by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: Chris Danielson is the director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind. He was a part of our original branding team and knows both the spirit and the language that so eloquently communicates who we are and what we do. Here is what he says:
There are several aspects to our brand; one critical component is our brand values. Just as with personal values, brand values make up the code by which the organization lives. Our brand values define the principles upon which our staff, leadership, and members act and make decisions. They are the heart and soul of the organization and do not change very much over time.
We live by six carefully considered brand values: courage, respect, love, full participation, democracy, and collective action. Wow! That’s a lot of values. The next two articles in our branding series will unpack what each of these values mean and describe how we live them each day. In this article we’ll start with the values of courage, respect, and love.
Fighting for freedom takes perseverance and unwavering determination in the face of challenges, setbacks, and difficulties. For over seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has led this fight and made significant progress on the road to complete freedom and equality for the blind. As Marc Maurer has reminded us, it will take our continued courage to “break down the remaining barriers on the last miles of the road to freedom” and we are up to the task.
We demonstrate courage at both the organizational and individual level. It takes concerted, courageous advocacy to make change, but it also sometimes takes individual effort backed up by support from the Federation family. For example, both Jamie Ann Principato and Aleeha Dudley experienced discrimination at their chosen higher education institutions. This included not only the usual systemic barriers that blind students encounter, but active resistance from faculty and staff who believed that Jamie and Aleeha couldn’t succeed in their respective courses of study (physics and veterinary medicine.) Both courageous women had to take their battles to court. Although the NFB supported their legal cases, each of them endured the personal consequences of their decision to fight. They persevered not only to achieve their own goals but so that blind people attending their universities in the future would not experience the same barriers. Their courage resulted in systemic change at their schools.
Our faith in the capacity and dignity of blind people is at the heart of our work. We assert the right to be treated fairly and equally. We reject society’s low expectations that come from the ingrained belief that blindness is the characteristic that defines us. We deserve respect and show it to one another.
We talk a lot about the respect that we demand from society, but it is important to remember that our large, diverse organization demands that we respect one another to function properly. We are a cross-section of society bound together by blindness and the problems associated with it, but naturally we come from different backgrounds, have a wide range of characteristics other than blindness, and adhere to different sets of beliefs. We don’t even all make the same choices about how to deal with our blindness, but we respect different choices. We also recognize that not everyone is at the same point on the journey to accepting blindness or vision loss or learning the skills to cope with it effectively.
One of the best examples of a different blindness choice is the decision to use a guide dog instead of a long white cane. While we believe strongly in the long white cane, we know that many of our blind brothers and sisters find real benefit in a guide dog. We not only respect that choice but actively defend it. Recently, we met with Delta Air Lines to get that carrier to back off a new policy that would have adversely affected guide dog users. One of the leaders in that meeting was Marion Gwizdala, the president of our division of guide dog users. The other was Anil Lewis, who uses a cane. Marion and Anil worked together to convince Delta that requiring guide dog users to give forty-eight hours’ notice when they intended to fly with their animals was unreasonable and unnecessary. They succeeded, and this onerous requirement no longer exists.
Like any large group of people, we have differences and disagreements, even sometimes about the priorities of our local chapter, state affiliate, or the national organization. That is fine if we share those differences in a civil and respectful manner and abide by the solution at which the organization, at whatever level, arrives through our democratic processes. Our new code of conduct, discussed by President Riccobono in the April Braille Monitor, reminds us of our critical obligation to respect one another and those with whom we interact on behalf of our movement.
The NFB provides a loving, supportive and encouraging family that shares in the challenges and triumphs of our blind brothers and sisters. This deeply held faith in one another sustains members during times of challenge and cheers on individual and collective successes. Love is the feeling that permeates our organization and pushes us to expect the best from each other.
Recently Federationists in Texas experienced monumental challenges because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. The National Federation of the Blind set up a fund to help blind people who were coping with this devastation. Norma Crosby, president of the NFB of Texas and a member of our national board of directors, administered this fund, selflessly leading efforts to collect donations, both monetary and tangible, and distribute aid to Federation families affected by the storm. Norma did this work even though she and her husband Glenn were personally struggling because their own home was severely damaged. Norma and other Federation leaders knew that blind people helping other blind people was critical, because while blind people had many of the same struggles that faced everyone else affected by the hurricane, there were also blindness-specific challenges. Blind Texans had lost everything from expensive assistive technology to white canes, things they could not pick up at the local Wal-Mart or Target. At Washington Seminar, Norma announced that all requests for assistance from Texas had been met; furthermore, she announced that the remaining funds would go to help Federationists in Puerto Rico, which was subsequently hit even harder by Hurricane Maria. This is an example of how the love we have for each other not only helps us push each other to succeed as blind people but sustains us through life’s difficulties.
What other examples come to mind when you think about these values, or any other aspects of the brand that we have discussed? Share them with us by sending an email to [email protected]. It’s important that our discussion of the brand be interactive so that we can all share how we live the brand and can help to make it stronger. We look forward to hearing from you.