THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half- speed four-track cassette tape and computer disk. Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for publication should be sent to: Penny Reeder, THE BRAILLE FORUM, 1155 15th St. N.W., Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Patricia Beattie at the same address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office has printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased people.
Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, you may contact the ACB National Office.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 6 p.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday.
All photos in this issue copyright 1999 by Ken Nichols.*****
I am heading for a meeting at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore which will seek to build cooperation among many organizations about a concerted policy with regard to separate services. I have just returned from New Zealand where I spent an exciting week building relationships with the Association of Blind Citizens there. That will be the subject of my December article.
As I travel around I have a chance to reflect on just how much our work depends on collaboration. There are two particular instances that have brought this opportunity to the fore lately. For the past two months ACB has been working collaboratively with National Industries for the Blind to try to force the General Services Administration to reconsider their approach to closing down their distribution depots. These closures have already affected the jobs of more than fourteen hundred blind workers in industries all over the country. Charlie Crawford -- with minimal help from me -- spearheaded our efforts in this regard and wrote an article which appeared under my name in "The Washington Post." This was the culmination of a concerted effort to publicize the issue. By the end of the day that the article was published, the GSA had indicated that it would rethink its strategy. Almost immediately as well, we began to hear from other players. Among them were officials from the union that represents federal workers at all of these depots. Our strategy in terms of this issue and as it applies to all that we do is to create synergy among the players so that the needs and interests of people who are blind can be maximized.
The other issue where collaboration is already paying dividends concerns pedestrian safety. We are by no means the only group who is dissatisfied with the increasing dominance of the almighty motor vehicle. At the national level we are working with other pedestrian lobbies to build an alliance that will make a difference. You too should be looking for other interest groups with whom you can collaborate. Just as no man is an island, so no disability operates alone. Just as we benefit from specialized services, so too do deaf people need and value specialized services. Access to information is an issue that crosses all disability boundaries.
Yes, there are some very specific issues where we must and will stand alone. Most, however, offer us chances to work with groups who may well be larger and more powerful than we are. If we are conscious of opportunities to work with others, we can gain more for ourselves. The trick is to know when to fold and when to play. We have to establish that we have enough to gain and cannot afford to lose our own identity as we work with others.
There are those who would claim that the Americans with Disabilities Act has blurred the identity of different disability groups. The argument goes: "If you have seen one disabled person, you've seen them all!" According to this line of reasoning, we are being seen as a single shapeless mass of homogenized disability and will all be treated the same way. I am not convinced by this argument and, in a later article, I will try to explain why not. For now, though, let's recognize that there is sufficient validity to the notion that society is beginning to see people as disabled rather than having a specific disability that we need to pay attention to. We are people but we are also blind people. We have to be proud enough of our blindness to stand up for our needs.
At the same time, we must be sure that other groups who expect our support on their issues will support our special concerns. I truly believe we can and must maintain our separate identities as people who are blind and our identity as people who are disabled. There are valuable lessons to be learned from other disability philosophies and some of these groups are working hard to publicize these. We also have valuable lessons to teach other groups and must be just as militant about our special needs as they are about theirs.
For now, though, let us recognize that numbers and money and influence are important components of persuading folks to do the things we need. If we can find others who share our needs, our burden is lessened. If we can't, we still must find ways to sell our issues. Our biggest obstacle is ourselves. We must believe passionately in our rights and have to be prepared to make others believe too. That is our challenge and we will meet it!*****
On October 13, the General Services Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees signed an agreement which reversed GSA Administrator David Barram's July 8 decision to close the eight Federal Supply Service depots. By reaching the agreement, the union expressed its willingness to set aside a Federal Labor Relations Authority arbitrator's ruling that GSA was obliged to enter into collective bargaining with the union before taking action to close the warehouses, and GSA agreed to turn back the clock and enter into so-called "pre-decisional discussions" with the AFGE. Martha Johnson, GSA's Chief of Staff, said that discussions between GSA and the union will be completed by the end of October, and that the ensuing agreement - - if there is one -- may or may not result in altering their proposed accelerated schedule for closing the depots.
As this issue went to press, many were expressing cautious optimism that orders for products made by blind workers would pick back up, and that the layoffs and restricted work weeks which had plagued blind industries since GSA's July announcement would end. Jim Gibbons, President and CEO of National Industries for the Blind, expressed hope that the anticipated JWOD.com web site, which he planned to have on-line by the end of the month, would enable blind industries to recapture the interest of federal employees who need to purchase the kinds of products that blind workers manufacture. The union and NIB affiliates hoped that GSA's stated intention to treat the 50-year-old stock purchase program as an ongoing concern -- at least for the remainder of October -- and an official Office of Management and Budget memorandum reminding federal procurement agents of their mandated obligation to purchase Javits-Wagner-O'Day products, would buy time so that workshops can diversify their product lines, become active participants in marketing and distributing processes for their products, and capture a significant share of public and private business.
Neither blind workers nor their administrators or advocates seem to have been unaware that the push to reinvent government might have consequences for the federal supply system. However, all of the advocates and administrators I talked with while trying to gain an understanding of the magnitude of the situation seem to have been shocked and dismayed by the precipitous way that GSA decided to implement change.
"Change has been in the wind," said Patricia Beattie, NIB's Director of Public Policy and Consumer Relations, "since procurement reforms began to take shape back in 1988, and JWOD became a preferred, rather than a mandatory, source." Jim Gibbons says that blind industries has been taking pro- active as well as reactive steps to deal with legislatively and culturally mandated changes in federal buying habits. For example, during the last decade, NIB has gotten its products listed in the catalogs of commercial vendors. Their products have been packaged in more attractive ways, and offered for sale in smaller lots. Several NIB affiliates have become involved in product distribution, and blind workers all over the country have learned how to process orders for the GSA warehouses, as well as private-sector telephone ordering centers.
"In the last few years," Beattie said, "the feds have been handing out credit cards like candy." It had not escaped NIB's notice that federal employees who needed to purchase a few pens or file folders were going down to their local Office Depot, or bookmarking "staples.com" as the preferred method for restocking their shelves, instead of going through GSA to purchase blind- made office products. NIB began working on the JWOD.com concept early this year. But when Barram made his July 8 announcement, Beattie acknowledged, NIB had not even written the contract for constructing the web site.
