Too Big to Fail

On June 20, 2021, the Special Committee formed to investigate sexual misconduct within the National Federation of the Blind issued an interim report. I read this report in full and found it to be deeply troubling, though not surprising.

For purposes of brevity, I will high-light one section that is a snapshot of the conclusions drawn by the external investigators. I will paste the relevant section below, then offer my analysis as an afterward.

Here is Section IV of the interim report:

During the Committee’s work, it became increasingly clear that many within the
NFB community feel disappointment and frustration about how the NFB addressed
complaints alleging sexual misconduct on the part of Fredric Schroeder. Given Dr.
Schroeder’s prominence within the organization and the number of allegations about his
misconduct over the course of many years, it is not possible to conduct an objective
investigation of sexual misconduct within the NFB without addressing the subject of Fred
Schroeder. The Schroeder matter has been described, figuratively, as the elephant in the
room. In the Committee’s estimation, it has simmered within the organization for
decades, and the Committee believes it is healthy and necessary for the organization to
address it in a formal way in this Report. There are two principal reasons to do so. First,
Schroeder was a prominent figure within the organization and complaints concerning his
misconduct spanned close to four decades. Multiple people who either survived or
witnessed the misconduct have been affected. And, the handling, or mishandling, of that
misconduct has been identified by multiple witnesses as a factor contributing to their
mistrust of the organization’s assertion that it wants to improve the ways in which it
responds to these issues and, in some cases, to a decision to leave or decrease
participation in the organization. Second, the case illustrates the significant evolution in
the NFB’s response to sexual misconduct over the decades.
Because this aspect of the investigation concerns events and discussions occurring
over the course of decades, establishing every detail was not possible. Moreover, to
protect survivors, the Committee will not reveal specific details. Nonetheless, witness
accounts of conversations and events were largely consistent (with one notable exception
as set forth below) and several themes emerged. The preponderance of the evidence is
more than sufficient for the Committee to reach the following findings:
Schroeder engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of decades.
Although the Committee does not know the exact number of instances, the
Committee reasonably finds that there were many. Multiple women were
traumatized by him.
By the early 2000s, certain members of leadership were aware of
Schroeder’s misconduct and complaints relating to that misconduct.
Leadership’s response in those early days was not adequate.
Leadership’s response improved in and around 2014, as additional incidents
involving Schroeder were raised and as the transition from the Maurer
administration to the Riccobono administration occurred.
The response, however, was still not sufficient. Specifically, the decision
to support Schroeder’s candidacy for president of the World Blind Union
and to grant Schroeder a platform at annual conventions following his
resignation from NFB leadership positions was a mistake.
In our fourteen interviews concerning Schroeder’s misconduct and the response to
that misconduct, seven specific survivors of Schroeder’s misconduct were identified by
name. Witnesses described several additional incidents of sexual misconduct by
Schroeder but declined to identify the victims/survivors of those incidents. The survivors
allege misconduct of two distinct types on the part of Schroeder – predatory grooming
behavior with young women he mentored or supervised; and groping and aggressive acts
committed in connection with alcohol consumption. (Grooming is “manipulative
behavior that the abuser uses to gain access to potential victims, coerce them to agree to
be abused, and reduce the risk of being caught.” See
The Committee finds that, based on the statements of then-President Maurer and
additional witnesses with first-hand knowledge, leadership at the highest levels was
aware of the misconduct by 2002 at the latest. Specifically, after a report concerning
Schroeder’s misconduct was made to Louisiana Tech University in 2001 or 2002, then-
President Maurer learned of the complaint and discussed it with Schroeder and another
witness. The witness asserted that Dr. Maurer was upset that the witness had initiated the
complaint without talking with him first. Dr. Maurer admitted he was aware of the
complaint and recalls that the discussions at the time were centered around protecting the
reputation of the Louisiana Tech program and avoiding the potential fallout to that
program and to the Federation.
Five separate, credible witnesses have recounted additional confrontations or
conversations with then-President Maurer about Schroeder’s increasingly public
misconduct and the need to intercede. Each, however, came away with the clear
understanding that Dr. Maurer had no intention of intervening. The Committee
concludes that there was a sense of futility on the part of witnesses who brought to Dr.
Maurer concerns about Schroeder’s behavior. One of the witnesses reported talking with
Dr. Maurer about the issue before 2010. Meanwhile, an informal network of women
formed to protect younger members from Schroeder’s misconduct by devising creative
techniques for avoiding him or minimizing interactions. Dr. Maurer acknowledged
conversations with only one of these witnesses and with an additional person with whom
we have not spoken; he denied having any memory of the other conversations.
According to one witness, Dr. Maurer advised the witness that he intended for Dr.
Schroeder to become the president of the World Blind Union and did not want anything
to “derail” that. Dr. Maurer denied that that discussion occurred. Dr. Maurer explained,
however, that, as a result of Schroeder’s conduct, Dr. Maurer concluded that he could no
longer support Schroeder in his advancement within the NFB. Specifically, Dr. Maurer
stated that he would not support Schroeder as the next president of the NFB. Dr. Maurer
notified Schroeder of that decision in the fall of 2013. Notwithstanding the incredible
leadership Dr. Maurer provided during his tenure on many important issues, the
Committee concludes that, on this issue, Dr. Maurer failed in his duty to the Federation.
The Committee defers to the Board as to what, if any, action should be taken.
