Below you will find a summary of our Washington Seminar Town Hall Meeting held on Zoom on Monday, January 25, 2021. Special thanks to our NFBNJ Legislative Director, Ryan Stevens for sharing with us his extensive knowledge and experience about the NFB Washington Seminar.
A special shout out of thanks to Linda Melendez, President, NFBNJ for hosting and moderating the meeting and sharing her expertise with us.
The meeting started promptly at 7:00 p.m. and ended at 8:00 p.m.
There were 41 participants at the Zoom Townhall meeting. Legislative Director, Ryan Stevens briefly discussed the four priority issues that will be presented at the 2021 Washington Seminar:
- Access Technology Affordability Act
- Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act
- Accessible Websites Act
- Accessible Voting Act
President Melendez shared that the first Washington Seminar took place in 1973. Today, more than five hundred people from the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico attend.
Ryan Stevens said that the NFBNJ typically has a delegation of 14 to 16 members who travel to Washington to meet with our Congressional and Senatorial Representatives and/or staff to present our issues. Normally we address three priority issues however in 2021 we will address the four above issues.
The Seminar starts with “The Great Gathering In” which will be held virtually this year on February 8, 2021 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. This very exciting two hour event includes speakers, mock trials, a lot of learning and fun! All are invited to this event and Zoom details will be provided to our members.
Ryan further discussed how he and President Melendez strategized for our first virtual event. The 2021 NFBNJ Washington Seminar has 31 members and six group leaders:
- Annemarie Cooke
- Rick Fox
- Vee Gaspa
- Linda Melendez
- Ryan Stevens
- Lia Stone
The groups represent the various geographical locations (North, South, Central) of the state and each group will have one or two members who are constituents of the New Jersey Congressional District they will visit to discuss the issues. The group will also have a student representative and a new NFBNJ member who will be trained in the “Legislation Process”. Meetings with Congressional Representatives and staff will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 9 and 10) and meetings with Senators Booker and Menendez will be held on Thursday (February 11). Ryan will lead the NFBNJ Delegation with Senator Booker and President Melendez will lead the delegation meeting with Senator Menendez.
Ryan reminded us that we will be working with the 117th Congress this year and our previous bill numbers have changed as a result of this. The NFBNJ will focus on recruiting staff who have previously supported earlier versions of the bills to sign on again. More importantly we will try to get all our representatives to support these legislative issues that are so important to blind Americans.
President Melendez said that our “visit to Washington” (this year virtually) is the “appetizer” and the real work begins when the delegation returns home and includes:
- Thank you letters to the Congressional and Senatorial Staff
- Encouraging members and friends to support Legislative Alerts by emailing or calling their Delegates
- Keeping lines of communication open so we are always advocating for legislative issues impacting the blind. We need to be steadfast and persistent and non-bipartisan.
President Melendez and Ryan thanked everyone for participating on this important “Town Hall Meeting” and encouraged all to spread the word to their family and friends. These are legislative issues impacting the blind across the country. We have a unified platform to help blind people to live the lives they want!
The meeting was informative, and participants had the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered by knowledgeable professionals.
Summary respectfully provided by Ellen Sullivan, Affiliate Secretary and reviewed by Linda Melendez, President, National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey