Glancing Back at 2018

Happy new year! January is named for the Latin word for door (ianua), since it’s the door to a new year and an opening to new beginnings. I hope you all had a safe, happy and healthy holiday season. I’d like to take this time to go back through that door and review 2018.

In January, airlines were reviewing and tightening their service animal policies after a woman tried to board a flight with an emotional support peacock at Newark International Airport. ACB worked with Delta Air Lines, among others, to revise their guidelines and relax many of the stringent policies for individuals with legitimately trained service animals, which have already undergone great scrutiny and training before being released in the community with their handlers.

Around the same time, ACB worked with NCIS producers on the development of the character Annie, a blind attorney played by visually impaired actress Marilee Talkington on “Sight Unseen,” episode 350 of NCIS. An in-depth article on how this episode came to be and ACB’s involvement in it appeared in the Cordillera, Mont. “World Now”; view the article at https://tinyurl.com/yahxef9q, or at http://acb.org/NCIS-sight-unseen.

Exciting news! In late February, ACB formed a partnership with Disability:IN (formerly the U.S. Business Leadership Network) to increase the rate of employment for people who are blind or visually impaired and advocate for enhanced workplace accessibility. Collaboration is a core value of ACB, and working with Disability:IN provides opportunities to educate and advocate for corporations to hire, employ and support people who are blind or visually impaired, ensuring application, on-boarding and on-the-job processes are accessible. This partnership will strengthen business diversity initiatives, as well as enhance Disability:IN’s current programs and services for talented individuals with disabilities.

A few weeks later, ACB established The Legacy Fund, an endowment fund which will grow, both through investment growth and through new bequests coming to ACB. At some point, to be determined in the future, ACB will begin to draw from this endowment to help with annual operations. But, perhaps most importantly, The Legacy Fund will ensure ACB’s financial future and help to perpetuate ACB’s important work for many years to come.

Great news! In March, the Senate introduced the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S. 2559). This legislation will pave the way for ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaty. ACB was the first U.S. blindness organization to go to the U.N. member agency nearly 10 years ago to discuss what would eventually become the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty will help to overcome the shortage of accessible media around the world for people who are blind or who have other print disabilities. Through our advocacy both here and abroad, ACB has been able to play a significant role in carrying the treaty across the finish line. The legislation passed the Senate in late September, and was signed into law by the President in October.

In the midst of all of this activity, Claire Stanley joined the ACB national office staff as the outreach specialist. She came to us from the Mid-Atlantic ADA Technical Assistance Center. Originally from southern California, she has a strong background as an advocate for people with disabilities. Joining the staff in Minnesota this year were Nancy Christine Feela and Nicole Beito.

Soon afterward, ACB, in collaboration with Cisco, announced the availability of the first enterprise-grade desk phone that includes built-in text-to-speech functionality capable of conveying vital information on the display through audible voice and tone indicators. The software update for Cisco’s IP Phone 8800 Series is a huge step toward making the digital workplace more accessible for the blind and visually impaired. This momentous announcement represented a year’s collaboration by ACB and Cisco.

ACB also worked with Apple on a set of new emoji to provide better representation of people with disabilities. The 13 emoji include guide dogs, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs and people using canes and wheelchairs. These new emoji have been approved, and they will be released in 2019. More information may be found at http://acb.org/apple-acb-disabilty-emoji.

Shortly thereafter, as a result of ACB’s structured negotiations, CVS pharmacies obtained the ability to dispense controlled substance medications with the Access-A-Med talking prescription labels. Patients seeking Access-A-Med labels for controlled substances should contact their local CVS pharmacist. CVS continues to dispense non-controlled prescription medications with ScripTalk talking labels through cvs.com.  To sign up for ScripTalk labels, contact cvs.com at 1-888-861-4363. If you’d prefer to have your prescription medications with the ScripTalk labels sent to your local CVS store for pick-up, you can make that request with cvs.com, too.