Barram's announcement that all of the depots would be closed within the next 18 months put immediate pressure on GSA buyers to cut back on their orders. "They didn't want to buy things they might not be able to sell," Beattie explained. Beverly Milkman from the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, said that during the first week of October, orders were down by 50 percent from what they had been a year earlier. Jim Gibbons said that the domino effect could extend to community rehabilitation and training agencies, and that, within months, as many as 1,400 blind workers' jobs could be jeopardized.
For Bob Plunkett, President of the Lighthouse in San Antonio, talk about reduced orders and negative impacts on blind workers was not merely speculative. For the first time in 21 years, Plunkett had to announce a mandatory three-day work week for his employees who make mechanical pencils, sweat pants, and oil- analysis kits for the military. In the same week, he had to lay off 23 part-time workers. "We had to eliminate the part-timers to keep the others going," Plunkett said.
Meanwhile, members of the American Council of the Blind were marshalling resources to advocate for blind workers whose jobs were in jeopardy. Michael Byington, who works for Envision Technology in Kansas, organized workers in the blind industries affiliates to participate in a letter-writing campaign. Workers addressed their comments and their stories to the office of the vice president whose "reinventing government" initiatives, many believed, were directly responsible for blind workers' losing their jobs. "I told them to just tell their stories," Byington said, "and many of them wrote very moving letters to the vice president, telling him how much their ability to work mattered to them, and urging him to tell the GSA to rethink the way it was restructuring the federal procurement system."
The letter-writing campaign spread from affiliate to affiliate. Byington, who attended NIB■s annual conference in early October, was encouraged to learn that many of the NIB employees who were attending the conference had decided to write letters not only to the vice president, but to their representatives and senators as well. Rep. Charles Gonzales, who serves the San Antonio district where Bob Plunkett's Lighthouse employees have been manufacturing supplies for the military for more than 20 years, was so dismayed to learn about the layoffs and restricted work weeks at the Lighthouse that he began his own letter-writing campaign in the U.S. House of Representatives. Responding to Charlie Crawford's alert, ACB affiliates all over the country urged their members to call their representatives to tell them to add their signatures to the Gonzales letter.
Meanwhile ACB President Paul Edwards wrote to ■The Washington Post.■ We expect the GSA, he said, to "slow down the closing of distribution depots to allow other systems to ramp up to carry the load. Second, make an unequivocal and affirmative statement to federal customers that the products made by blind folks are still there and they need to be buying them under the law. Thirdly, put a management scheme in place that thinks through decisions and actions to either prevent crisis or manage it quickly when unintended results occur."
What motivated David Barram to reverse his stated intention to appeal the arbitrator's decision which had favored the union, and enter into "interest-based bargaining" with the AFGE on the topic of closing the FSS warehouses?
Lisa Brown, Counsel to the Vice President, said, "We have just become aware of the [consequences for] blind workers in the past few days. We are asking government agencies to reach out to the very same suppliers [through] an OMB letter that our offices have been working on ..." Was it a particular letter from a blind worker which may have reached the vice president's National Partnership for Reinventing Government campaign offices, or the mounting number of signatures which representatives from both parties were adding to Charlie Gonzales' letter intended for the White House, or perhaps Paul Edwards' succinct statement of ACB's expectations in ■The Washington Post■ that had caused the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Administrator Deirdre Lee to release a statement to the press on October 7? "Agencies should take steps to encourage employees entrusted with federal purchase cards to be vigilant in continuing to purchase products and services through the JWOD program," Lee's statement said.
At press time, spokespersons from NIB, the Committee for Purchase, and ACB expressed hope that Lee's statement might re- emerge with signatures from more highly placed Clinton administration officials to send a direct message to procurement agents about their obligation to purchase JWOD products.
The fact that the FSS depots will close -- either within the next nine to 18 months, or perhaps further down the road -- seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point. Whether GSA and the AFGE can negotiate the terms of the transition so as to minimize negative impacts for blind industries employees remains to be seen. Whether an announcement of the JWOD.com e-commerce site will motivate federal employees to bookmark the JWOD shopping web site, along with the others they may have already designated -- all of these questions are fuel for speculation. Everyone -- blind workers, NIB administrators, Committee for Purchase representatives, OMB's Office of Public Relations, the National Plan for Reinventing Government, and the General Services Administration -- policy-makers and pundits all seem to agree that, in the words of GSA Chief of Staff Martha Johnson, "There are going to be lots of small solutions, rather than just one silver bullet."
She explained that it should be a simple matter for GSA to "hotwire" links to JWOD vendors from any virtual platform which eventually emerges, and reiterated FSS Commissioner Frank Pugliese's commitment to share the names of all GSA's customers for JWOD products with National Industries for the Blind. When we asked her what mechanism GSA will be utilizing to accomplish this task, she referred us to GSA's Office of Public Affairs. That office stated that the Federal Supply Service has shared about 50 percent of the data concerning JWOD sales with NIB at this point in time, and that NIB can expect to receive the remainder of the data when the FSS has finished compiling information for the fall quarter.
Whether these incremental solutions coalesce in time to restore all the San Antonio Lighthouse employees' work weeks to five days, or to bring back part-time co-workers to long-term contracted employment, or whether as many as 1,400 blind workers whose jobs are at risk will be able to count on having industrial jobs in the blind industries of the future, remains to be seen. Many, however, are cautiously optimistic about the long-term future. Jim Gibbons said, "We will emerge from this crisis, stronger and better." Bev Milkman agreed, saying, "Everyone knows someone who works for the federal government; we just have to tell them to buy our JWOD products, and there will be more than enough business to go around." And Bob Plunkett, who has acquired two short-term contracts which may enable him to bring back his part-time employees, said, "In terms of hope, there's all kinds of reasons not to lose hope. As long as you don't give up, as long as you don't give in to the nay-sayers...if you just keep on truckin■ ... Persistence, I've found, can overcome just about anything in this life, and, where intelligence fails, persistence pays off. Where knowledge fails, persistence pays off. And we ain■t goin■ to give up."*****
As one might imagine with any conceptual set of principles, the ACB consumer cooperation agenda has raised some fair questions on how it might be implemented. These questions essentially go to the nature of consumerism and state agency administration and how they differ in the context of cooperation. Let's take a look at the principles and see if we can supply some commentary to clarify them.
1. The state agency must make its information available to consumers in a medium which can be read and used. Preferably the information should be made available in the media of choice for each consumer.
Comment: This is fairly clear and not subject to much questioning.