In or around October 2014, after Riccobono became president, a survivor came
forward after another incident involving Schroeder. She went initially to then-Treasurer
Pam Allen to report the incident, and thereafter the survivor and Ms. Allen met with
President Riccobono concerning the incident. The survivor reports understanding that, at
or around the same time, another person also came forward with allegations about
Not long after, President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, and Dr. Schroeder
gathered in Orlando to plan for an upcoming event. President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer,
and Mrs. Jernigan used the trip as an opportunity to meet with Schroeder about his
misconduct. Specifically, the group had concluded that Schroeder needed to resign from
his position as First Vice-President of the NFB Board and as President of the Virginia
affiliate. President Riccobono recalled that, when they confronted Schroeder with the
allegations (and before they had the chance to request Schroeder’s resignation), Schroeder
did not attempt to dispute the allegations and offered to resign. Thereafter, Schroeder
submitted his resignation to the Board, the members of which were made aware of the
most recent issue raised.
In the November 2014 Presidential Release, however, President Riccobono
announced to the membership that Schroeder had resigned from the NFB Board for
“personal reasons.” President Riccobono stated that, although Schroeder had left the
Board, he was not leaving the Federation; President Riccobono expressed his
appreciation for all the work Schroeder had done and would continue to do for the
Federation. At or around the same time, Schroeder resigned from the presidency of the
Virginia affiliate.
There was no announcement from either the national organization or the state
affiliate that Schroeder’s resignation had anything to do with misconduct. In addition to
remaining a member of the NFB, Schroeder maintained his roles on the boards of the
World Blind Union and the NBPCB. One survivor who had previously reported
Schroeder’s misconduct listened to the Release, watched for developments over the next
several months, and wondered, “why did I bother?”
Less than a year later, Schroeder spoke at the General Session of the NFB’s 2015
National Convention, giving a speech entitled, “The Blind in the World: Spreading The
Federation Message.” (2015 Agenda, General Session, July 9, 2015). He was given a
similar platform at the 2016 National Convention, giving the very first speech at the
General Session. (2016 Agenda, General Session, July 4, 2016) (“The Blind in the
World: Leadership, Philosophy, and Action on a Global Scale.”). A month later, with the
NFB’s express support, Schroeder became the President of the World Blind Union.
Meanwhile, Schroeder remained the President of the Board of the NBPCB, having
been so since July 2011. When another member’s certification as a blind professional
was revoked in 2019 for sexual misconduct, it was Schroeder who wrote the letter to him
explaining his options. The NFB also continued to give Schroeder a platform; in 2017,
he once again was given one of the general session slots at the National Convention.
In 2019, Schroeder’s reception at the National Convention was different. Edward
Bell, the Secretary-Treasurer of the NBPCB, was scheduled to speak during the General
Session about consumer-driven professional development. Dr. Bell unexpectedly had to
leave the Convention and asked Schroeder to take his place on the agenda; Dr. Bell
viewed Schroeder as a natural pick because Schroeder was then the President of the
NBPCB. Dr. Bell reported that he, like many in the NFB, was unaware of the reason for
Schroeder’s resignation from the NFB’s Board. The audience, however, did not know
about the change in speaker. As a result, there was no opportunity for audience members
to avoid the presentation had they wished to do so. Multiple witnesses reported to the
Committee that, when it became apparent Schroeder would be giving the speech, dozens
of people stood and left the room (“the 2019 Walk-Out”).
It was this event – when a large group of members literally voted with their feet –
that caused leadership to realize that the decisions they made in 2014 were not adequate.
Leadership recognized that Schroeder should no longer occupy such a prominent position
at NFB events or continue to lead the NBPCB Board.
Since January 2021, when the NFB retained an External Investigator for Code
complaints involving sexual misconduct, five complaints have been filed against
Schroeder alleging sexual misconduct that occurred prior to his resignation in 2014. The
External Investigator recently completed her investigation into those allegations, finding
in favor of the complainants and recommending that Schroeder be suspended from the
NFB for a period of five years, at which point he will be allowed to reapply for
membership if he has complied with several conditions. President Riccobono adopted
the External Investigator’s recommendations in full. He also notified the World Blind
Union of the suspension. On June 15, 2021, the World Blind Union announced
Schroeder’s early resignation from his position as president.
Based on these findings the Committee concludes that, until recently, the NFB’s
response to Schroeder’s misconduct has been inadequate. Multiple witnesses offered
their perspective on why this occurred, explaining that Schroeder’s undeniable
professional accomplishments and contributions to the blind community made it difficult
for any leader to insist that Schroeder be held accountable for his acts, and further that
there was a general belief that the sanctions applied in 2014 – effectively ending
Schroeder’s advancement within the NFB – were fairly serious. But the public-facing
information about Schroeder was obviously very different. Schroeder’s ongoing access to
prominent placement on the NFB’s National Convention agenda and the NFB’s visible
(and reportedly financial) support for Schroeder as president of the World Blind Union
created the distinct impression that the NFB had nothing but the highest regard for
Schroeder. That was not fair to the survivors of Schroeder’s misconduct.
The Committee further concludes that the 2019 Walk-Out was a galvanizing
moment for the NFB, sending a clear message from survivors and their allies that no
member was too important to be held fully accountable for sexual misconduct. The
Committee believes that that message has been received and accepted, as evidenced by
President Riccobono’s adoption of the External Investigator’s recommendation to suspend
Schroeder’s NFB membership.

