President’s Message: November-December 2016

By James Kracht

I want to devote this month's message to a reflection on gratitude. Florida's citizens just shook hands with one of the worst, biggest, and most widespread hurricanes that I have witnessed in my 40 plus years living in Florida. Hurricane Matthew was an immense and very powerful storm that certainly could have left many of us living along Florida's East Coast homeless or facing the most severe property damage or personal injury imaginable.

Your president and his family were most fortunate and are safe. I will finish checking with our officers, but I am confident that our FCB family will stand united and reach out to our members who may not have been as lucky as our officers were.

Yes, these hurricanes carry a tremendous amount of inconvenience. There is the need to shutter up if you can – and bring in belongings and personal property that may be outside of your home. One must make sure to have necessary medicines and medical supplies, and shop for food, water, batteries, a radio or TV, and maybe a source of emergency power. In some cases, one may – after securing his or her home – be faced with the additional challenge of having to evacuate to a shelter or go to the home of a friend or family member.

While I was fortunate to achieve the closure of my shutters with a little bit of sighted assistance from my wife, I recognize that many of our members do not have the luxury of sighted assistance, let alone the availability of shutters.

In listening to the round-the-clock news broadcasts, I was pleased to note that on 4 or 5 occasions, I heard government officials urging members of the population with disabilities to call their local sheriff if they needed transportation to a shelter. I have never before heard that suggestion.

I recently spoke with one of our members who lives in a harder-hit coastal community in central Florida. They did evacuate and tried to go to a shelter, but it was full, so they went to stay with friends. I'm anxious to hear from any of our members who did go to a shelter during Matthew's trek up the coast. Did you get the help you needed? Were workers helpful and accommodating? What would have made your shelter visit work better for you?

I write this message realizing that it has been a long time since we visited the question of emergency preparations and the impact of hurricanes in Florida. There was a posting on the ACB leadership list that our neighboring state to the north had an inaccessible government website with regard to hurricane preparation.

With our board meeting approaching, we need to hear from you about your problems, your successes, your needs, and what or where FCB'S advocacy efforts might be needed and directed in the area of emergency preparation and services.

Please communicate with me directly, or with Paul Edwards as Resolutions chair. Paul can be reached by email at edwards.paul955@gmail.com.

I was pleased to hear that one of our members received a knock on his door from a neighbor offering to put up his hurricane shutters. Additionally, after more than 40 years in Florida, I was pleased to receive a FEMA call with a number dedicated to providing assistance to persons with disabilities, and hoping to develop a Cadre, FEMA's Disability Integration, which is working to set up a community and state partnership in this disaster response and recovery efforts. Matthew Starr and John Daly from FEMA state that, "Our mission is to ensure that all disaster survivors, including Floridians with disabilities, receive equal and accessible services, programs and information from FEMA and community-based disaster relief organizations." I will be participating in a conference call with FEMA and other disability services providers in the next few days.

While we have much to be thankful for, and while we can point to increased awareness of the needs of our community, we need to use our experiences from this storm to help us better educate state and local officials about existing shortfalls or negative experiences in emergency preparations and hurricane survival. A phone call or a visit to your local municipality or county hall individually or as a group may provide vital education and changes and adjustments to policies and practices so as to better serve the needs of members of our communities who are visually impaired.

By the time this issue of the WCB is published, our Board meeting at the International Palms Hotel in Orlando will be imminent, taking place November 4th through 6th. I am looking forward to seeing those of you who can make it to Orlando.

Let us also be grateful that on November 8th, we can and we must all take part in this extremely important presidential election and vote. Every vote matters and every vote counts. And, yes, after many years of grass roots advocacy efforts, we as Florida's voters who are blind and visually impaired can cast our ballots privately, independently, and in many instances, verifiably. We are not done with preserving and protecting our rights, but we truly have come a long way. Part of our job to achieve fully accessible voting is to exercise the rights we have attained. Please vote on or before November 8th. Then, it is critically important that every one of you go on the FCB website and complete the Florida Voter Survey, which our Second vice-president has developed so that we can obtain an accurate depiction of our individual voting experiences.

Finally, let me wish each of you and your families a merry Christmas, a joyous holiday season, and a happy and healthy 2017. It’s been a good year for FCB, and I submit 2017 will be even better.

Jim Kracht, President