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Late in March of this year I received an invitation from Michael Simpson, President of the National Federation of Blind Citizens of Australia, to attend its convention in Adelaide, Australia in June. I was initially a little uncertain. I had used up much of my annual leave at work and I wasn't sure that ACB could afford the air fare. After talking with Michael a little more, my desire to go increased and I was able to find a pretty good fare so, on Monday, June 3, 1997, I took off for Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, for what would become one of the most significant experiences of my life.
I am not sure how I can communicate with you about this experience. I usually regard myself as a fair writer who has an ability to put ideas into words pretty well. So much of my experience in Australia had to do with things other than ideas, though. As a first approximation, let me suggest to all of you that what I brought back with me from down under was a large number of friendships, a great deal of fellow feeling for a sister organization and a sense that ACB is not alone. NFBCA is very similar to our organization not so much in its structure but in its attitudes and its efforts. It operates in a very different environment as you will see and, in some ways, this assists it in its mission. In other ways, of course, the opposite is true. I think that we have much more in common than not. I felt right at home from the moment I arrived at the Adelaide airport and was met by John Simpson, no relation to Michael.
I spent my first few hours in Australia overcoming jet lag. This was, I guess, not surprising since I had been traveling for 24 hours since late Monday afternoon Miami time. While I didn't actually sleep, I did take it easy till about 4 in the afternoon on Wednesday when I went down to the NFBCA convention office. Shortly after arriving there, I was introduced to one of the many innovative elements of the NFBCA experience. In a room just off the convention office was an amazing array of equipment, from DAT recorders to mixers to complex amplifiers that were all used in daily broadcasts that are uplinked so that they can be carried live or on a delayed basis via the network of RPH (radio for the print handicapped) stations all over Australia. These stations are AM stations open to anyone, which is, of course, very different from the approach we take in this country through our radio reading services. Our stations are closed, for the most part, and tend to require special receivers. In Australia, anyone, sighted or blind, can listen to the RPH stations. I was told that, in addition to nightly reports, the opening session of the NFBCA convention would be broadcast live. I was naturally nervous till I found that my keynote address would be done just beyond the window of liveness so that major booboos could be edited out.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Prior to the opening of the convention on Friday afternoon, another conference happened. Horizons 97 was an idea that the NFBCA had the courage to try which, from the perspective of one outsider, was a tremendous success. I am not alone in my view of the success of this undertaking. Virtually everyone in attendance spoke of Horizons 97 as a wonderful first step and urged NFBCA to make it an annual occasion. To understand the event, I must explain a little about how things are done in Australia. There is no such thing as the Rehabilitation Services Administration there with responsibility for providing services to blind people. Instead services are provided by large numbers of private agencies who can receive some government funding for their efforts either from state or federal sources. There also does not appear to be an organization comparable to the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, our professional organization, referred to as AER. So the NFBCA decided to invite agencies serving blind people to come together both to hear about the initiatives currently being taken by NFBCA and to share with each other innovative approaches to service.
Representatives from all but one state were there and, over the day and a half of the conference, both formal and informal opportunities to share with each other about service delivery abounded. For me, it was a superb opportunity to get a sense of the kinds of services that the blind people of Australia are now receiving. I had the opportunity to present a paper on consumer involvement in services in the United States but spent much more time learning about what is happening in Australia. I suppose it's not fair to highlight specific presentations, but I was particularly struck by a report of a preschool program which was set up especially for blind kids where non-blind kids were invited to participate. It's a sort of reverse integration approach that we would do well to examine in this country. Another presenter spoke of a telephone system of client assessment that utilizes some very specific techniques for information gathering that results in more appropriately focused service provision. Still a third presentation concerned a telephonic newspaper system that is not dissimilar from the newsline approach but which also includes the agency's library catalog and allows people to order books on the phone. Finally, I was impressed by the use of telephone conferencing to handle a range of interest groups such as reading groups or theater groups that were used to encourage older Australians to maintain their interests in books and plays. These were often used as parts of programs which also included field trips and meetings together. The idea of using the phone in this way is not one that I think we have thought of much here.
There were nearly 20 of these short presentations and as people became more comfortable with each other, the questions became more animated and more pointed. As the event unfolded, one could sense a building excitement among all the participants, consumers and service providers alike.
In a way, I have taken this conference backwards because the first part of the conference was devoted not to the specific accomplishments of individual service providers but to the analysis of the developing relationship between the central government at Canberra and the state governments as it relates to disability funding and policy. More than that, the first segment concentrated on the very real accomplishments of the National Federation of Blind Citizens of Australia. Much of the first morning was devoted to a review of some of the projects that the NFBCA has worked on over the past couple of years.
Again, to understand the significance of some of their activities, we must point out another major difference between the United States and Australia. In Australia, the governments, whether state or federal, can and do fund consumer organizations to do advocacy work. While some of this advocacy is individually oriented, much of it is systemic advocacy which relates to developing and implementing projects that will enable governments and consumers alike to better understand issues facing people with disabilities.
Once more, the parallels that exist between what we are doing in this country are striking. Perhaps the major project outlined that morning and discussed again during the convention itself is a project whose final report was entitled "Everybody's Business" which took a long, hard look at how blind people could get access to information. Like our work in this country, it not only focused on the broad, information superhighway notion of information but centered on what all blind people need which is access to everyday detail that would make them more competitive in their community and could provide more equality of access in the society as a whole. Funding for this project came from the very telephone company whose information the project sought to access. We can learn much from the approach and recommendations of this project in our efforts to achieve information parity in the United States.
Another significant project described on the first morning related to services to people who are deaf-blind. It is perhaps not surprising that services to this population are not as comprehensive or as effective in Australia as they are in this country. When large numbers of individual agencies must each develop their own programs, it's very difficult to expect that comprehensive approaches to serving an extremely complex population can emerge. The report clearly demonstrates that there is a real need for reform and, as the years go by, I am convinced that the NFBCA will be the conscience that almost single-handedly will create effective services to people who are deaf-blind. For now, its first three projects in this area have focused on defining the service needs of deaf-blind people, the training needs of service providers, and delineating the kinds of solutions that seem most appropriate. One major component of the latest report is an analysis of the need for a braille display TTY which, for a variety of reasons, has not emerged in Australia as yet.
A whole segment of the morning was also devoted to an analysis of the NFBCA's efforts in the area of individual advocacy. Here, too, there are parallels. Just as we are working to persuade our country to do a good job of defining the new status of people who are blind using the Americans with Disabilities Act, so blind Australians are attempting to advocate for the effective enforcement of the Disability Discrimination Act, their version of our law.
I was excited and intrigued by another of the projects described that morning that specifically went beyond Australia. The NFBCA is directly supervising a project relating to braille literacy in Vietnam. These projects are directly funded by Australia's agency for administering and offering foreign aid to other countries. Their executive officer, Bill Jolley, has already visited Vietnam several times and, in an earlier project, has managed to get the first braille printing unit set up. That first project focused on a single province, Thai Bin, where a cohort of women were trained to go out into the province and train in braille and other basic skills. The new project seeks to spread blindness-related training beyond a single province and does not focus just on training women as teachers. The NFBCA now actually employs a Vietnamese lady as the local supervisor of this project.
The last part of the conference focused on informal working groups being formed among the participants to work in areas of mutual interest and in a wrap up of the Horizons 97 agenda.
By the time I had been in Australia for three days, my horizons had certainly been broadened and my admiration for the NFBCA had grown tremendously. But wait, it was only Friday and the actual NFBCA convention hadn't even started yet!
I'm convinced that blind people in Australia can be very proud of the organization that has emerged to represent them. It's even more surprising when you consider that the NFBCA is only 22 years old. As for the NFBCA convention, let me describe it this way:
It is a little before 2:00 on the afternoon of Friday, June 6, 1997. The people who will be sitting at the head table during the opening session of the National Federation of Blind Citizens of Australia convention have formed a ragged line and are proceeding into the meeting room. When NFBCA President Michael Simpson isn't presiding over the only national consumer organization of blind people in Australia, he is a fund-raiser and many other things for one of the two largest agencies for the blind in Australia, the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales located in Sydney. He is also deputy chair of the Australian government's National Disability Advisory Council. Bill Jolley, the executive officer of the NFBCA, has been active in the World Blind Union and is something of a legend in blind cricket in Australia. Sir Ronald Wilson, who will open the convention, is a quietly dignified and passionately principled lawyer who now heads Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and who has recently managed to achieve some notoriety for an outspoken report on aboriginal rights.