2. The agency must hire people who are blind and provide equal opportunity for upward mobility.
Comment: This principle has raised questions such as, "is it mandating a kind of program to hire blind folks and promote them based solely on blindness?" No, of course not. A reasonability standard must be used here to make sure that blind folks being hired are qualified. On the other hand, an affirmative duty to seek and employ qualified blind folks is inherent to the principle and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act for that matter. After all, if agencies train us, then surely there must be a qualified pool of blind folks available for employment.
3. All agency computer and other information systems and materials must be accessible to and usable by blind employees and consumers as appropriate to their business needs.
Comment: This simply means that computers and their applications have to be accessible to, and usable by blind folks. The use of the phrase "as appropriate to their business needs" is only to highlight the full range of business applications within the state agency.
4. The offices of the state agency must be accessible to consumers both in terms of transportation and the built environment.
Comment: This is again a standard of reasonability. If there is no transportation available in a given area, for example, then other arrangements must be made to insure that consumers have the same levels of opportunities as they would have in a transportation-accessible environment.
5. The state agency must require its counselors and administrators to engage in good faith negotiations with consumers as to mutual expectations within the context of consumer choice and responsibilities.
Comment: This is pretty clear on its face.
6. The state agency must insure that information about consumer organizations is available in a balanced and non-prejudicial environment. These materials must be made available in accessible media and with sufficient frequency without favoring one organization over others so as to allow consumers to know about and make their own choices as to what to do with the information.
Comment: This principle has raised questions as to whether it is the responsibility of an agency to distribute information about consumer groups, the theory behind the question being that it is the responsibility of consumer groups themselves to distribute their own information. Consumer groups are a resource to individual consumers, who should know about what organizations are available to them. A balanced distribution by the state agency of information prepared by the groups themselves serves to meet the need of consumers to know and the need of agencies to facilitate their knowing.
7. The state agency must share information on important topics such as budget and program development in sufficient time to allow consumers to properly assess and productively react to it.
Comment: This is only common sense, but does not preclude agencies from sharing information at the last minute when that information could not have been known or made available otherwise.
8. The state agency must avoid any actions which would have the effect of chilling the personal decision of employees to join any consumer organizations of their choice and to conduct themselves accordingly outside the framework of agency business.
Comment: Agencies should not be in the business of either steering employees into particular consumer organizations or discouraging them from joining an organization of their choice. The agency should merely insure that it does not engage in practices that would discourage employees from joining a consumer group of their choice insofar as those employees properly conduct themselves in a professional and unbiased manner at work.
9. The agency must conduct its training and its business with other entities involving the views of a balanced spectrum of consumer organizations.
Comment: Just as the agency is obliged to conduct its own business in an unbiased fashion, so too must its agents and contractors.
10. The state agency director and appropriate staff must attend and participate in state meetings of consumer organizations.
Comment: Some have objected to this since it puts a burden on the state director and appropriate staff. The state consumer conventions are the only time that the state director and staff associated with topics of interest get to meet consumers in large numbers. The duty to attend these functions is clear.
11. The state agency director and appropriate staff must meet with the leadership of consumer organizations on a sufficiently frequent basis to maintain productive dialogue and input.
Comment: Again, agency heads and their staff, along with consumers, have an ongoing interest in the conduct of public business that impacts upon the consumer. Their failure to meet on a regular basis only leads to decisions that can and do go sour.
12. The state agency must support consumer initiatives where it is lawful and without conflict of interest for it to do so.
Comment: When consumers seek to improve the quality of their lives, then the state agency interests are met as well. Hence, support is appropriate. The state agency should be free to remain neutral when such a position is reasonable to take.
13. The state agency must make appropriate changes as a result of consumer input.
Comment: This standard is clear. When agencies ignore or find constant excuses not to implement reasonable consumer input, there really is no working relationship between consumers and those agencies set up to service them.
In closing, the American Council of the Blind has set forth the above principles consistent with its long-standing view that working within the system is the best way to gain positive change. When agreements are reached and people understand each other, then there is a mutual ownership of the product. ACB has deliberately written the principles with a view toward reasonability as the standard against which to measure questions. The principles are not intended to be arbitrary and absolute, but to clearly assert the proper expectations of organized consumers as true partners in the system.
The extent to which the principles are adopted and practiced is a function of the relationship between consumers in a state and the agency servicing them. In general, however, a failure to implement the principles truly jeopardizes the predictability of consumer support for a system that chooses to ignore the legitimate interests of consumers in that system.*****
If you were unable to attend the national convention of the American Council of the Blind, or if you just want to refresh your memory, here are highlights from Los Angeles!
President Paul Edwards called the convention to order, and Cathie Skivers, President of the California Council of the Blind, welcomed attendees. "I was president of CCB and the chairman of your first California convention in 1968," Skivers said, "and ... I'm still here."
The CCB is continuing its 65-year tradition of advocating and working for the interests of people who are blind. "You may have heard," she continued, "that we have gotten Wells-Fargo to get talking ATMs. What you may not know is that we have gotten Citibank to do the same thing!" The announcement -- great news for Californians -- was greeted with thunderous applause.
Carol McCarl, chairperson of the board of publications, presented the Ned E. Freeman Award for Excellence in Writing to Larry Johnson, for his December 1998 "Braille Forum" article titled "Blind Faith." (For more information on award winners, see "ACB Rewards Excellence in Writing, Membership Growth, Sports and More" in the next issue of "The Braille Forum.")
McCarl also announced the selection of the new editor of ■The Braille Forum,■ Penny Reeder. She expressed gratitude on behalf of the BOP and ACB to Nolan Crabb, who left the editorial post in February, and shared biographical information about the new editor with the assembled convention. She said that it had been her pleasure to help select both Nolan Crabb and Penny Reeder.
Next, Jim Olsen presented a 20-year service pin to ACBES employee Jim Tickner. Olsen told the convention how important Tickner's service "down in the [thrift store] trenches" has been to ACB and to ACBES. He has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of ACB's 10 thrift stores and for new developments in opening new stores.
Following Olsen's presentation, Paul Edwards gave his annual "State of ACB" message (see the August 1999 issue).
ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford spoke about the principles which guide staff members in the national office, as well as individual members of ACB. The beauty of ACB advocacy, Crawford said, is that "we know how to get people together so we can all win. There's no need to beat one another over the head, so that some people lose...It is not necessary to denigrate others in order to build ourselves up...Blind people are working together as partners in progress. There is nothing more powerful than the word 'agreement.'"
