by Eric Bridges
Wow, what a year we’ve had! The year 2022 came with many triumphs and challenges, and some major firsts.
With the COVID pandemic continuing, the matter of accessible home testing came to the forefront. ACB’s immediate past president, Kim Charlson, was quoted in a “New York Times” article on why accessibility for COVID testing needed such urgent attention. President Dan Spoone followed up with a letter to the Biden administration requesting urgent action on test accessibility, and to the National Institutes of Health requesting an update.
In February, our work with Constant Contact paid off. We were able to get headings included in our biweekly newsletter, Dots and Dashes, and, later, into “The ACB Braille Forum” and “The ACB E-Forum.” We, along with 180 other disability organizations, signed onto a letter to the Department of Justice that urged them to promulgate enforceable online accessibility standards by the end of the current administration.
March brought more good news: CBS significantly increased the amount of programming it makes available with audio description. “Bull,” “Ghosts,” “United States of Al,” “S.W.A.T.,” “Good Sam,” “Magnum P.I.,” and “Undercover Boss” all have audio description.
If you’ve ever tried to find your way through the Washington, D.C. area’s Metrorail system, you know how difficult it can be. But now, there’s a wayfinding app available to help you: Waymap, which works both indoors and out. It has been installed at three Metro stations so far: Braddock Road, Brookland, and Silver Spring. If you’re curious as to how it works, you can view a demonstration video at https://tinyurl.com/3rxwtxzy.
In June there was a big breakthrough: the federal government announced a new initiative to expand the availability of testing options that are more accessible for people who are blind or low vision and who use a smartphone.
“ACB and our members have long fought for accessibility improvements to our nation’s healthcare system, including accessible home diagnostic tests and durable medical equipment,” said ACB President Dan Spoone. “This announcement and program marks an important first step to provide more accessible COVID-19 at-home tests for people who are blind or low vision.”
The Ellume tests were made available at this year’s conference and convention in Omaha. The conference itself marked a major milestone: it was the first ever hybrid convention, with members participating in person, via Zoom, by telephone, and listening via ACB Media. ACB awarded scholarships to 20 students (see https://acb.org/acb-awards-scholarships-20-outstanding-students), had two First-Timers (Joe Derrick Green and Gregg Wandsneider), and five JPMorgan Chase Leadership Fellows – Judy Brown, Danette Dixon, Kristen Kelling, Byron Lee, and Cecily “Laney” Nipper.
Toward the end of convention, ACB’s new Mentorship, Access, and Peer Support Program (MAPS) began accepting applications for guides (mentors) and explorers (mentees). The guides are: Ray Campbell, Lucy Edmonds, Paul Edwards, Mary Ann Grignon, Lynne Koral, John McCann, DeAnna Noriega, Penny Reeder, Pam Shaw, Patty Slaby, Jeff Thom, and Donna Williams. Explorers are: Anthony Akamine, MOe Carpenter, Belinda Collins, Natalie Couch, Christy Crespin, Joe Green, Kristen Kelling, Doralee Martinez, Kelsey Nicolay, Lisha Pottackal, Lisa Sled, and Keao Wright.
Also in July, I participated in a Netflix community panel about accessibility in entertainment during an accessible screening of “The Gray Man” in New York City. Forbes magazine found it so fascinating, they wrote an article about the screenings. You can find it at https://tinyurl.com/2c9cxxbt.
Immediate past president Kim Charlson was honored in August. Kim was selected out of a diverse pool of nominees to receive a John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Award for Excellence in Accessibility Leadership at the organization’s Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference held in Raleigh, N.C. The Award for Excellence in Accessibility Leadership recognizes a lifetime of achievement in arts access, and was presented to Kim for her avid championing of audio description and life-long accessibility advocacy.
In September, the ACB Community held its 10,000th community event. Exercise, languages, peer support, technology, crafting, cooking, sports, music, serious discussions, fun with games, and so much more have helped bring many new people to ACB and build a community which continues to grow.
Clark Rachfal, ACB’s Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, was featured on Comcast Newsmakers, discussing the impact of the lack of accessible COVID-19 testing on the blind and low vision community, and efforts to ensure health care and medical systems are accessible for everyone. To view the video, visit https://tinyurl.com/y93ptap3.
One of this year’s legislative imperatives was the Website and Mobile Applications Accessibility Act. On Sept. 29, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced The Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act (S. 4998 and H.R. 9021) in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. S. 4998 has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. H.R. 9021 has been referred to the Committee on Education and Labor, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Another interesting event focused on outer space. Representatives from the Space Telescope Science Institute joined ACB’s advocacy team during an event to discuss how their team has collaborated to make NASA’s Webb Space Telescope images accessible to people who are blind and low vision. To view the video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t-ZwnCsbkY.
Speaking of space, the ACB national office learned that a major building renovation would be taking place, starting in spring 2023. The search for new office space began in the fall.
October brought rain and falling leaves, and, after much work by the ACB Media crew, the convention podcasts and videos. For more information, go to https://acb.org/2022-convention-podcasts. It also brought NASCAR’s “VIVID,” featuring ACB staff member Kolby Garrison. View the video with audio description at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQdVXP0mK70.
ACB’s advocacy team was quite busy in November. One issue that took a fair amount of energy was the Federal Aviation Administration’s Request for Comments in Minimum Seat Dimensions Necessary for Safety of Air Passengers (Emergency Evacuation). In ACB’s comments, Swatha Nandhakumar wrote, “Many ACB members are guide dog handlers. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations, service dogs are permitted to fly with their handlers. However, the shrinking size of airplane seats and accompanying foot space makes it increasingly difficult for such dogs to travel easily and comfortably with their handlers. Comfort is not the only concern; the lack of adequate space can add to the time it would take to exit a row for a service dog handler and service dog in the event of an emergency evacuation.” She also noted that many people who are blind are also older and experience age-related mobility challenges; many use support canes, walkers, and other mobility devices. Narrow spaces between rows of airplane seats would make it difficult for these individuals to evacuate an aircraft quickly and safely because they already are not easily able to enter or exit a row due to their mobility and balance disabilities.
Over the course of the past year, ACB has also been engaged with key partners and stakeholders in the autonomous vehicle and exercise and fitness industries. ACB is a founding member of the Waymo Accessibility Network. The network, with representation from organizations that advocate for a variety of disability communities, works with Waymo to ensure driverless technology and vehicles are fully accessible for all individuals with disabilities. In addition, ACB is continuing to collaborate with Cruise, owned by General Motors, on the accessibility of its AV technology, so that blind and low vision individuals have access to increased mobility and independence in transportation. ACB also worked collaboratively with Concept2 to make its popular ErgData app fully accessible for blind and low vision individuals to make exercise and managing health easier and more accessible.
ACB has also worked closely with its partners in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and offices on Capitol Hill to introduce the Communications, Video and Technology Accessibility Act, a much-needed update to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, in both the House and Senate. On Nov. 17th, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Communications, Video and Technology Accessibility Act of 2022 (H.R. 9333 and S. 5121). The bill would expand the availability of accessible media for individuals with disabilities, including the blind and low-vision community. This was another 2022 legislative imperative.
While great progress has been made on many of these issues, they are not fully resolved. We may need your assistance and advocacy on some of these issues. Stay tuned to the Washington Connection and future issues of the Forum for further information!