End of excerpt:

If you take this report at face value (and I do), then it is damning, not only to Fred Schroeder, but to former President Marc Maurer as well. It is clear that Maurer was explicitly warned about Schroeder’s behavior for at least 20 years and chose to place Schroeder’s political advancement above the welfare of individual members. I firmly and fully believe that this is consistent with Maurer’s character, both as a leader and as a human being. Read my previous entry concerning Maurer’s comportment at the 2001 Leadership Seminar for further illumination.

My personal belief is that Maurer, and other unnamed leaders in the report, damn well knew of Schroeder’s behavior long before 2001. The report clearly states that Schroeder’s transgressions go back at least four decades. Stop and absorb the import of that for a moment. I cannot overstate my informed opinion that Dr. Maurer viewed any and all complainants about Fred Schroeder as an inconvenience and that his refusal to deal with the issue is due to callous negligence on his part.

What’s more, President Riccobono was fully aware of the allegations against Schroeder shortly after he assumed the presidency in July, 2014. Yet, even after Schroeder was removed from the national board and from the presidency of the Virginia affiliate, he continued to hold prominent positions in speaking slots at our national conventions. The public walk-out protest at the 2019 convention put an end to this, but note that this occurred over a year after the implementation of the Code of Conduct. Even though Schroeder’s speaking engagement at the 2019 convention was last minute, it still occurred with the approval of Riccobono. I cannot stress enough that every official event that takes place at a national convention happens with the active or passive approval of the president, whether it has been planned long term or occurs with short notice.