Crawford spoke about local heroes, like Patsy Jones from South Carolina, Ed Bradley from Texas, and Sanford Alexander from Kansas -- each of whom led efforts to preserve or improve state agencies during the past year. He applauded the efforts of Cathie Skivers and the CCB to create a real commission for the blind in California, and predicted that their efforts will meet with success.
The beauty of ACB, Crawford said, is that we draw strength from each other and we know how to use power to improve the lives of blind people everywhere. "It is right to use power," he continued, "not as a weapon, but as a way of healing wounds and delivering on promises that our nation and our community have made to each and every one of us. If we can listen to what other people have to say, if we can understand what they're telling us they need, if we can come to agreements, then we will have the power to change the face of blindness in the U.S."
Crawford celebrated accomplishments including the accessible traffic signal outside the Westin Hotel, detectable warnings on Washington, D.C.'s Metrorail platforms, and work to implement Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. "No matter who you are," he said, "you are not alone. You are part of ACB."
Edwards then presented ACB's newest affiliate, the Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss (AAVL), with an official charter. "We'll make a difference!" promised Teddie Remhild, the alliance's founder and first president.
Following the charter presentation, Olsen presented six people with life memberships in the American Council of the Blind. (See Charles Hodge's article, "Many Join the Life Membership Rolls" in this issue.) In addition, John McCann (Virginia), Bernard Werwie (Virginia), Amanda Lee (Virginia), Anna Porter (Pennsylvania), and Kirby Sullivan (Florida) stepped forward and purchased life memberships in the American Council of the Blind.
The session concluded with a preliminary credentials report by Rochelle Foley and the roll call of affiliates by Cynthia Towers.
The first order of business on Monday was resolving Friends- in-Art■s appeal of the credentials committee rulings. The affiliate■s attempt was unsuccessful. Foley presented the final credentials committee report, which was adopted.
Next, Michael Byington, resolutions committee chairman, presented Resolution 99-19. This resolution urged the five Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioners to promulgate regulations under Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow people who are blind and visually impaired to have the same degree of access to telecommunications devices and information as their sighted colleagues. The resolution was adopted. (For more information about the resolutions, see "Summary of 1999 ACB Resolutions," October 1999.)
Mark Richert and Byington spent the next hour discussing Social Security, and attempting to unravel mysteries about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), to answer questions, and to give everyone a basic understanding of their rights under the laws.
Richert explained that SSDI is an insurance program. "You have paid into this program," he said. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that you are on the dole or that you're taking a handout; you have paid in, you are entitled!" If you are eligible for SSDI, you may be eligible for Medicaid. There are strategies for increasing the amount you can bring home every month and still receive your SSDI payments.
There are approximately 110,000 visually impaired people on the SSDI rolls, Richert said. Professionals and advocates who work with people who are blind spend more time answering questions about Social Security issues than any other kind of questions. "We cannot ignore Social Security," he said. "We need to improve it. ACB will lead the charge!" This charge includes raising the substantial gainful activity amounts above which one's benefits begin to diminish. It includes the linkage legislation to allow blind people on SSI to have the same retirement income as people over 65, as well as legislation which may allow Social Security recipients to continue receiving affordable health insurance (Medicaid and Medicare) even after they go to work.
Byington talked about helping disabled people to understand their rights and to maximize their SSDI and SSI-related earnings. "The rules," he declared, "would confound most IRS agents!" Questions about Social Security engender fear and confusion. Less than 11 percent of blind SSDI beneficiaries, for example, have ever had any earnings other than SSDI -- despite the so- called work incentives built into the regulations. SSI is a need-based program, with very specific rules for people who are visually impaired. Several people asked about applying for benefits and claiming expenses for assistive technology. Byington and Richert suggested that if ACB members have questions about SSI or SSDI, or if they have problems receiving their rightful benefits under the law, they should call Melanie Brunson, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Relations, in the ACB national office.
Next on the agenda was the newly elected president of Lions Clubs International, James Ervin of Albany, Ga. The Lions, Ervin said, have 1.5 million members in 85 countries around the world. Their mission is preservation of sight for everyone. Lions' "Sight First" operations have allowed more than 1.3 million people throughout the world to receive cataract operations. More than 3.3 million people are receiving Lions-funded treatments to prevent river blindness. The National Eye Health Care program, conducted in cooperation with the National Eye Institute, is attempting to prevent needless sight loss from the onset of diseases like diabetes and glaucoma. Lions believe education is the key to preventing vision loss from diabetes-related complications, and so Lions■ Eye Health Program seeks to educate diabetics about preventable vision loss.
More than 40,000 corneal transplants were funded by Lions Clubs throughout the world last year. Lions Clubs recycled 5 million to 6 million pairs of eyeglasses to people who otherwise could not have afforded them. Since 1988, more than 9 million people have been given free vision examinations and prescription eyeglasses through the Lions■ partnership with LensCrafters. "Lions are leaders," Ervin said. Without the support of the ACB Lions, the work of the organization would be severely impaired. Blind Lions help their sighted colleagues to understand vision loss, and assist them with the preparation of literature in alternative formats.
The next topic the convention dealt with was pedestrian safety. Julie Carroll told her listeners that ACB had been very active in this area in the past year. The panel assigned to work on pedestrian safety included Janet Barlow, an O&M instructor who works for the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta; Lukas Franck from The Seeing Eye; and Dr. Beezy Bentzen, who has researched and written extensively on accessibility and safety for blind travelers.
Carroll described the pedestrian safety handbook, which was completed last year, and is available from the national office. She thanked all the contributors, including those on the committee, and Debbie Grubb, who edited the handbook. Carroll said the handbook "is full of things that every one of you needs to know, and understand, and use." She said that ACB is doing research and funding research in the area of roundabouts because "they are the wave of the future for calming traffic, and for keeping traffic moving." Unfortunately, she continued, "It's hard for someone who's visually impaired to find an opening in the continuous stream of traffic, to get through." ACB is working to develop and promulgate standards which will make roundabouts accessible to blind and visually impaired pedestrians (and everyone else who needs to get across, for that matter).
Janet Barlow summarized research which the committee completed during the past year, utilizing surveys of blind travelers (many from the CCB) and orientation and mobility specialists who work with blind travelers. The research revealed that many blind people are confused by the chirping audible traffic signals so prevalent in California and in many other parts of the country. More research needs to be done and work must continue to develop standards for safe, uncomplicated audible traffic signals. The audience then heard demonstrations of several audible traffic signals. Conventioneers were urged to check out the talking signs in the Westin Hotel, made available by Ward Bond■s Talking Signs company, to make the convention more accessible, and to consider their potential usefulness as accessible street-crossing aids. The audience then heard that five of the vendors of accessible traffic signals were demonstrating their products along with other exhibits in the Marriott Hotel. A report on accessible traffic signals (Report #837) is available from the Access Board, and is also available at the ACB web site.
Mitch Pomerantz described his success in dealing with traffic engineers in L.A. via the pedestrian safety municipal committee on which he served. Distributing copies of the ACB pedestrian safety handbook, he said, had been an effective way to communicate with traffic engineers. He was responsible for getting the accessible audible traffic signal installed outside the Westin Hotel in time for the ACB convention. Most of the signals cost approximately $500 per signal. Talking Signs are a little more expensive, but their advantage would be the possibility of dispensing more detailed information.
Carroll noted that Congress had just authorized spending over $215 billion on transportation in the U.S. over the next five and a half years. There is authority to spend on pedestrian access, and in some categories, there■s a hundred percent federal match. Therefore, we need to be involved in the local planning process, to insist on installation of pedestrian access features.
Charlie Crawford summed up the tenor of the discussion when he said, "There have been three times in my life when I have felt a certain sense of independence, a certain swell of pride, a sense of safety, and the feeling that I could do it. The first time was when I received mobility training with a cane. The next time was when I picked up the harness of a guide dog. And the third time was when I crossed the street out here."
Most of the day■s session focused on education. The first speaker of the session was Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of the California School for the Blind.
Schools for the blind have had to reinvent themselves, Wittenstein noted, because the national movement toward full inclusion in public schools has changed their focus and their character. Some of the changes he has implemented at the California school since he became superintendent in 1996 include: instituting an active student council; rebuilding programs in wrestling, goalball, and cheerleading; sending students to space camp in Huntsville, Ala.; creating an annual Braille Week, where braille is a cause for celebration, and a Braille Connection Day, where speakers are recruited from the community to emphasize the utility of braille in school, at work, and at home; creating a Career Day which features speakers recruited from among vendors, rehabilitation agencies, and local employers; founding a student- run company which produces and sells (by mail-order if you like) braille fortune cookies; sponsoring a jazz ensemble, which is currently cutting its own CD; and founding a poet-in-residence program as part of the arts curriculum.
There are 6,000 visually impaired children in California. The California school can serve 130 students. Therefore, Wittenstein explained, the school has two purposes: to provide an education for students who attend the school, and to provide services which assist others in the state to provide the best possible education for all visually impaired children in California. Raising awareness among educators and policy-makers about the unique needs of children who are visually impaired is an important aspect of CSB's outreach efforts and programs.
Wittenstein described the school■s summer academy programs, which focus on independent living skills and assistive technology, as well as a preschool summer program which is still in the pilot stage. In addition, CSB is piloting a middle school preparation program, which will allow 10- and 11-year-olds to attend CSB for a year to acquire the organizational and blindness-related skills they will need to succeed in mainstreamed middle schools at the conclusion of the program. The California school also loans teachers and assessment specialists to local school districts, and consults in many other ways to enhance the quality of education for all the visually impaired children who live in California.
Following Wittenstein■s report, Ed Bradley of Texas presented the nominating committee■s slate of officers. He began by thanking Steve Speicher for his four years of service to the ACB. Nominees were: Paul Edwards for president; Brian Charlson for first vice president; Pam Shaw for second vice president; Cynthia Towers for secretary; and Pat Beattie for treasurer. The nominating report was accepted.
Next, John Buckley, scholarship committee chairman, introduced the 31 scholarship winners. He said that, in 1999, ACB awarded scholarships totaling just slightly less than $60,000. Many of the winners were able to attend the convention. Each expressed appreciation to the American Council, and elaborated on future plans and impressions of the ACB convention. ("The Braille Forum" will cover the scholarship winners in a more detailed article later this year.)
Jackie Wheeler, Western Sales Manager for the Kurzweil Corporation, announced that Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation would donate to each scholarship winner a Kurzweil 1000 software package, a scanner, and a check for $1,000.
After the students had spoken to the convention, Jean Parker spoke to the convention about Mobility International USA (MIUSA), and other programs in disability and student exchange. International exchange, she said, can include volunteerism, professional development, professional training, experiential learning, study abroad, internships, leadership development, and opportunities to participate in disabilities movements around the world. MIUSA can assist blind people who wish to participate in these kinds of programs, and she encouraged blind people to become more involved in student exchange programs.
Steve Speicher came forward to express formal appreciation to several committees and their chairpersons. He reported that, despite phenomenal growth in some affiliates like Blind Lions, GDUI, and the Alaska affiliate, overall membership numbers are down by 19 percent over the last five years. He saluted Rochelle Foley, chair of the credentials committee, for doing a difficult job so well. He acknowledged the hard and important work of the constitution committee. He saluted the nominating committee, under the direction of Ed Bradley, for getting its work done so efficiently, and he noted with pleasure that Michael Byington■s resolutions committee was making great progress in getting a number of resolutions ready to come to the floor.
His next focus was on the long-range plan. The current plan, he said, as an integrated program, a guide for decision-making by the board, and an organized program whose goals are the focus of directed activity, is non-existent. Whether the long-range plan revives, he said, is up to the membership of ACB -- for the board seeks to do the will of the membership. He continued, "There are currently, within ACB, a number of dangerous trends and practices [which] ... keep ACB from becoming what we should become. The future of ACB lies not in Congress or the state legislatures..., nor does it lie in the national office or the board. ... The future of ACB resides in each and every one of us, in what we do, in the futures we perceive or let slide by, in how we determine to develop our own lives and our own abilities, and how much of our time and energy we give to ACB." Following Speicher's report were resolutions.
The focus of the next hour was information access. Brian Charlson introduced Debbie Cook, chairperson of ACB's Information Access Committee. She represented ACB in the process of developing standards for the implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Implementation of this legislation may have far-reaching positive ramifications for people who are blind, because, Cook explained, "whatever the government buys or develops will need to be accessible, unless it■s an undue burden for the government to do so." And that "undue burden" will, she said, "be an incredibly high mark for the government to achieve."
The draft version of the rules was set to be released this month. ACB will be actively commenting on those rules, and ACB members will be asked -- as ex-officio members of the Information Access Committee -- to make numerous contacts and do lots of letter-writing and phone-calling to make our wishes known. Cook thanked the convention for its adoption of the resolution in support of implementation of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act in ways that will assure accessibility of wireless and other telecommunications equipment and services for people who are blind. She also thanked individuals who had, at her urging, been contacting the FCC commissioners to express concerns that rules would take into account the specific needs of blind people.
