by Kim Charlson
I need to comment briefly on developments surrounding ACB’s efforts regarding accessible currency. On May 16, 2016, ACB expressed our deep concern and disappointment over continued delays by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which reported to the court further delays in implementation of accessible tactile paper currency to as late as 2026, 13 years past the initial timeline set forth by the court in ACB v. Paulson.
ACB is extremely upset that shortfalls in security and anti-counterfeiting measures are being used to push back accessible paper currency an additional six years. If our country can create a space program and put a man on the moon in less than nine years, the government should be able to figure out how to make paper currency both secure and accessible in less than twice that time.
On June 9, 2016, ACB filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to act judiciously and expeditiously in order to release accessible currency by December 31, 2020.
Our motion to the judge who upheld the 2008 decision that the U.S. must make currency meaningfully accessible affirms our great displeasure that the Treasury Department is taking entirely too long to bring accessible currency online. When the court ruled in 2008 to uphold our right to equal access, the expectations were that it would take three to five years, not almost two decades.
The Department of the Treasury claims that the delay is not due to making currency accessible, but rather over concerns about counterfeiting advancements. The court ruled in 2008 that the next currency design should be made accessible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which asserts all federal government programs and practices must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Historically speaking, the government tries to address counterfeiting by redesigning currency every seven to ten years, and the court took this into consideration when establishing its timeline, which makes the delay even more disconcerting on so many levels.
I want to publicly thank our attorney on this case, Jeffrey Lovitky, for his persistence, determination and dedication to our cause and the latest motion. Stay tuned to hear more updates from the court.
While we appreciate that staff from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will be in the exhibit hall continuing to distribute currency readers to those who have not received one as a part of the Meaningful Access program, the fact of the matter is that we in ACB are compelled to take our case for accessible tactile currency to the courts for further action.
Now, let me shift to television and audio description. ACB continues to dedicate resources to its world-famous Audio Description Project, ably directed by Dr. Joel Snyder, and with oversight from the ACB Audio Description Project Steering Committee, chaired by Dan Spoone. We continue to develop and grow the Audio Description Project website and Facebook page. If it’s about audio description, you’ll find it on the website. Please visit www.acb.org/adp and “friend” ADP on Facebook!
Some Audio Description Project highlights include:
· Providing weekly updates on audio-described DVDs and Blu-ray discs for sale (63 to date in 2016 — almost a 30% increase over this time last year);
· Providing a full schedule and updates on TV shows airing with audio description;
· ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC now offer over 50 TV series with description (a 25% increase over 2015), plus there are an equal number on all the other stations combined, not counting the many described programs on PBS;
· Updating and adding numerous entries to our performing arts, movie, and museum locations with AD;
· Publishing articles on the expansion of AD on television to 60 markets; Hawaii’s mandate for movie description; and a new AD tour, sponsored by our own Audio Description Project, at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum;
· Joel Snyder’s ACB-published “The Visual Made Verbal” will be released this year in Portuguese, Polish and Russian;
· Audio Description Institutes – In February, for the second time, we sponsored our intensive, three-day training for prospective describers in conjunction with the ACB mid-year meeting — later this week, we will hold our tenth Audio Description Institute right here in Minneapolis.
Speaking of Minneapolis, much of the ADP’s planning has focused on the fourth ADP Conference for audio describers and audio description consumers. A special feature is the mentorship program where audio describers pair up with ACB members to get a first-hand look at the needs of audio description consumers; we match the description professionals with mentors who are blind to help them more fully understand why description makes such a difference in understanding media, events, museums, movies and television.
With a more broad focus toward access, we saw a major development from Disney/Pixar with the release of its Disney Anywhere App, which allows consumers to download AD tracks for select movies and listen to them in the movie theater using their own smart phones. ACB was pleased to nominate this initiative for an FCC Chairman’s Award for Advancement in Accessibility — and I was proud to witness FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler present the award to a representative from Disney/Pixar just last month in Washington, D.C.
Finally, and speaking of the FCC, on May 27th, the Federal Communications Commission published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on expanding audio description. This proposed rule would significantly increase access to audio-described programming on broadcast and cable networks. It proposes the following key rule changes:
· Increase the amount of described programming on each included network carried by a covered broadcast station or multichannel video programming distributor, from 50 hours per calendar quarter to 87.5 (a 75% increase);
· Increase the number of networks required to provide video description from four broadcast and five non-broadcast networks to five broadcast and 10 non-broadcast networks;
· Create a “no-backsliding” rule, so a network would remain subject to the rules even if it is no longer one of the top five or top 10 ranking networks; and
· Require video programming distributors to provide proper customer support contacts in order to improve consumer access to video description.
ACB has long been the leading advocate for audio-described television content, and we have submitted excellent comments on the rulemaking.
We need your further assistance — ACB and the ADP are conducting a survey to get some important research data from you, the consumers of description on broadcast cable television, mobile apps, streaming services, and film. Please take the time to complete the survey and encourage other ACB members and friends to do the same. The survey link can be found on www.acb.org.
ACB has also been working with Netflix and Disability Rights Advocates, a disability rights law firm in Berkeley, Calif. In May, ACB, the Bay State Council of the Blind, and individual advocates reached an agreement with Netflix to continue to make accessible the movies and videos offered through the Netflix video streaming and DVD rental subscriptions service.
Under the agreement, Netflix will provide audio description for many popular titles in its streaming and disc rental libraries. Netflix will also provide audio description for the “Netflix Original” shows that Netflix has begun distributing, such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” Netflix has also committed to make its website and mobile applications accessible to individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software.
Netflix’s goal is to expand the availability of its services to the blind community and to increase the availability of audio-described film and television programming. Movies and television are central pillars of American culture. As television and movies are increasingly delivered through streaming and home delivery services, ACB will continue to ensure that the blind community receives access to this content and remain integrated into modern society.
ACB continues to make communication a high priority. For those using technology to keep up with information, ACB is there for you as well through the new ACB Link app. I am very excited about ACB Link, which has been downloaded by over 1,400 people since its launch last fall. It provides access for iOS device users to a wide variety of ACB information and programming. Version 1.1 was released just last week and includes several nice enhancements. We have heard that there are people wanting an Android version, and we are investigating how it might be possible to do it. I want to acknowledge the hard work of Jeff Bishop, who leads the project, worked with our app developer, and had the vision to bring such an app to reality. It is enhancing communication with affiliates, connecting users with ACB key publications, ACB Radio, ACB Reports, and other useful features.
In closing, the American Council of the Blind and its thousands of members continue to have much work to do over the next several months, but overall, our affiliates and chapters all across this country are making a difference in so many ways. ACB proudly represents all blind and visually impaired people regardless of economic status or functional ability. We advocate for a wide spectrum of programs and services, for people of all ages and capabilities. Our work is important, it isn’t always easy, and at times, it can be challenging, to say the least.
Nonetheless, advocacy, in whatever form it takes, is our charge and our mission. When we have victories, they are even more exciting as they are hard-fought, and we should celebrate our successes as important steps in our advocacy.
Working together, we can continue to make change happen, and I look forward to working hand in hand with all of you to make sure our 10,000 dreams for people who are blind become realities.
ACB president Kim Charlson, speaking into the lectern microphone, discusses the delays in obtaining accessible currency. She is wearing a red blouse covered by a black jacket with red-and-white patterned squiggles.