But even more chilling than the allegations set forth is the punishment handed down to Dr. Schroeder. I stand aghast at the notion that Schroeder could do what he did and only receive a five-year suspension from the organization. It is inconceivable to me why permanent expulsion would not be a more appropriate consequence.

In my initial entry on this topic, I said that heads must roll. Schroeder was exactly who I had in mind when I made that statement. I’ve been hearing his name since the late ‘90’s in connection with the perpetration of sexual harassment and assault. If a lowly, insignificant member such as myself heard it, it is certain that those who were and are far more prominent and powerful in the movement would have heard stories of his misdeeds as well. The suspension serves only as a reprieve for Schroeder, not a permanent consequence. His victims (both those who have and who have not come forward), surely realize this. Survivors at the hands of less powerful predators within the NFB have also received the implicit message sent by the leadership.

Permanent expulsion accompanied by a forceful, public condemnation of Schroeder by President Riccobono might have satisfied the optics of the situation and would have been a just punishment. Instead, his suspension smacks of just another back room deal struck by the president. Put another way, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder is too big to fail. I can’t help but think that this will only have a chilling effect on the complaint process going forward.

It is also noteworthy to examine Marc Maurer’s motivations for sweeping Schroeder’s misdeeds under the rug. The report makes it clear that Maurer intended for Schroeder to succeed him as president of the NFB. This is darkly illustrative of my previous entry in which I stated that presidents of the national organization are appointed, and that the election process by the convention body is a mere formality. Furthermore, Maurer wanted Schroeder to be the president of the World Blind Union. Yet, Schroeder has resigned early due to these emerging scandals. How’d that work out for the NFB, and for all of the blind who live in the world?

Men like Marc Maurer are gifted with a vast intellect, but said intellect often blinds them to other possible scenarios that may play out on the chess board outside of their field of control. But if Maurer could not foresee the fall-out from Schroeder’s behavior playing out on social media due to his generational viewpoint and his well-known lack of technological acumen, Riccobono should have possessed more sagacity.

The unholy marriage of political opportunism and the criminality of sexual misconduct, both in the mainstream political world and within the blindness community, cannot be denied. Section 4 of the committee’s report is a textbook example. I therefore renew my call for the NFB to adopt term limits for all national and state board members. One need only reread the section of the committee’s report on Fred Schroeder to understand the entrenched problems within the current governance of the NFB. Term limits are not an ideal solution to all the political ills, but in the specific case of the NFB at this specific time, I believe that they would solve more problems than they would create.

I will further state that, despite any task force, special committee or external investigator, the NFB will continue to experience these same structural failures until the leadership undergoes a transformation in culture. Such a transformation cannot occur without a free and open election at the top. If outsiders want to know when real change has happened, watch the national convention. When you see two candidates compete for the presidency, both chosen organically by grass roots campaigns, and when you see a vote occur that is not lopsided, then you will know that real change has come to the Federation.

Let me emphasize that I am not speaking of internal philosophical change. As my last entry states, I believe that the core principles of the NFB are sound. I’m speaking about shortcomings more fundamental to the dark side of human experience that transcend blindness; nepotism, cronyism and the viewing of human beings who are victims of criminal acts as collateral damage in the face of socio-political achievement.

Sadly, I have come to believe that my words, along with the cries of the survivors for justice, will fall on deaf ears. I wonder if more people won’t simply vote with their feet. I wonder if we’ll have enough of the membership left to hold the free and fair election that sparks my imagination.

Author: Ryan Osentowski

My name is Ryan Osentowski. I am a conservative blind guy going through life using the structured discovery method. I currently work as the Station Manager at a radio reading service for the blind. My passions include politics, writing, cigars, old-time radio, quality TV shows and movies, food, music, reading, clocks, swimming and tbd. I hope you will enjoy what you find here. If you don't...try it with a strong dose of alcohol.