About the same time, ACB members Doug Wakefield and Don Barrett were featured in a WUSA9 article about how new technology is making life easier for people with disabilities. You may find the article at https://tinyurl.com/yaznjotw. Wakefield and Barrett were also featured in two “USA Today” articles; you may read them at https://tinyurl.com/ybjv393v and https://tinyurl.com/ycto8ekg.

In May, I had the honor to be featured with my son Tyler in a Microsoft video called AI for Accessibility, which is available at https://tinyurl.com/yavxlg49. For the audio-described version, go to http://acb.org/build-ai-accessibility-video-w-audio-description. This video kicked off the Microsoft Build conference, and was viewed live by more than 700,000 people. It also introduced the AI for Accessibility grants program, which is a $25 million 5-year program to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit the more than 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities. Through AI for Accessibility, Microsoft will support with grants of technology, AI expertise, and platform-level services to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions and build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services.

In July, ACB held its annual convention at the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis. From the bang of the gavel calling the opening session to order to the motion to adjourn, it was jam-packed with information, award winners, scholarship winners, recognition of the year’s achievements and ACB members (both past and present) who have made significant contributions to the work of the organization, and major sponsors whose work has positively impacted the lives of ACB members and other blind people throughout America and the world. Among the highlights were presentations from Marilee Talkington, who played Annie Barth, a blind attorney who heard vital evidence needed to solve a crime on NCIS, and Richard Turner, the master card mechanic and star of the documentary “Dealt.”

This summer and fall saw many natural disasters: wildfires in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, and hurricanes Florence and Michael on the east coast, Lane, Olivia, Walaka and Willa on the west coast. ACB’s Disaster Relief Fund is still active. Financial contributions to the ACB Disaster Relief Fund may be made at http://acb.org/acb-disaster-relief-donation. If you prefer to pay by check, send to: American Council of the Blind, 6300 Shingle Creek Parkway, Suite 195, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430. Be sure to write in the memo field on your check that your gift is for disaster relief. Gift cards can also be sent to the above address. If you would prefer to donate via phone, call 1-800-866-3242.

In September, ACB’s advocacy department began doing podcasts and live Facebook broadcasts. Claire Stanley and Tony Stephens have covered such topics as voting, diabetic retinopathy, the latest news from Hulu, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the Marrakesh Treaty and associated legislation. And there will be more to come!

Speaking of videos, in October I joined Ellee Pai Hong of Comcast for a discussion of ACB’s efforts to increase the independence and quality of life for the blind and visually impaired community through collaboration with companies developing innovative technology solutions for everyday life. The video went live on their blog, https://comcastnewsmakers.com/Videos/2018/10/4/Smart-Tech-Making-a-Difference. November was a busy month! ACB collaborated with Verizon, Aira, General Motors, and The GPS Alliance to hold a panel discussion on artificial intelligence and accessibility. Panelists were Anirudh Koul, Aira, Head of Intelligence and Research; J. David Grossman, The GPS Alliance, executive director; Reagan Payne, General Motors, Manager, Emerging Technologies Policy; and ACB’s own Tony Stephens. You may view it on https://www.facebook.com/AmericanCounciloftheBlindOfficial/.

Around the same time, ACB hosted a meeting of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. Attendees heard from Kenneth Suratt, executive director of the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, on the state of blind people in his country. Topics included audio description, the Marrakesh Treaty, quiet cars, braille, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, children and youth, and library services, among other things. Delegates from member organizations also presented reports on the goings-on of their agencies.

In the midst of all the preparations for these meetings, Tony Stephens left ACB to take a new job as the executive director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance. We wish him much success in his new role. Also moving on was General, my guide dog. He is enjoying his retirement at my parents’ place in Iowa, and has settled in with them and their dog, Charlie. I still miss him, but we FaceTime every so often. He recognizes my voice, and my folks say he looks around the house for me while we chat.

It’s a new year, and there will be challenges for us to face. What kinds of challenges? I don’t yet know. But the one thing I do know is this: we will need your assistance and advocacy on them. Stay tuned to the Washington Connection and future issues of the Forum for further information.

Eric Bridges
Executive Director
American Council of the Blind