We are all on a very tight schedule because the opening of the convention will be carried live on the network of radio stations for the print handicapped that are located all over Australia.
After welcoming remarks by Michael Simpson and an introduction by Bill Jolley, Sir Ronald rises to open the convention. His speech is a wonderful combination of erudition and personal reminiscence. At its core is a ringing defense of the civil rights of people with disabilities and a clear and unequivocal commitment on the commission's part to continue to work to extend the inclusion of disabled people into the framework of Australian law and life. As a first presentation it set a tone of positive affirmation and framed what was to come in a way that few other presentations could have done. Sir Ronald's speech was a very hard one to follow and I was the next item on the agenda.
I won't spend a lot of time here on my remarks but what I tried to do was to take Sir Ronald's principles and particularize some of them to people who are blind. I also spent some time talking about the dangers of an approach that focused solely on civil rights. I am pleased to tell you that my presentation was very well received and, I am told, it was broadcast in its entirety to people all over Australia later that day. My speech actually went out on AM stations all over Australia and, for all I know, could have been listened to by hundreds of thousands of Australians. I am very glad I did not think much about that prospect when giving my speech.
The rest of the afternoon's proceedings were devoted to a summary of the 1997 annual report of the National Federation of Blind Citizens of Australia. This is a very substantial document whose braille summary is nearly 50 pages long and which provides members and other interested people with a detailed record of the organization's accomplishments over the preceding year. Many of the major sections of this report will be discussed or have already been discussed elsewhere in my messages. I was very impressed with its thoroughness and with the fact that, following an introduction of its more salient points by the president, the executive director presented an overall summary. When a large document filled with accomplishments, projects and analysis is skillfully analyzed, one cannot help but be impressed. Our annual report is a minuscule document that is produced to satisfy audit requirements in our country. Perhaps we should rethink what we do!
Just before adjournment, the technology exhibitors had a chance to introduce themselves and offer conventioneers a preview of what they could expect to see in the exhibit hall. Though there were not very many exhibitors, a broad range of Australian, European and American products were showcased.
The next scheduled event was a get-together to welcome first- time attendees to the convention. The NFBCA is as concerned as the ACB is to encourage the attendance of more young people at its convention and, as a way to create more opportunities for younger blind people, sponsored a project this year that paid for the transportation and accommodations for eight people under the age of 27 who would be attending their first convention. I had a chance to meet and talk with many of these young participants and, if they can be persuaded to commit to working on NFBCA's behalf, they and the organization will both be winners.
I suppose one of the many things that struck me about the NFBCA convention were the many opportunities that were built into the schedule for people to get to know people informally as well as in sessions. I know I had lots of opportunities to mingle with members during this function and during morning and afternoon tea breaks that were built into the program and at other times that I will talk about later. Everyone was unstintingly kind to me while I was there, and I had a chance to gain innumerable insights into how things are done in Australia, owing to the patient exposition of so many people who were there. I am forced to tell you also that the beer was superb and flowed copiously. As something of a beer aficionado, this did not go unnoticed by me and I am proud to say that, on that night and subsequently, I did my part to assure that the breweries of Australia will show a profit this year.
Saturday morning was filled with two sessions. The first focused on efforts being made to encourage membership and on activities being conducted by the organization's "branches," roughly the equivalent of our state affiliates. The second session was devoted to a report to the membership on some of the projects being undertaken by the NFBCA. While I've mentioned some of these projects, two additional ones deserve some attention here. The NFBCA is beginning to work on the creation of identity cards for blind people that can be used in the same way that a driver's license can for purposes of cashing checks and so on. It wants to serve as the issuer of these cards. It's an interesting approach!
The other area of importance is an area where the NFBCA is taking a leadership role among blindness organizations throughout the world. John Simpson presented a summary of a project designed to elucidate the implications of digital radio for blind people. This is an extremely complicated area and one that will have consequences for the U.S. and other countries. Digital radio is already operational experimentally in the United Kingdom and both Canada and Australia are within five years of coming on line. Digital radio in this country is already being used by several stations. The digital configurations in use in the United States differ from those being tested by the Australians. Digital radio will allow the simultaneous transmission of several channels of information at once. One of these would contain the broadcast but others might include data that would appear on readouts on the radio. How are blind people to get access to this data which has the potential of being immensely useful to them? While there are some special circumstances that may make what happens in the U.S. different, the report on digital radio that NFBCA has produced is a huge contribution to blind people all over the world in an area in which ACB has not yet become seriously involved.
Saturday afternoon's first session featured presentations on recreation and living with vision loss. This was one of those sessions where what we have in common as blind people crosses the international boundaries. All of the presenters spoke of the same kinds of resistance to accepting their blindness that is so often featured in seminars conducted by the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International at the national convention and all over the country. One interesting sidelight is that the NFBCA has decided to speak of low vision as "vision impairment" and of people having it as "vision impaired" people. They have consciously rejected the term "visually impaired."
The last Saturday afternoon session featured break-out workshops. One was a follow-up to the session on vision loss, a second related to changes to NFBCA's bylaws, and one was the first of two workshops to review resolutions that would appear on the floor on Monday morning. Those of you who know my history in ACB will know that I was drawn inexorably to the resolutions workshop. I felt right at home. This was another of those areas where our organizations are very much alike. I was particularly impressed with the concern given to assuring that, as resolutions were altered, the intent of the originators was seriously considered. Both the quality of the debate and the range of issues were very characteristic of what happens at our conventions.
On Saturday night, the NFBCA held its "dinner" which is roughly the equivalent of our annual banquet. While awards were presented, there were no long speeches and the emphasis throughout was getting to know each other better. Just prior to the banquet, I was interviewed by the editor of Australia's only major cross-disability magazine and, with luck, some of my answers will be featured in an upcoming issue. Following the banquet, a get-together with cash bar capped Saturday's full agenda. I was impressed with just how many of the participants at the convention were a part of the informal as well as the formal elements of the proceedings. Once more, the brewers loved me!
Every day of the convention had something wonderful to offer that was exciting and novel but I suppose that I would have to say that, in some respects, the day that stood out the most for me was Sunday. The first session was remarkable. In the NFBCA there are four vice presidents. Each of them are something like the ministers in a British-type system of government. Each has particular areas of responsibility and they reported on their work during the past year. Members were then given an opportunity to ask questions regarding those areas that the vice presidents supervised. Other formal convention business filled out this segment of the program and, after morning tea, the group held the first of two sessions on employment.
This session featured three papers presented concerning employment. All were extremely interesting. I was particularly impressed with a paper presented by Mary Schnackenberg, head of the Library for the Blind in New Zealand and chair of an employment council in New Zealand called Workbridge.
The first session in the afternoon consisted of a panel of blind and visually impaired employees who described the accommodation and approaches they used to retain employment. There was a familiar ring to much of what was said here but the range of jobs was interesting. There was a senior research officer with the Department of Agricultural Economics, a complaints specialist with the Australian Broadcasting Authority, a quality control officer with a library, a public relations and fundraising officer with a relief agency and an administrative assistant with an arts council. I was reminded of just how valuable it is to hear directly from blind people who are successful about the approaches that worked for them and the things that don't work.
The final session Sunday consisted of more break-out workshops. One was the second workshop to discuss resolutions. This was paralleled by a follow-up workshop on employment that allowed for questions and more information sharing. The Women's Branch Annual Meeting was also scheduled during this time block. Sunday ended with a reception sponsored by those already doing planned giving through their credit cards to encourage others to utilize this approach to supporting the organization. I truly believe that ACB may need to look at this as an option. I will be raising it to our newly formed Development Committee when we meet.