"Your stories are heard," she said. Because the commissioners keep track of the stories and the people who send them by disability group, "it will be important for you to continue to tell your stories during the coming year." Cook reported on her participation on the Web Accessibility Committee, which has been instrumental in developing web accessibility guidelines which have been adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines will make the Internet a much more livable place for all of us.
ACB has also been participating on the Blindness Advisory Review Board for Microsoft regarding accessibility. "The acronym for that," Cook said, "is BARB, and I hope we are being an effective thorn in their side! We are very excited about the future. We think that there is a great deal to do. We know that a great deal of progress has been made. ... I just want to thank all of you for your help...We have plans to involve all of you much more, so that you can all be participating, because it does make a difference."
The next speaker was Earlene Hughes, ACB webmaster. "I'm having a great time being a webmaster and being involved with ACB," she told the convention. She described the web site, assuring members that the Washington Connection and the Job Bank are updated regularly. The ACB web site is a wonderful public relations tool -- giving people who may be losing their sight or who may have family members who are visually impaired, important, up-to-date information. "Very soon," she said, "we will welcome Minnesota, Illinois, and California as our newest affiliates on our ACB affiliates page." All the resolutions -- since 1962 -- are being prepared to go up on the web. The pedestrian safety handbook is there, as are the constitution and bylaws.
She also discussed the unsuccessful efforts to allow people to register for the convention online from the web page. Hughes pledged to the convention, "By next year, we'll be able to register online." And when ACB links to an online shopping site, "It must, and it will be accessible!"
Next, Deane Enman spoke to the convention about virtual reality for our ears. Enman has assembled a team of researchers in Eugene, Ore., to use virtual reality concepts to help visually impaired people acquire orientation and mobility skills they need to function in the real world. Specifically, the project creates a three-dimensional acoustical world where blind children can learn to travel safely and confidently. "When you stand next to a virtual street and hear the virtual cars whizzing by," he said, "it is so real that you want to take a step back!"
Costs for equipment needed to create and experience these virtual worlds have come down remarkably because of the market forces which are responding to the boom in three-dimensional computer games. "We will never replace O&M trainers," he said, "but we can give them another arrow in the quiver." The project, which began last October, is moving so quickly that it is now possible to provide the program on a laptop computer, with a set of Walkman-type earphones and a baseball-cap-mounted head- tracker. The Oregon School for the Blind will begin using the technology with students in the coming school year. And there are plans to put the program on the Internet within the next two years.
Brian Charlson discussed his participation on the Microsoft Accessibility Advisory Council: "[We] spent four days in Microsoft Land," he said. Committee members were told what was happening with virtually every Microsoft product in terms of accessibility. Not all the news is good, he said, "but there was substantially more good news than bad. The good news is that each and every Microsoft product is making a major commitment to Active Accessibility. Microsoft Active Accessibility is not a perfect tool, but it is a major step forward in having access to products in the same month that they're released. ... Microsoft is not always the demon at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, it's the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, it is Microsoft who underwrote the cost for you who went over to see the descriptive video. It is Microsoft who purchased the notebook computer that is being used to stream, in Real Audio, this convention over the Internet. And I believe it will be Microsoft who will help the Swedes sing rock-and-roll to us tomorrow night [at the FIA Showcase]. It's nice to get the goodies, but I was more impressed by seeing the real, serious commitment by those teams to accessibility in the future."
In response to questions from the audience, the presenters said that no one should expect Microsoft or any other manufacturer of software products to make improvements unless it■s in their best interest to do so from a marketing point of view. Both Cook and Charlson hold out great hope that the government■s enforcement of Section 508 will provide the marketplace incentive for Microsoft and others to make their products accessible.
In addition, the consensus of the presenters was that, although Microsoft still has far to go in terms of making their products completely accessible, "we must acknowledge them when they do [things] right, and hound them -- or get even tougher -- when they don't."
Topics changed quickly on Wednesday from sports to library services and talking books. Oral Miller, former executive director, spoke first during this session. He discussed recreation for people who are blind, and urged convention attendees to check out the sport of Showdown, a lightning-fast table-top sport which was being demonstrated at the hotel.
The convention welcomed Kevin Szott, who is training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, in the hope of being a member of the U.S. Olympic Team in the sport of judo. Szott said that the secret of his success is hard work. His parents and his grandparents taught Kevin and his brothers, "If you are hard working, and you're willing to work even harder than the next guy, you will succeed."
Szott talked about his athletic journey, from the standpoint of training as well as the perspective of advocacy. At every stage of his athletic career, in every sport he has pursued, he has been called upon to prove himself, not merely to teammates and coaches, but to officials and credentials committees as well. He said, "A champion is a person who works every day to be the best that he [or she] can be, and if I can leave any [lesson] from my experience, that's what I'd like to leave with you today: In whatever you do and wherever you are, if you work every day to do the best that you can, that's really all you can do, and you can feel proud about doing that."
Miller concluded the presentation on sports and recreation by reminding everyone in the audience: "...in your community, you are entitled to the sports and recreational programs that are offered. If you don't get them, call me, and we will look into the possibility of having either the heavy hand of the law, or perhaps a visit from Kevin Szott [solve the problem]!"
Following the report from Miller and Szott, Judy Dixon from the National Library Service -- and a member of the ACB -- spoke to the convention about library services for people who are blind and physically disabled. She noted that the NLS has been concentrating on moving many recorded magazines from flexible disk to audiocassette. In the last year, 12 magazines have been converted to the cassette format, and several have been replaced, either by their successors (e.g., "Smart Computing" replacing "Computer Life," "Bon Appetit" for "Eating Well"), or by new selections which more accurately reflect the interests of the reading population (e.g., "The Writer" instead of "Working Woman"). Next year, another 10 magazines will convert from flexible disk to audiocassette, and in 2001, the final 10 audio- disk magazines will convert.
In addition, the NLS Web Braille Project is prepared to release 25,000 braille-formatted books on the Web Braille link at the NLS web site. The files, which became available in September, can be downloaded by users. To access Web Braille books, users will need to request passwords from their cooperating libraries. In the future, users will be able to access new braille books through an online "Braille Book Review."
