceeds from this sale go into the tenBroek Fund to finance
the National Center for the Blind.
4. The PAC Plan: Before the early 1970s, Federationists were encouraged to
make monthly contributions to support the programs and activities of the Federation.
However, this funding source was not reliable. When the concept of having funds
withdrawn directly from a checking account became popular in the business world,
a Federationist named E.U. Parker of Mississippi suggested that the Federation establish
a Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan. In this way, monthly donations could be made
on the day of the month and in the amount the Federationist elected to give. It
was believed that the PAC Plan would insure a consistent flow of monthly income
from Federation supporters, and the Plan worked.
To sign up for the PAC Plan, the donor must have a checking account, complete a
PAC Plan card, sign and turn over a voided check, and begin with a monthly donation
of at least $5.00. Supporters of the Federation contribute between $300,000 and
$400,000 each year through this giving opportunity.
5. SUN Shares: Supporters of the Federation are also able to make either
monthly or annual donations for SUN Shares (Shares Unlimited in NFB). These funds
are being set aside in the event that they are needed to support the Federation
during difficult times.
6. The Imagination Fund: In January of 2004, the Federation held the grand
opening for its new training and research center in Baltimore. On the day of the
grand opening, the NFB board named the new facility the National Federation of the
Blind Jernigan Institute, named after our second president Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
The Institute is now operating programs and services with the goal of continual
expansion for years to come.
The Imagination Fund, an annual fundraising effort, has been established to support
the work of the Jernigan Institute and affiliate activities throughout the country.
Members and friends of the organization are being asked to participate in this annual
campaign by making contributions, soliciting gifts from friends and colleagues,
and by providing names and addresses of individuals who may be receptive to Imagination
Fund mailings. One half of the funds which are raised will be used to operate the
Institute, one fourth will be divided equally among state affiliates, and the remaining
one fourth will be set aside to fund specific local chapter or state affiliate projects.
NFB resolutions are the official policy statements of the organization, and between
twenty and thirty such policy statements are considered each year. Anyone may offer
a resolution. The customary method is to submit a proposed resolution to the Chairman
of the Resolutions Committee at least two weeks before the convention. The Resolutions
Committee--appointed by the President--holds a public meeting on the afternoon of
day two of the convention. The resolutions, which have been submitted to the committee
chairperson, are then considered one at a time.
After full discussion, the committee votes either to pass or not pass. If the committee
passes a particular resolution, then it comes before the full convention in general
session for final action on the last (seventh) day of the convention. This means
that there may be six days in which to debate contentious issues and to try to politic
for favorable votes before final convention action is taken.
If a resolution does not pass out of the committee, then this does not mean that
it is completely dead. In line with democratic principles, the presenter of the
resolution has the option of trying to have the resolution considered by the full
convention. If he or she is able to get five state affiliates to request that the
resolution be heard, then it will be considered by the entire convention on the
final meeting day.
Although it is somewhat rare, a resolution may also be brought to the full convention
through the national board of directors. A majority of the directors would have
to support the resolution in order to bring it to the floor in this manner.
Guide Dog Relief Area
In order to accommodate blind guide-dog users at the national convention, arrangements
are made each year to construct a special facility where the dogs may be taken to
relieve themselves. This special area is refreshed several times each day.
Representatives of the Guide Dog Committee are available to show first-time convention
goers where to take their animals and to assist in learning individual clean-up
practices. Dog users are expected to use these special facilities rather than to
permit their animals to relieve themselves in the streets or on other hotel property.
Services for Spanish Speaking Individuals or the Deaf-Blind
The entire convention is translated by volunteers for attendees who speak Spanish.
Small receivers are available to provide the audio transmission.
Small receivers are also available for the hearing impaired to receive direct transmissions
from the public address system. For those who may be totally deaf and use the Teletouch
machine for interpreting, volunteers are available to translate the convention.
Who Attends the Convention
Attendees may be long-time convention goers, the newly blinded, parents and teachers
of blind children, blindness professionals who are interested in becoming more knowledgeable
about blindness, adaptive-technology providers, and family members of people who
are blind. Most attendees are from the United States, although each year there are
foreign visitors from as many as twenty other countries.
A Life-Changing Experience
For many, attendance at that very first convention has become a life-changing experience.
Many learn for the very first time that it is respectable to be blind; that carrying
a cane is useful and is nothing to be ashamed of; that Braille is a valuable tool
after all; and that much progress is being made in adaptive technology. Attendees
also learn that they are not alone, that there are others who are facing the same
problems they are, and that an active and normal life is possible. Some learn for
the first time that there are orientation and adjustment centers where blind people
can be sent by their rehabilitation counselors to learn the skills of blindness
and the positive attitudes which lead to personal empowerment.
The President's Wrap-Up
"I hope this information has been helpful to you and that it has given you a sense
of the significant role the national convention plays in the life of the National
Federation of the Blind. I also hope your interest has been piqued and that you
will continue to be an active member of our movement via your local chapter and
state affiliate. Let this convention experience mark the first of many others in
your life. We need your voice and your talents. Working together, we can continue
to make a difference in the lives of blind people everywhere. We can change what
it means to be blind."