Finally, it was Monday. There was still a full day of convention left and, as with our convention, there seemed an inordinate amount to accomplish. Fifteen resolutions had to be debated. Bylaws changes had to be finalized. A site for the next convention had to be selected. And there were still major program sections to come. Some short reports were given during the second session of the morning that deserve a mention. Barry Chapman reported on the setting up of a web site for the NFBCA. Its address is http://www.nfbca.asn.au. I have been there and it is very impressive. Neville Kerr, who produces and presents a weekly radio program for the NFBCA, reported live to the convention from Melbourne and the downlink was so good it was impossible to distinguish him from any other speaker on site. David Blyth, immediate past president of the World Blind Union, reported on the activities of that group. Lynne Davis provided the convention with a report of her impressions of the Horizons 97 Conference that I described earlier.
A third morning session concerned telecommunications. I presented on issues that are hot in the United States and my presentation was followed by a report of the efforts being made by Telstra, Australia's largest telephone company. What was impressive about this presentation is the degree to which the National Federation's recommendations are actually being implemented by Telstra. Liz Atkinson, Disability Services Manager, spoke of a whole range of protocols that her company has already begun to implement including universal design guidelines for product developers. While it is still true that there is a long way to go to create equal access, I was impressed by the cooperative spirit that was demonstrated. Finally, before lunch, Executive Officer Jolley provided the membership with a review of the various telecommunications advocacy efforts with which the federation is involved. It is significant to me that Telstra has a Disabilities Advisory Council on which NFBCA sits and that, in spite of the uncertainty of deregulation that will hit Australia this summer, Telstra is still prepared to commit substantial sums to disability-specific services. Free access to directory assistance and to yellow pages, an extensive commitment to TTY installation and relay services and a host of other elements make it clear that Australia may well be further along than we are in building an accessible telecommunications infrastructure.
Monday afternoon saw the final session of the convention. For me this was a very emotional time. I was asked to comment on my impressions of the convention and the organization. I did not use notes so what follows is a paraphrase of what I think I said. Essentially I indicated that I had found the people and the organization very familiar and very welcoming. I expressed my admiration for the many tangible accomplishments the group already boasted and suggested that NFBCA was in a position to make an enormous contribution to the blind people of Australia. I suggested that, in fact, it already was fulfilling a role that only it could which was having a huge impact on the evolution of policies and attitudes toward blind people. Finally I indicated that I now regarded Australia as my second home because of the warmth and acceptance of all who I had met during my two trips "down under."
After my presentation, Michael Simpson presented me with two bottles of fine Australian wine, two turned wooden vases in a basket made by blind people and, accompanied by the strains of one of his more famous songs, Michael gave me four CD's of Australian folk singer John Williamson's music. It was just too much. There were tears in my eyes as I mumbled my incoherent thanks for so much more than the tangible gifts I had been given.
In another message I will write about my visit the next day to an Australian agency serving blind people. In still another message I may reflect more on some of the lessons I learned while there. For now, it is enough for me to say that I was overjoyed to find that the American Council of the Blind has a true sister in Australia. It's a relative we will never have to be ashamed of and who is already doing work that we can use.
After a 24-hour flight back from Adelaide I was physically exhausted and brought an Australian cold back with me. I also came back with a renewed belief in what blind people can accomplish and a whole set of new perspectives on how that can happen. Perhaps this gift of sharing and renewal is the best gift of all the many I received while there!
WASHINGTON -- "Bridge to the Future" was the theme of the 50th annual conference of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, held here in late May. The ceremonial opening session began with the presentation of colors by the joint armed services color guard, which had to cross a small bridge at the back of the room to get to floor level, and the U.S. Marine Orchestra playing the national anthem.
The lead-off speaker was Joseph J. Frank, the national commander of the American Legion, a Vietnam veteran who became disabled after a land mine exploded. "The men and women of the armed forces believe in the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution of the United States: freedom, equality, and equal opportunity for all," Frank said. "But in the heat of the battle troops rise and risk their life and limb not for ideas on paper, but for their comrades." He noted that since the 1960s, he had seen some improvement in the quality of life for people with disabilities, "but there are still missions to be accomplished." He praised the committee for its work, adding that he knew the committee would never fail people with disabilities.
"President Clinton talks about building a bridge to the 21st century," Frank said. "People with disabilities like me and many of you must get across that bridge along with the rest of the American people. So it's up to everyone who has a hand in building that bridge -- that means you and me -- to make that bridge strong enough to support all Americans. I want to welcome to this 50th annual conference all of you who are trying to ensure that there's a lane on that bridge for people with disabilities, and employment opportunities that will allow people with disabilities to pay their own toll." No one can do it alone, he added. "Ensuring equal opportunity for people with disabilities will take all of us working together, like troops carrying out a mission, refusing to fail one another."
Frank mentioned that the American Legion had been helping disabled people since its founding in 1919; one of the first things the legion did was help disabled World War I veterans find jobs. Currently the group is trying to persuade Congress not to underfund programs that benefit disabled veterans, and not to trim the disabled veterans' outreach program, which helps veterans find jobs. "A veteran with a disability may require skilled retraining, and that's what the federal vocational rehabilitation and counseling program provides," he said. "But many applicants are not getting timely service. We have to fix that."
Frank also mentioned the program's need for a job placement section. The legion asked Congress to look at the rehabilitation and counseling programs "from the standpoint of providing resources to make the program work."
He mentioned the numerous programs the group is involved in, including scouting, Boys' State, Boys' Nation, baseball, the McGruff Safe Kids Program, and the national high school oratorical contest. This summer the legion will undertake another program: the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Youth Leadership Forums, which will be statewide gatherings of young people with disabilities to provide leadership training and career counseling.
Frank told his listeners that they needed to help the legion with its new project. "You and I have a moral obligation, my friends, to develop the next generation of leadership with disabilities. ... The legion will be a good partner in developing the youth leadership forums. Everywhere I look I see people who are serious about this mission, and I know together we will build a bridge to the 21st century that will accommodate all Americans."
Lenore Miller, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and vice chair of PCEPD, offered her thoughts on what the labor movement could do for the committee. "... I think that for us in the labor movement, work with the disabilities community is a civil rights issue more than it is anything else, because to us the disabled community is the biggest piece of the civil rights movement that hasn't really been taken care of," she said. "And I think that as long as there are people who can't find jobs, as long as there are people for whom it is difficult to perform that job, you will find that the labor movement will be standing beside you helping to make possible work in your future. As far as the bridge to the future is concerned, it's a wonderful title. I just would like to see the day when the disabilities community is the first over that bridge, rather than the last over that bridge." The rest of her comments were nearly drowned out by applause.
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry Jr. welcomed conference participants to Washington. "I want you to know that here in Washington, persons with disabilities have a friend in the mayor's office," he said. He recalled an incident several years ago when a wheelchair-using high school counselor asked him to spend a day in a wheelchair, which he did. "I thought it was something that was easy to do," he said. First, he had trouble getting the chair out of the car; then getting into the men's room and using it presented more difficulty. "I could barely get into the door. ... I know how it feels, and so I'm sensitive to this whole issue. ... Your agenda has to be taken seriously." He believed the first item on the agenda should be to work closer with the business community to get more jobs for people with disabilities. "You have skills and you want to work. And the business community [ought to] open their arms and say, 'Come in and work and do a good job.'" He congratulated the committee on celebrating its 50th anniversary, and urged participants to spend as much money as they could.
Miller introduced PCEPD chairman Tony Coelho, who in turn introduced Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia. Cleland was seriously wounded in a grenade explosion while serving in Vietnam. He joked with the audience, asking if anyone was from Georgia and smiling at the applause and hands waving. "Anybody here from Alabama? We pray for you." He reminisced about his first outing in 1968 while still recuperating at Walter Reed hospital. He said the only amputee he'd ever known was "kind of a drunk guy that held up the lamppost." He wondered if he'd find a similar future. And when he heard a statistic that the federal government spends 40 times more money supporting disabled people who don't work than enabling those who want to work to do so, he was shocked. He considered it to be a challenge for the country to change it. "Because you find talent where you find it, and it's not necessarily labeled able-bodied or disabled, it's just talent," he said. "Certainly we have an obligation to provide all the opportunity in the world for those who see life as a daring adventure and want to participate in life to the fullest." Cleland cited the examples of Helen Keller and Thomas Edison, as well as a statistic that showed disabled people who work outperform their able-bodied counterparts. He left the stage to a storm of applause.
