HOUSTON — Some 2,500 people attended the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind here July 1-6. For the second year in a row, Pathfinder Press was among the 100 exhibitors, publicizing titles it now makes available in accessible formats through the bookshare.org website.
There are over 7 million blind and vision-impaired people in the U.S. Some work in manufacturing and warehouse jobs, others as teachers, engineers, accountants, attorneys and in other jobs. An estimated 70% of working people who are blind are unemployed, and many others face low wages and discrimination by employers. The big majority who do have jobs are not organized in trade unions.
According to the federation’s constitution, it aims to be “a vehicle for collective action by the blind,” promote their “equality with the sighted,” and improve their “overall condition and standard of living.”
The National Federation of the Blind and its affiliates encourage blind people to learn skills, including walking with a white cane, reading Braille and using new computer and cellphone technology to work, communicate, shop and get around. In a report to the convention, President Mark Riccobono reviewed the NFB’s efforts.
Federal law allows bosses to pay blind and other disabled workers less than minimum wage. The NFB has helped win legislation or regulations to phase out subminimum wages in 15 states.
Riccobono said the federation has taken up the cause of blind workers hired to work in Amazon distribution centers, some of whom have been told to go home because the company would not provide the accommodations they need to do their job. The organization, he said, is collaborating with Amazon’s blind employees to reduce discrimination and expand employment opportunities in the company’s distribution centers.
The organization supports blind students seeking to obtain books and other materials in an accessible format they can use. Riccobono also stressed the challenges faced by workers behind bars who are blind. The federation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven blind prisoners in Virginia and has succeeded in Colorado and Maryland in winning blind inmates’ access to computer technology so they can read and write mail, file grievances and take advantage of employment and educational programs.
Reggie Herbert, 36, a teacher and NFB activist from Montana, told the Militant the Missoula County public school system has been unsuccessfully looking for a Braille teacher for five years. “There is a shortage of Braille instructors because they are not valued enough in this society to be paid a living wage.”
Interest in Pathfinder books
Discussions at the Pathfinder Press booth covered the importance of the defense of constitutional rights, recent strike actions, the fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty in face of Moscow’s invasion and war, the origins of women’s oppression and the challenges of sustaining family life in today’s crisis-ridden capitalist society.
Shay Collazo and her 13-year-old son Dean stopped by. “It is great that Pathfinder books are available from bookshare.org, making them available to my son in Braille,” she said. “I like that the Militant has a different point of view. If you just read the mainstream papers, you would think there are no unions, but there are plenty of them, and they are active and relevant.”
Pathfinder books available at bookshare.org can be downloaded in a file format for Braille readers. Pathfinder volunteers distributed hundreds of flyers in Braille and large print, and their stand displayed dozens of Pathfinder titles. Convention participants bought seven subscriptions to the Militant and 30 Pathfinder books. One of the top sellers was The Low Point of Labor Resistance Is Behind Us: The Socialist Workers Party Looks Forward by SWP leaders Jack Barnes, Mary-Alice Waters and Steve Clark. Five copies of this book were purchased.