The library has changed -- and improved -- its braille mailing containers. By the end of the calendar year, NLS expects to have more than 10,000 new containers in circulation, and within a couple of years, Dixon said, "we will have completely replaced those former horrible, nasty braille mailing containers!" To find links to "Talking Book Topics," "Braille Book Review," and Web Braille, visit the NLS web site, http://www.loc.gov/nls.
NLS has also been devoting considerable effort to developing a digital talking book system. Dixon said that five elements guide NLS in the process of making changes: (1) NLS offers a free library system, comparable to free public libraries which standard-print reading citizens may use. Playback equipment which facilitates reading is just one component of this free system. (2) NLS is consumer-driven. Consumer involvement is critical to maintaining an effective and responsive library service. (3) NLS pays no royalties to copyright holders. In return, access to recorded books and magazines must be limited to eligible users only. (4) The NLS program is accessible to a variety of users, ranging from people with mild visual impairments to those who are totally blind, from children to older adults, from active readers to passive ones, from physically abled to severely disabled. (5) The program■s primary focus is on the recreational and informational needs of patrons.
In the process, she said, NLS assumes that: (1) The next talking book system will be digitally based; (2) The current 15/16 audiocassette system will be in place for the next seven to 10 years; and (3) that NLS will use a standard or slightly modified version of a widely used consumer product to gain the cost benefits of mass production. The anticipated change in format will almost certainly affect every aspect of the system, from recordings through distribution. Dixon said that library patrons should not underestimate the complexity of such a major systems change. NLS has identified 20 tasks which may be associated with the design and implementation of the next- generation talking book system. You can see this list in a publication called "Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future." Copies are available from the NLS Reference Section. The NLS does not know yet what the physical aspects of the system will look like; they are still in the planning process.
The next speaker was Barbara Caruso, a Talking Book narrator for the American Foundation for the Blind. "Nothing means as much as Talking Books to me," Caruso said, "because it was there that I honed all my skills." Caruso, who has been reading Talking Books since 1974, explained that many narrators for AFB are actors and actresses. "I'm very proud of my colleagues," she said. "Many of us are great mates even outside of the studio."
The work of reading Talking Books is very demanding, and takes a great deal of concentration and energy, she said. The readers themselves spend a lot of time on research, assuring that their pronunciation and accents are absolutely accurate. The recording process is monitored closely by someone who reads along with the narrator so that the narrated text is completely comparable to the printed text. "The important thing is to give you, the reader, the impression that this is the first time the story is being told." So she imagines herself reading to one person in particular. She works hard to personalize her delivery, and to give each book freshness and spontaneity.
A member of the audience summed up the general consensus of the convention: "I want you to know that I've never heard a blind person complain, in any way, about talking books. We are so eternally grateful for your skills and those of your colleagues. I am in my seventies, and ... I have never found a federal program which did what it was supposed to do as well as the NLS does."
Charlson talked to the assembled convention about the importance of maintaining the traditionally high quality of Talking Books. Every year, AFB's talking-book production program is in jeopardy because of the high cost of producing recorded books in New York City. "If you're concerned about keeping the quality of reading and narrators that we get out of the AFB program," he said, "then you need to let two entities know. One is the American Foundation for the Blind itself, because there are times when it's very hard to justify the finances to keep such a small program going. And, secondly, the National Library Service -- you need to let them know that you care about this group of talented readers available to all of us who listen to their words via Talking Books."
The convention next dealt with some resolutions. Then Pat Beattie, ACB treasurer and Resource Development Committee chairperson, spoke to the convention about new fund-raising directions, including cause-related marketing programs, such as long-distance calling or online shopping services which allocate a certain percentage of their revenues to participating non- profit organizations. She asked the convention for feedback on pursuing the long-distance calling programs. "Are you interested in our pursuing a rate of 7.9 cents per minute for interstate long-distance calling, particularly because it would add another feature: We could add onto your bill a monthly charge of $5.00, which would give you the option every month of donating about $4.00 to the American Council of the Blind? ... In exchange for your getting that cheap rate, you would be donating regularly to ACB." The assembled convention was divided on this matter. Beattie said that the Resource Development Committee has been divided as well, and that the committee will try to develop a proposal.
Another fund-raising idea is online shopping. "We are looking, right now, at Greater Good ... This is an online shopping service which would give us a 5 percent revenue from the money spent online. We are looking only if the sites that we access are accessible to us as blind and visually impaired computer users."
Finally, the committee is looking at formalizing a plan for planned giving. All of these fund-raising efforts will augment the money we receive from the thrift stores and from donations. She thanked ACB members for their support.
The next topic presented to the convention was the ACB constitution. Kathey Wheeler read proposed amendments to the assembled convention for their consideration. Further discussion and votes were scheduled for subsequent days.
The session ended with consideration of several resolutions.
International speakers and American rehabilitation information, including employment issues, shared the platform today. The first speaker of the day was Michael Simpson, who is in charge of fund-raising for the Royal Blind Society of Sydney, Australia, which is the largest service organization for blind people in that country. In addition, he is the president of Blind Citizens Australia (the "down-under" version of the ACB), and vice chair of the group which is charged with implementing the Disability Discrimination Act of Australia.
The mission of Blind Citizens Australia, Simpson indicated, is to achieve equity and equality via empowerment of blind Australians, by promoting positive community attitudes, and by striving for high-quality and accessible services which are responsive to the needs of people who are blind. The needs of blind Australians and the needs of blind Americans are very similar, Simpson said. Social Security issues are high on the agenda of the Australian consumer organization.
On the other hand, Australia is somewhat ahead of America in the area of making traffic signals accessible to blind travelers. "Australia has been installing audio-tactile pedestrian signals for the last 15 or 20 years." Although Australians are very proud of their accessible signals, there are still problems in some instances -- where many traffic authorities re turning them off at night. When a blind gentleman in Queensland lodged a complaint about an inaccessible traffic signal, he was offered a free taxi ride to his home every evening. "What a dilemma!" Simpson said. "Did he take the free taxi ride every night, or did he stand in solidarity with his blind friends?" He stood in solidarity with his blind brothers and sisters -- refusing the free taxi trip and insisting that the traffic signal in question be turned on. "We believe very much in Australia that if one blind person is being discriminated against, then we are all being discriminated against. The key issues that we're dealing with are very similar to yours: access to information, to buildings and the built environment, employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired people, education of blind children - - in particular, education using braille, for blind children -- and problems with specialized services and blindness agencies."
In closing, Simpson told the convention that Blind Citizens Australia is leading Australia's management and work on the Fifth General Assembly of the World Blind Union, which will be held in November 2000, in Melbourne, Australia. He encouraged members of the ACB to attend.