Tony Coelho recognized the committee's vice chairs, then presented his views. "Anniversaries serve as milestones, nostalgic benchmarks for remembering past achievements and measuring progress," he said. "They're rest stops in the march of time, providing us with an opportunity to look back at past triumphs and ahead to future challenges." In 1947, the committee was founded, and Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Harry Truman occupied the White House, and it was his support of disabled veterans that was the driving force behind the committee. Coelho read a quote from Robinson's biography as an example: "The most important result of my success is that it gave other black people the idea that if I could do it, they could do it." Applying this to society, he noted that when everyone participates, everybody gets better because of the competition. "No longer does the term 'qualified' necessarily mean white, male and able-bodied. And when more people have a chance to compete, standards and outcomes get higher, not lower."
He also cited a 1995 Harris poll that showed 89 percent of senior corporate executives and their employees supported policies to increase the number of people with disabilities in their companies; 75 percent said they'd make greater efforts in the next three years. Numerous businesses have begun activities to launch these programs, he added. "That's great for people with disabilities and for the businesses involved," he said. "But I won't be completely satisfied until we have business leadership networks in all 50 states." He stressed the fact that hiring is and always has been based on "finding the right person for the right job." Every American can benefit from developing their skills and obtaining the necessary training needed in today's high-tech business environment. "One thing I have noticed during my careers in business and politics is that success comes to those who are prepared for it," he stated.
Looking back to 1947, disabled people had few job possibilities and little independence, Coelho said. "We were shut off, shut away, and shut out of the work force. ... Full participation in society and true equality seemed a dream too distant ever to come true. My, have times changed. Today we have technology on our side, we have the law on our side, we have public opinion on our side, and we have an ethic of workplace diversity on our side. But we have changed too. We have learned to speak up for our rights, and how to demonstrate when those rights are denied." But today, the 49 million Americans with disabilities control over $175 billion in discretionary income, a fact that commands a lot of attention and respect. "As we cross the bridge to the new century, we have a lot going for us, a great deal more than people with disabilities and other minorities had in the past," he noted. "Each time one of us makes good in science, business, politics, education, the arts, or technology, it opens doors for others to follow. As the nation's largest minority, we can be a leadership force for growth and prosperity by living up to our personal responsibility and our responsibility to those who follow us. ... Let's all work together: people with disabilities, public and private employers, organized labor, and service providers to build a bridge of opportunity that we can cross over together with pride and confidence and benefits for all of us."
Echoing the need to work together was Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. She said the labor movement is involved with the committee because of its core values and central purpose: "The labor movement exists to represent millions of working women and men, both those who are already in our unions and those who are not." There are millions who have never had the opportunity to join, she said, and the AFL-CIO is "determined to fight for fair pay, decent benefits and true opportunity for all people. The struggle for equality for people with disabilities is one with the other struggles for civil rights, for social justice."
She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, in his stand with the union in Memphis, when he asked, "'What good is it to be allowed to eat in a restaurant when you can't afford a hamburger?' His point was right then and it's right today." What of employers who won't hire you for a job you're qualified to do? "Civil rights are viable, and economic rights are viable, and neither is enough by itself," she said. "They are strands woven into the same fabric of rights that keeps us warm and protects us. But right now the fabric is becoming torn and tattered and frayed around the edges." Why? Because "America is becoming two economies: one with a handful of winners and the other with too many losers." The challenge is to repair the fabric and restore the spirit of community in America. But the labor movement also wants to help make society more fair and equal, to raise wages for every working American, so that Americans turn to each other instead of against each other. She talked about the AFL-CIO's agenda, which includes fair rewards for work, equality for all Americans, support for education, Medicare and Medicaid, worker health and safety, and environmental protection. Diversity is the engine driving it all, she added. "When we let our differences divide us, our enemies win. When we respect our differences and at the same time celebrate all that we have in common, we win. ... I believe that together ... we can together reclaim America. We can build a society where people are treated with dignity and equality. We can create a community that respects working people, working people with disabilities, for who they really are and imagines what they can be. Together we can make a land where justice is done for all Americans, whatever we are and whatever our goal in life will be."
Attendees also heard remarks from R. Eugene Taylor, president of NationsBank's Mid-Atlantic Banking Group. The session ended with the presentation of the second annual Evan Kemp Entrepreneurial Award to Jim Stovall of Narrative Television Network.
Exhibits and awards are things common to all conventions. (All photos copyright 1995 by Ken Nichols.)
Here Judy Taggart of EnviroScape shows where water pollution goes.
LeRoy Saunders presents Nolan Crabb with a five-year pin.
John Buckley, chair of ACB's scholarship committee, is ready to announce the names of the scholarship winners. Soon you'll know who they are this year.
Steve Clark, Renee Clark and Mike Hage of TeleSensory pause to share smiles with the photographer.
An encouraging meeting was held June 3 at the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Rockville, Md. Following a series of meetings, it appears that the drug manufacturers of insulin in the United States will soon be able to begin production of insulin vials with tactile markings for blind and visually impaired people with diabetes. These tactile markings will delineate the type of insulin inside the bottle. The markings will be placed on the insulin vial's label during the manufacturing process. This will reduce the need for a blind diabetic to have a sighted person totally identify the type of insulin after purchase and then devise his own form of tactile marking. Such an after-production marking system is inadequate, as the marking, be it rubber bands, tape or some other labeling product, can break or fall off during use.
ACB's concern for tactile, identifiable markings on medicines dates to resolution 82-15. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) began contacting the FDA in the early '90s and continued with a letter-writing campaign. When the FDA called the first meeting on October 19, 1995, ACB and NFB representatives were present to relay the concerns of the blind community about the real need for tactile markings. Other organizations at the meeting were: American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), American Diabetes Association (ADA), Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Institute for Safe Medication Practices, representatives from label manufacturing companies and the two producers of insulin, Eli Lilly and Company and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., together with many members of the FDA staff, including their consumer safety officer.
The conclusions of the first meeting were positive. A second meeting was held April 10, 1996, at which time the manufacturers returned with sample ideas for tactile markings. The tone of the members present favored Eli Lilly's four horizontal tactile bars on the bottle label. Novo Nordisk still favored its current system of raised dots on the aluminum rim of the bottle, which it uses in other countries. Nordisk said it wished to test other prototypes.
At the 1996 ACB national convention in Tulsa, Timothy Button, marketing associate with Eli Lilly and Company, conducted 12 half-hour interviews with diabetic ACB members. These interviews gave members an opportunity for direct input as to the design of tactile markings. The results of the four styles tested by ACB members supported the final selection of four horizontal tactile bars on the insulin bottle.
The next FDA meeting should have been in the fall of 1996, but Novo Nordisk was not prepared to meet. By the time all parties could clear their schedules, the earliest time to meet was June 3. The testing done by Eli Lilly included 19 diabetic patients together with an extensive study conducted by Dr. Michael Pfeifer, a noted neuropathy expert at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. His test results strongly supported the use of four horizontal bars on the label of the insulin vial. Likewise, the testing performed by Novo Nordisk also found that the user was able to better feel tactile bar markings versus dots on the vial labels.
With this information, the group assembled at the FDA on June 3 asked the consumers present to voice their opinions. Representatives from ACB, NFB, AADE and ADA unanimously agreed that there should be a coding system consisting of four horizontal bars on the label of the insulin vial. These bars would be placed there during the manufacturing process. One bar would indicate the vial contains a rapid active insulin analog, two bars would be used for regular insulin, three bars for insulin mixtures and four bars for the basal insulins such as Lente, NPH and Ultralente.
The FDA will move forward with issuing Code of Federal Regulations standards for the manufacturers based on these guidelines. The United States models will be on display for comment at the upcoming International Diabetes Federation meeting to be held July 21-25 in Helsinki, Finland. Unless a major issue is raised at this meeting, the manufacturing process will begin as soon as the regulations for the standards are promulgated and approved by the FDA. Since insulin has a shelf life of two years, the new tactile coded insulin vials will not appear immediately. Due to turnover, their availability at pharmacies will vary. We will keep you updated as more final information becomes available. For now, cooperation and support of the consumer organizations has helped to achieve a safer medication tactile label and to help inform sighted people in this industry about the independent capabilities of the blind.
ACB is involved in many advocacy efforts at the federal agency level. Several of these activities are ongoing and yield incremental, but positive, results. The following is a brief report on some of the projects of federal agencies that will affect people who are blind or visually impaired. Department of Justice
In an effort to resolve more ADA complaints, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is promoting a mediation program in many locations around the country. Mediation is an informal process whereby an impartial third party helps disputing parties find mutually satisfactory solutions to their disagreements. Mediation can be used to resolve disputes quickly and satisfactorily, without the expense and hassle of formal investigations and litigation.
The DOJ mediation proceedings are confidential and voluntary for all parties. Mediators are not judges. The role of the mediator is to manage the process through which parties resolve their conflict, not to decide how the conflict should be resolved. They do this by assuring the fairness of the mediation process, facilitating communication, and maintaining the balance of power between the parties.
Successful mediation results are binding agreements between the two parties. If mediation is unsuccessful and an agreement cannot be reached, parties may still pursue all legal remedies provided under the ADA, including private lawsuits.
The best part of mediation is the cost. There is none. The Department of Justice refers appropriate ADA disputes to mediators at no cost to the parties. The mediators in this program are professional mediators who have been trained in the legal requirements of the ADA. If you or someone you know is interested in mediation, you can simply follow the usual procedure for filing a DOJ complaint and indicate on the complaint that you want to take your dispute to mediation. The Department of Justice asserts that they will make every effort to comply with requests for mediation. Location of trained mediators ALABAMA: Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery ALASKA: Anchorage ARIZONA: Lake Havasu, Scottsdale, Tempe ARKANSAS: Little Rock CALIFORNIA: Altadena, Bakersfield, Berkeley, Canoga Park, Corte Madera, El Cerrito, Encino, Goleta, Grass Valley, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Beach, Lafayette, Los Angeles, Mill Valley, North Hollywood, Oakland, Pacific Palisades, Rancho Palos Verdes, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Sebastopol, Studio City, Torrance, Tarzana, Walnut Creek COLORADO: Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Grand Junction CONNECTICUT: Greenwich, Ridgefield DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA FLORIDA: Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Miami Lakes, Melbourne, Orlando, Pembroke Pines, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Stuart, Tampa, Temple Terrace, West Palm Beach GEORGIA: Atlanta, Athens, East Point, Stone Mountain, Tucker IDAHO: Boise, Moscow ILLINOIS: Arlington Heights, Bloomington, Carbondale, Chicago, Evergreen Park, Highland Park, Homewood, Oswego INDIANA: Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, South Bend, Spencer IOWA: Iowa City, West Des Moines KANSAS: Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park, Topeka, Wichita KENTUCKY: Louisville LOUISIANA: Alexandria, Broussard, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Metairie, Shreveport MAINE: Cumberland, Portland MARYLAND: Annapolis, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Knoxville, Potomac, Rockville, Severna Park, Silver Spring, Takoma Park MASSACHUSETTS: Arlington, Salem, Wendell MICHIGAN: Ann Arbor, Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, Hamtramck, Harperwoods, Petoskey MINNESOTA: Apple Valley, Minneapolis, Saint Paul MISSOURI: Belton, Cape Girardeau, Independence, Kansas City, Saint Louis NEBRASKA: Lincoln, Omaha, South Sioux City NEVADA: Henderson, Las Vegas NEW HAMPSHIRE: Concord NEW JERSEY: Montclair, Newark, Princeton, Ridgewood NEW YORK: Clifton, Great Neck, Hastings on Hudson, Jamaica, New York City, Rego Park, Scarsdale, Syracuse NORTH CAROLINA: Asheville, Cary, Chapel Hill, Goldsboro, Raleigh OHIO: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Medina, North Canton, Reynoldsburg, Toledo OKLAHOMA: Norman OREGON: Ashland, Corvallis, Portland, Salem, West Linn PENNSYLVANIA: Bensalem, Harrisburg, Media, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, West Lawn, Wynnewood RHODE ISLAND: Bristol, Pawtucket SOUTH CAROLINA: Columbia, Greenville, Irmo SOUTH DAKOTA: Brandon, Sioux Falls TENNESSEE: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis TEXAS: Abilene, Arlington, Colleyville, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, Driftwood, Houston, Irving, Lubbock, Lucas, Plano, Richardson, Richmond, San Angelo, South Lake, Terrell UTAH: Salt Lake City VERMONT: Montpelier, Underhill Center VIRGINIA: Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Hampton, Marion, McLean, Powhatan, Virginia Beach WASHINGTON: Seattle WISCONSIN: Madison, Shorewood Department of Transportation
The U.S. Department of Transportation has instituted a new toll-free line for handling ADA and Section 504 transportation complaints. The Federal Transit Administration Office of Civil Rights will investigate complaints and present any possible violations to the transportation provider and assist in the correction of the problem within a predetermined timeframe. Although the ADA does not provide FTA the authority to seek compensatory, punitive, or other types of monetary relief or damages on behalf of a complainant, if FTA cannot resolve violations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the public transportation provider which may result in the termination of federal funds. FTA may also refer the matter to the Department of Justice for enforcement. You may contact the FTA Office of Civil Rights' toll-free FTA ADA assistance line at: (888) 446-4511 or by e-mail at [email protected]. The FTA web page can be found at: http://www.fta.dot.gov. Federal Transit Administration
ACB and others are still involved in litigation against the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) over failure of the Washington Metro system to install ADA-compliant truncated domes on the subway platform edges and FTA's failure to properly enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act. A recent Washington Post article indicated that WMATA is considering installing ceramic tiles with truncated domes 18 inches from the platform edge, but only in key stations. The article made it sound like a done deal. In fact, FTA has not ruled on WMATA's proposal. Thus, WMATA has not been given clearance to go ahead with its proposal. There remain many concerns and unanswered questions about the proposal. The good news is that WMATA has finally given up on the proposed electronic cuing system that it had hoped would serve as a substitute for truncated domes. Not only did their own testing reveal that the system was unreliable, but that it actually emitted very dangerous, false positive signals to riders, signaling that they were at an open train car door when there was, in fact, no train in the station. Regrettably, millions of dollars were spent on the ill-conceived technology while many more blind Metro riders fell onto subway tracks. The Access Board
Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires all telecommunications manufacturers to make their equipment and customer premises equipment accessible to individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. The Access Board was charged with issuing guidelines for this provision of the statute. To assist in this task, the Access Board convened an advisory committee comprised of representatives from the telecommunications industry and the disability community to make recommendations on access guidelines. ACB served on this advisory committee. The final report of the Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee is available on the ACB web site at http://www.acb.org. The Access Board used the advisory committee's recommendations in developing proposed guidelines and then sought public comments on their proposed guidelines. The Access Board is reviewing the public comments received in response to its Notice of Proposed Rule-Making. Final guidelines are expected to be issued by August 8. Committee for Purchase from People Who are Blind or Severely Disabled
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recommended to the Office of Management and Budget that the Randolph-Sheppard Act be amended to exclude military dining facilities from the Randolph- Sheppard Act. The Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (Committee for Purchase) initially supported the Department of Defense proposal. ACB and others testified at a recent Committee for Purchase board meeting, convincing the committee to withdraw its support for the DOD proposal. DOD has not withdrawn its recommendation, but, given the reversal of the Committee for Purchase, it is unlikely that the administration will go forward with the DOD proposal.
Stay tuned to the Washington Connection for updates on these and other federal activities affecting people who are blind or visually impaired. You can now reach the Washington Connection taped message from 5:30 p.m. until 9 a.m. Eastern weekdays and all day on weekends.
In my last report to you in "The Braille Forum" regarding the controversy over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, I indicated that leaders in the disabled community had pledged themselves to further public demonstrations and possibly acts of civil disobedience in order to dramatize the cause. Fortunately, President Bill Clinton heard and agreed with the well-reasoned arguments of the disabled community. He announced his intention to propose legislation which would mandate the depiction of Roosevelt as a disabled person into the memorial's design. The memorial was dedicated on May 2. Companion bills -- Senate Joint Resolution 29, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and House Joint Resolution 76, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D- N.Y.) -- were introduced during the last week of April. In fact, S.J. Res. 29 was passed under unanimous consent in the Senate on May 1, although at this writing, H.J. Res. 76 has been referred to and appears to be stalled in the Committee on Resources chaired by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
In an effort to remind others of the importance of Roosevelt's disability, a group of disabled demonstrators attended the dedication of the FDR Memorial on May 2. In dedication speeches, President Clinton and Vice President Gore frankly acknowledged Roosevelt's disability and promised that the memorial would serve as an inspiration to all disabled people.
Once the memorial was opened to the public, many of the disabled demonstrators visited it. Disabled visitors left several items, including an empty wheelchair and used crutches, at the foot of the Roosevelt statue as a symbolic reminder of the unfinished business on Capitol Hill. Although these items were quickly cleared away by park police, they garnered the attention of some TV cameras.
On my walk-through of the just-dedicated memorial, I noted one feature that should disturb all of us. On one wall of the memorial are a series of panels, with each panel portraying one of the several dozen programs which the Roosevelt administration persuaded Congress to create during the Great Depression. At the top of each panel, the name of the program is engraved in print with an illustration of something related to the program in the middle of the panel. At the bottom of each program's panel, there is braille which I believe is intended to replicate the engraved print letters at the top. Inexplicably, the braille dots are about four times the size of normal braille dots, and the spacing between dots in a cell and between braille cells is nothing close to the specifications for braille in the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) or other recognized building codes. In a word, the braille presently contained on these program panels is illegible.
I fervently hope that this shortcoming in the FDR Memorial can be straightened out since the braille on these panels is an excellent idea which unfortunately has gone awry. Even with such shortcomings, the new FDR Memorial is striking and awe-inspiring in many ways, and I encourage everyone to visit the new memorial. As for the unfinished business on Capitol Hill, I hope the pending legislation can be passed in the House and signed into law by President Clinton, and that we soon will see at least one depiction of former President Roosevelt as a disabled person.
The announcement of new products and services in this column should not be considered an endorsement of those products and services by the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products or services mentioned.
The Pennsylvania Council of the Blind regrets to report the death of Julian Siewierski on May 19, 1997. Julian was a former president and executive director of the Pennsylvania state affiliate. He is survived by his wife Gloria, of Philadelphia.
The Wisconsin Council of the Blind is seeking an executive director. This is a full-time salaried position that will become available on December 1. Duties and responsibilities include: day- to-day operations, including preparation of financial reports and the annual budget; recruitment, orientation and supervision of employees; development of liaisons and increasing visibility on behalf of the council by interacting with government agencies, legislators, advocacy groups and service providers; identify problems, set goals and maintain up-to-date knowledge of available services to the blind; coordinate and administer the council's programs and services, including vision rehabilitation, rehabilitation teaching, sale of assistive devices, and the loans program. Applicants must have administrative and supervisory experience, basic accounting skills, experience in working with disability groups (preferably with blind and visually impaired people), superior written and verbal communication skills, and knowledge of the legislative process. Write for a position description and information about the Wisconsin Council of the Blind; the deadline for applications is September 1. Interviews will be conducted in September and October. Submit your cover letter and resume to Gary Goyke, 1925 Monroe St., Madison, WI 53711; phone (608) 251-5997, or fax (608) 251-3649.
Families USA Foundation, a national health care consumer advocacy organization, is looking for a media director. The media director is responsible for developing and implementing the organization's media strategy. Applicants must have extensive media experience with excellent writing, editing and communications skills; creativity and an interest in working on issues concerning access to affordable, high-quality health care; and demonstrated expertise in communicating with the press. Salary commensurate with experience. Excellent benefits. Interested candidates should send cover letter, resume and writing samples (no phone calls, please) to: Media Director Search, Families USA Foundation, 1334 G St. NW, Third Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.
The American Foundation for the Blind presented its Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards on June 2. The winners are: fiction, Mary Woods, a narrator at Talking Book Publishers in Denver, Colo.; non-fiction, Jack Fox, American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Ky.; and multilingual non-fiction, Ed Blake, American Foundation for the Blind, New York, N.Y. Woods has recorded more than 200 books, including such authors as Margaret Atwood, Lynda LaPlante and Mary Higgins Clark. Fox has recorded more than 250 titles, including "Return With Honor" by Scott O'Grady, "From the Angel's Blackboard: The Best of Fulton J. Sheen, Along the Edge of America" by Peter Jenkins, and "The Osgood Files" by Charles Osgood. Blake, who has been recording books since 1969, has utilized his fluency in five languages by recording such books as "The Land and People of Finland," "The Land and People of Spain," "Zen Effects," "Torture in Brazil," and "Lectures on Russian Literature."
AFB also presented its Helen Keller Achievement Awards recently. The winners are: AT&T, for its efforts to provide blind customers with accessible communications technology; UPS, for its long-standing commitment to addressing the needs of the blind through philanthropic and employment programs; and Tom Sullivan, a singer, actor, author and humanitarian, for being an exemplary role model for blind and visually impaired people. AT&T received the Helen Keller Achievement Award in Telecommunications; UPS received the Helen Keller Achievement Award in Corporate Philanthropy. Sullivan received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award.
Later this month, an audio-described tour of the permanent exhibit "Exploring Marine Ecosystems" will open at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit explores two marine ecosystems: a tropical coral reef and a temperate rocky shore, and how you affect them and how they affect you. The tour will be available on a daily walk-in basis, and free of charge to low vision and blind visitors (for the general public, there will be a nominal fee). Ten units with the tour and an accessible interface will be available at the iGo Interactive Audio Tour booth in the museum's main rotunda on the first floor. For more information and group tour reservations, call (888) 446-8687. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
GW Micro is now shipping Window-Eyes 2.0, which operates in Windows 95 as well as Windows 3.1 and 3.11. It is available at $495 through July 31; the price will increase after that date. A demonstration version is available at ftp.gwmicro.com. For more information, check out the company's web site at http://www.gwmicro.com or call (219) 489-3671.
Wesley D. Sprague received the 1997 Robert B. Irwin Award from National Industries for the Blind recently. The award is presented to volunteers who have contributed exemplary service or professionals who have made a career of distinguished service to blind people. Sprague has done both on the local, national and international levels. He was the executive director of the New York Association for the Blind from 1963 to 1984. The NYA, during his tenure, became the largest, most comprehensive rehabilitation agency serving people with visual impairments in the United States; it provided a wide variety of services to blind people of all ages and all capabilities, according to a press release from NIB. After his retirement from the association, he was elected to the NIB board of directors and continues to serve today; he was a 25-year member of Helen Keller International's board of trustees, as well as a board member of the American Association of Workers for the Blind and a charter member of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Sprague is currently a consultant to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in Los Angeles, Calif.; he monitors the Hilton/Perkins Program of multi- million-dollar grants made to the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.
The American Bar Association's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law is conducting a campaign to identify the nation's disability lawyers. The commission is gathering the names and addresses of lawyers who have a special interest in disability law by virtue of their legal practice or their own disabilities. The information will be used to form a disability lawyer data base, create a web site for lawyers with disabilities, and publish a directory of groups that specialize in disability law. For more information, or to contribute information, contact the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, 740 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005; phone (202) 662-1570, fax (202) 662-1032, or e-mail [email protected].
"Get To The Point," the best-selling book for people who need to make more effective, dynamic presentations, is available on cassette for $9. It focuses on the key ingredients needed to prepare and deliver a successful presentation. The book includes three main sections: getting to know your audience; how to build strong messages your audience will remember, and strategies for question and answer sessions. To order, call CommCore Consulting Group at (800) 659-4177.
"Buying Cellular Service: Here's What You Should Know" is available in braille from AirTouch Communications. The booklet covers general information about cellular phone use and describes several different cellular phone keypads. If you would like one, contact the company at 2999 Oak Rd., 8th Floor, Walnut Creek, CA 94596; phone (510) 210-3645.
Boris Meshevtsev has a great variety of braille music for the accordion. Music ranges from easy beginning pieces to advanced pieces. Write to Boris Meshevtsev at P.O. Box 2250, Bishkek, Kyrghyzstan 720028.
Mike McAviney was recently honored as one of Channel 9-Denver, Colo.'s Nine Who Care. He is a member of the board of directors for the Longmont City Library; he participates in races and bicycle rides to raise money for non-profit organizations such as Children's Hospital in Denver; and is a board member of ACB of Colorado. He helped start the Longmont chapter in October 1995, and helps plan community programs.
The 1997 NCAA college football schedules are now available from the Braille Revival League of Alabama. This year's schedule includes 128 teams (major conferences plus major independents), the bowl results from 1996 and the final polls. It costs $10. Send orders to Allen H. Gillis, 302 Schaeffel Rd., Cullman, AL 35055.
Would you like to work in a home-based business? For a free tape, call Jennie Fischer at (618) 397-6631 or Linda Conley at (618) 346-8612.
"The Large Print Literary Reader" is a new literary magazine devoted to those with low vision. It is a monthly magazine featuring writers such as Isak Dinesen, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and new voices in modern fiction. Subscription rates are $69.95 for one year, $129.95 for two years. Single issues are $7.95 plus $1.50 shipping and handling. Checks should be made payable to Beach Brook Productions, and sent to 955 Massachusetts Ave. #105, Cambridge, MA 02139; phone (617) 354-5446.
Arkenstone Inc. now offers the ArkenLease, a low-interest-rate financing program for its adaptive equipment. The program is open to people with disabilities in the United States who have an income of less than $2,000 per month and less than $10,000 in liquid assets. The minimum amount that can be borrowed is $1,400; the maximum amount is $6,000. Applicants must be purchasing an Arkenstone reading system or extending one they already have. This technology includes: Open Book Unbound reading software, Atlas Speaks talking map, Hewlett-Packard scanners, Open Book and First Reader reading machines, ArkenClone PCs, speech synthesizers, and screen reader and screen magnification software. The interest rate is 6 percent, with an APR of 6.74 percent. Lease payments are monthly over three years, with the first and last months of payment due at the beginning of the lease. Monthly payments are 3.0422 percent of the price of the products being leased. For more information, contact the company at (800) 444-4443, or (408) 245- 5900 (TDD users call (800) 833-2753), or e-mail to in[email protected] or the Web site at http://www.arkenstone.org.
The blindness community in Cuba desperately needs a thermoform braille machine, braille writers, writing paper, braille paper, slates and styli, canes for children and adults, tape recorders, pencils, pens, blank cassette tapes, batteries for radios, Braille 'n Speaks and computers. If you have material to spare, send it to Eric Blair, 473 E. New York Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225.
A new blindness-related web page is on the Internet. Visit Blind RAP at: http://pw1.netcom.com/~maveric8/index.htm. It contains resumes, profiles, and home pages. Submit a resume or profile by e-mail or postal mail. Link your personal home page. Link your business page. Search home pages alphabetically or regionally worldwide. More than 80 home page links are already in place.
Wichita Industries & Services for the Blind has a new name: Envision. The company chose the name to reflect an innovative, visionary attitude to provide choices and resources for blind and low-vision people. For more information, call (316) 267-2244 or visit the web site at http://www.envisionus.com.
If you are interested in forming a support group of people with congenital glaucoma, contact Nancy Yutronkie, RR 2, Ravenna, Ontario, Canada, N0H 2E0, or phone her at (705) 446-2596.
The first official alumni reunion at Lions World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, Ark., will be held September 19-20. All alumni and former staff members are welcome to return to celebrate the center's 50th anniversary. The alumni committee is planning a weekend of exploring the campus, food, fellowship, and visiting with former classmates and instructors. Events will take place at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel and LWSB. Early bird registration will end September 1. Reserve your room by calling the Holiday Inn Airport at (501) 490-1000; for the itinerary and registration forms, contact Elise White, LWSB, 2811 Fair Park Blvd., Little Rock, AR 72204, or phone (800) 248-0734, or e-mail [email protected]. If you want more details, check the Web site at http://www.snider.net/lions.
(Reprinted with permission from "Horizons," July 1997.)
Congress has passed, and the president has signed into law, Public Law 105-17, a five-year extension, with amendments, of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA authorizes federal funding to ensure that children with special needs receive a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
There are a number of new provisions in Section 615, Procedural Safeguards, of the law relating to which processes must be followed and when legal fees may be recovered against a school district that violates the rights of the child. That is the focus here because the process by which a special education dispute is contested can have a major impact on, if not be determinative of, the resolution. In fact, the IDEA amendments illustrate this. And the news is far from being all good for children with special needs and their parents.
The extension of IDEA came after years of legislative wrangling over whether school districts could cut off services to special- needs children who are expelled or suspended from school for reasons unrelated to their disabilities, much publicity about the legal fees paid to lawyers who successfully sued schools on behalf of special-needs children and their parents, and cost overruns in special education budgets. While there are some potentially positive changes in the amendments, blaming the lawyers for the schools' mistakes and limiting the recovery of legal fees in the amendments was fundamentally flawed, resulting in a major advantage for schools and, most sadly, disadvantaging children with special needs.
Let me highlight some of the changes in the extension of the law.
Without specifically mentioning the en banc opinion of the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Riley v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 106 F. 3d 559 (Fourth Circuit 1997), which was directly to the contrary, the amendments and the legislative history make clear that a child who is receiving special education services may NOT be cut off from such services when the child is expelled or suspended -- even for reasons unrelated to their disabilities. While the basic "stay put" provisions of IDEA, i.e. that the child remains in the last approved placement pending the resolution of a dispute, is retained in the new law, there are exceptions which now can be made to provide an alternative educational placement. These exceptions related to a child with a disability involved with weapons, illegal drugs, or a controlled substance. In such situations there is to be an expedited due process hearing.
Mediation to resolve special education disputes between parents and schools is made mandatory by the amendments. The mediation is not to delay or deny any request for an administrative due process hearing. (The new law continues the parents' ability to go to court after exhausting the administrative hearing process.) The new law provides that attorneys' fees are not recoverable in a mediation (unless a state, in its discretion, decides otherwise) or, as a general rule, in connection with any meeting of the individual education program (IEP) team. Fees, including for experts and attorneys, are available to parents and children who are successful in a due process hearing to resolve the special education dispute -- but not if the relief obtained at such a hearing is not more favorable than what was offered in settlement. Legal fees can be awarded but reduced when the attorney does not propose a resolution or does not provide certain information in a timely manner.
The clear intent of the new law is to cut down on the amount of legal fees school systems have had to pay attorneys for the kids and their parents.
A few things need to be said which are not stated in the amendments. The publicity which so enveloped the IDEA debate (and which was reflected in the law) dwelling on outrageous cases of students acting out, payment of legal fees, and budget overruns, embodied a totally convoluted set of values and a bogus bias.
Most importantly, public education and special-needs kids are NOT a bottom-line operation. This is not a computer chip company or neighborhood hardware store where the financial bottom line should govern. While mismanagement should not be tolerated, neither should 60-child caseloads for speech pathologists or occupational therapists. And that is happening.
The focus should be on the kids and their needs, not dollars, not the lawyers who help them and their parents rectify things when the school errs. Something is profoundly wrong with society if it does not want to invest in education, particularly of children with special needs.
Let me be blunt: The lawyers did not do it! The lawyers did not cause the school systems' mistakes, their red ink or high caseloads. Local school system errors -- both bureaucratic/institutional as well as individual -- did.
By targeting lawyers -- both in the law and in the press -- the focus is wrong. The new law and the media are shooting the messenger, the lawyers (and experts) who succeed in proving that the school system screwed up -- and are not addressing the message, the problem that when schools do err serving children with special needs the systems should, like any other entity, be held accountable for such mistakes in a fair, even-handed process.
It is not the special-needs child, the parent or lawyer who made the wrong educational placement, failed to provide the appropriate services, or who causes the schools not to meet IDEA- mandated time frames. When the lawyer proves that the school, the presumed educational expert, erred, then legal fees are recovered. Lawyers for special-needs kids do not recover their fees and expenses from a school district every time. If the school district is doing it right, which is what happens in the overwhelming number of situations, there is no case to be brought against it and no school district payment of parent and child legal fees.
With this background, let me elaborate upon why I think the IEP and new mandatory mediation processes sanctioned by Section 615 are weighted against students with special needs and in favor of the schools.
IEPs are a crucial, early time to address the needs of the child receiving special education services. At the IEP the school system can have its armada of teachers, administrators, and specialists (OT, PT, speech etc.) attend. Parents who cannot afford lawyers and their own private educational experts will be at a disadvantage, lacking resources who could discern school system error and help the parents and school agree upon the correct placement and services. Due to the unavailability of expert advice and advocacy, parents who cannot afford to get help are more likely not to contest the actions of the school and are more likely to sign an IEP with which they do not agree or which they do not realize could be improved or changed to help their child receive a more appropriate education and services. Parents who can afford experts and lawyers will be more apt to bring them to the IEP and, if agreement on the IEP is not reached, to go forward to a due process hearing where legal and expert fees are recoverable. In sad reality, the ultimate procedure followed will be based on the parents' financial abilities, not their child's disabilities as related to the child's education.
The new law will legislatively overrule such cases as E.E. by B.W. v. Millville Board of Education (D. N.J. 1997) which awarded fees where the attorney had been a catalyst in achieving the appropriate educational placement and services at the IEP. Other cases, such as S-1 and S-2 v. State Board of Education of North Carolina, 21 F. 3d 49 (Fourth Circuit 1994) had disagreed. Section 615 of the new law agrees with the latter line of cases and tells parents that their legal fees are not recoverable for routine IEP meetings even if that meeting results in a change in what the school system had thought to be the appropriate placement and services.
The inability of parents to recover expert and legal fees continues in the new amendments' provisions relating to mediation, which is now a mandatory option schools must offer for resolving disputes.
Don't get me wrong. I like the concept of mediation of special education disputes. But legal and expert fees should have been recoupable there too -- if the result is a change in a finding of eligibility, the enumeration or frequency of services or placement of the child.
A local school system's director of special education has told me unequivocally, "No attorney's fees at mediation." Technically, this is not true since the law allows, at the discretion of the states, for fees to be awarded in mediation.
However, given the financial tenor of the times in special education and since the new law does not MANDATE payment of legal fees, the position espoused by this local director could well be adopted in the states and prove to be the universal practice. If that happens, as is likely, then mediation will be an illusory option or will create an election of remedies, again driven by family financial abilities, not the child's disabilities and education.
If states do not provide for legal and expert fees at the now- mandatory mediation, let me explain what will happen when a parent chooses to mediate.
Since the law does not preclude it from doing so, the local school district will bring all its expert providers, teachers, administrators and its lawyers, to the mediation. The parents who can afford to pay will bring their own experts and lawyers to the mediation. Those parents who cannot afford to pay for experts and lawyers will not have them at the mediation. Parents with limited resources are more likely to seek out and use experts at a due process hearing or court case where such fees would be recoverable if the parents succeeded. Mediation for parents who cannot afford experts and attorneys becomes a process at which they are at a disadvantage due to the imbalance of available expertise or an option to be avoided.
To help bring about a fairer agreement in mediation, parents should be able to bring in their experts and attorneys in the hope and/or expectation of making their position known in a more persuasive manner with the best educational information that can be mustered and synthesized on behalf of the child. Such fees should be recoupable when a change in the school system's position is effected at the mediation.
Just as could well prove to be the case around IEPs as noted above, without the potential for fees for experts and attorneys, special education mediations could be a playing field tilted in favor of the local school districts. Parent economics, not the merits of the special education child's needs, will determine the parents' success at mediation.
Cynics may find my lament about the determinative role family finances will play in pursuing special education disputes "nothing new." But that it is "nothing new" does not make it right. It argues quite strongly FOR change and that real change is overdue.
The need here is to focus on children with special needs and ensuring that the system works for them. The law in limiting attorneys' fees, mandating mediation (without providing for fees in mediation), and not allowing expert and legal fees at IEP meetings puts in place a statutory system that is heavily in favor of school systems. The new procedural safeguards in Section 615 of P.L. 105- 17 do not give special-needs children and their parents a fair, balanced way to contest school systems' mistakes short of a due process administrative hearing or lawsuit in court.
Within the past few months, significant developments have occurred in several of the disability rights cases about which I have written previously in "The Braille Forum." I thought it appropriate to bring you up to date regarding these developments.
In January, I had informed you that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act applied both to physical access to covered commercial facilities and places of public accommodation and to access to the contents of products and services sold or distributed to the public. This refers to the October 25 decision in Parker v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. This decision seemed to open the possibility of a visually impaired shopper challenging inaccessible software products marketed through the local computer store. However, on February 6, 1997, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a petition for rehearing by the defendant insurance carrier. This order voids the earlier panel opinion and institutes a new briefing and argument schedule so that the appeal can be heard before the full bench of the court. We can expect a decision on this appeal by the end of this calendar year. Sadly, in the interim, the order destroys the precedent-setting value of the earlier opinion.
In November 1995, I reported about a case from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in which that court had ruled that a brewing company had violated Title III of the ADA by refusing to allow a blind visitor and his guide dog to take the tour of the brewery regularly offered to the public. On March 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in the case of Johnson v. The Gambrinus Company (109 F.3d 1040, Fifth Cir. 1997). The court affirmed the trial court's decision that the brewery had violated Title III of the ADA. This federal appellate court decision constitutes a significant ADA victory for blind people and for those who use service animals.
You may remember that on several occasions, including the July- August 1996 issue of "The Braille Forum," I have reported on the ongoing legal battles being waged in the federal courts between the Minnesota Randolph-Sheppard Act state licensing agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs. When we last reported on this saga, the state licensing agency and its vendor had once again won a victory in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The court had forbidden the Veterans Affairs Department from installing vending machines which competed with machines operated by the vendor. As reported at that time, the department had appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court issued its most recent decision on February 26 (see Minnesota Department of Economic Security v. Riley et al, 107 F.3d 648, Eighth Cir. 1997), affirming the injunction against competing vending machines and once again chastening the Veterans Affairs Department for its recalcitrance. The court admonished it to abide by the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority in favor of trained, licensed blind vendors. The Court of Appeals chided the department for its delaying and foot-dragging tactics in refusing to grant the Minnesota licensing agency the unconditional permit it had requested to operate the vending facility at the St. Cloud Medical Center. The appellate court once again told the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that if his department wished to place limits on the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority, he and his department should follow the Department of Education's Randolph-Sheppard Act regulations and make application to the Secretary of Education to approve such a proposed limitation. That is precisely what the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has steadfastly refused to do. In conclusion, the court stated emphatically that now is the time for the Veterans Affairs Department's scorched earth campaign against the Randolph-Sheppard Act and its priority to end.
FOR SALE: Braille Lite. Comes with all accessories; software upgraded. $3,000 or best offer. Contact Diane at (909) 982-7203.
FOR SALE: TeleSensory Vantage 2000. About two years old; hardly used. Asking $1,000. Contact Patricia Walter at (215) 338- 4374, or fax (215) 332-8849.
FOR SALE: WinVision 95 program. Hardly used. Asking $400. Call Martha Seabrooks at (410) 965-4004 and leave a message.
Due to an editing error, the e-mail address for the PACER Center in the January 1996 issue was incorrect. The correct address is: [email protected].
Due to an editing error, the Hadley School was referred to as giving away computers to people who wanted to learn ("President's Message," June 1997). The Hadley School is not giving computers away.
Sue Ammeter, Seattle, WA
Ardis Bazyn, Cedar Rapids, IA
John Buckley, Knoxville, TN
Dawn Christensen, Holland, OH
Christopher Gray, San Jose, CA
John Horst, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Kristal Platt, Omaha, NE
M.J. Schmitt, Forest Park, IL
Pamela Shaw, Philadelphia, PA
Richard Villa, Irving, TX
Carol McCarl, Chairperson, Salem, OR
Kim Charlson, Watertown, MA
Thomas Mitchell, North Salt Lake City, UT
Mitch Pomerantz, Los Angeles, CA
Jay Doudna, Lancaster, PA
Ex Officio: Laura Oftedahl, Watertown, MA
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