The next speaker was Masahiro Muratani, President of the Japan Federation of the Blind, who said, "When Japan was defeated in World War II, in 1945, the disabled persons in Japan were set free." At that time, disabled people began to establish their own organizations. The Japan Federation of the Blind was established in 1948. Because of their efforts since then, many laws have been passed and conditions have improved for people who are blind.
Next, members of a panel addressed the high unemployment rate of blind people across the United States. "These are very interesting times," Crawford said, "for ... vocational rehabilitation." Some administrators -- like Chuck Young from Oregon, and Bill Gibson from Utah, both directors of state rehabilitation agencies -- understand the need for diversified consumer input to ensure that the decisions which are made in rehabilitation blend in the best thinking of the consumer community.
"The rehabilitation system," Crawford continued, "relies upon a partnership between the federal government, which gives the money and the mandate, and the states which provide the administration and the services." The ratio of federal dollars to state dollars is usually around 75-to-25 percent. "We all know the history of rehabilitation in the sense that there are a lot of promises in the Rehabilitation Act. Those promises [are expressed through] an agreement between the counselor and the consumer, who is supported by training and services and equipment. The second element of the rehabilitation service delivery system is placement, and getting a job. Now, if it all worked out that simply, we wouldn■t even have this panel today." The reality is that it isn't that simple. There are issues which we as consumers and advocates need to be paying attention to. As consumers, we need to be educated about the requirements and constraints on agencies, so we can move the process along as quickly as possible. Also, resources are always an issue, and we want to be sure that there are adequate resources available to meet our needs.
On the other hand, we have the right to expect that agencies which are providing services recognize that organized consumers have a point of view. The 13 principles of consumer cooperation represent a tangible expression of these goals.
Crawford introduced Dr. Brenda Cavenaugh from Mississippi State University■s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, to talk about the importance of categorical services. Her research compared outcomes for blind consumers who had received services from non-categorical agencies with those for consumers who had been served by agencies for the blind. "Separate agencies for the blind have sprung into existence," Cavenaugh said, "because general rehabilitation agencies have failed to meet the vocational rehabilitation needs of blind persons." She initiated her research in response to the debate which ensued during the reauthorization of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, when the National Council on Disability (NCD) recommended that non-categorical agencies might do a better job for blind consumers than agencies for the blind. The data which she has collected does not support the NCD point of view.
Cavenaugh looked at data on outcomes for blind consumers who received rehabilitation services from 1989 through 1997. She found that separate agencies served a higher percentage of people whose disabilities were the most severe and who had the greatest needs for a continuum of services. Separate agencies spent about one-fourth more money to provide services than non-categorical agencies, and closed a higher percentage of their cases. Separate agencies closed a higher percentage into the Business Enterprise Program, the Randolph-Sheppard program, in self- employment, in competitive labor work status, and in extended employment outcomes. Separate agencies closed fewer people into homemaker status, and fewer into unpaid family worker status. Earnings for blind people who were rehabilitated by separate agencies were greater than those of people whose rehabilitation was provided by cross-disability agencies.
The final presenter from the employment panel was Jim Gibbons, president of National Industries for the Blind. "It's important for us, and for the world around us, to have high expectations of our abilities and capabilities," Gibbons said. He thanked ACB for its work to incorporate the consumer viewpoint into the vocational rehabilitation process.
Gibbons described the processes he has gone through to find work. Even with excellent credentials -- including an engineering degree from Purdue University, and a master■s from Harvard Business School, a track record of accomplishments and promotions from AT&T -- the process of getting his feet in the proverbial company doors has been challenging, and considerably more frustrating and time-consuming than similar job-search experiences of his sighted colleagues. Nonetheless, he was able to succeed at AT&T and in other companies in the for-profit sector.
That shift from the for-profit, technology-driven business sector to the blindness field has been another major challenge for Gibbons. "During the decision-making process," he said, "I thought, do I want to be an influencer [as a successful blind businessperson], or do I want to be an impacter on the lives of blind people? ... I chose, for professional reasons and for personal reasons, to lead National Industries of -- and for -- the Blind through a challenging time in our history."
He advised the audience, "We have to start with the attitude that there is opportunity, and we've got a lot to bring to the party! Talking in terms of what we can do, instead of what we can't, has always been the technique that I've used, in searching for employment opportunities. Opportunity is that crossroads of preparation and luck,...and in our case, that preparation line is probably about 10 times bigger than the luck line. We've got to have a lot of preparation, and a little bit of luck to go a long way."
He believes that specialized, focused services are key to that preparation and to successful competition with others in the job market. NIB has had a long, positive relationship with the ACB, he said, and he hopes to strengthen and improve that relationship. "The old monopoly world that we thrived in has changed ...Great environmental changes are taking place in government procurement ... and in terms of key supply management activities. These ... major business issues threaten the opportunities that we provide. We are addressing those issues, building new capabilities, and we will focus more energy, not only on creating more manufacturing opportunities, but more service opportunities [as well]."
He said that NIB has just introduced a new marketing campaign which will focus on presenting the capabilities of blind people, with the goal of diffusing the entry-level barriers that so many of us have faced. He also believed that the relationships he has established throughout the corporate world can be tapped to create opportunities for blind people in the for-profit sector. "We have not defined a specific marketing campaign, or [determined] specific goals and objectives, yet," he said. "But my intentions are to take the capabilities that we build [in the federal sector] and port those into the commercial marketplace."
Cynthia Towers reported to the convention on her activities over the past year, which included making four sets of minutes for board activities, keeping records on convention proceedings, and working on four committees. One committee -- the Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss -- became an affiliate. Another, the women's concerns committee, will be producing an audiocassette aerobics program for blind women by blind women.
Towers described the work of the multicultural affairs committee, which had presented a seminar to its members on the topic of forming broader coalitions with others in the community. In addition, committee members have held discussions on mentoring other visually impaired people in their communities. Patti Sarchi and her committee have given the deaf-blind a heads-up about what's going on in the area of telecommunications by means of a seminar on the subject. Towers expressed her appreciation for their good work.
The convention then turned its attention to elections. Ed Bradley prefaced his presentation of the nominees by thanking Steve Speicher once again for his valuable services as second vice president.
Paul Edwards was elected for another term as president by acclamation of the convention.
When the call was made for nominations from the floor for the office of first vice president, Cathie Skivers placed into nomination the name of Chris Gray. Speaking on Gray's behalf were Skivers and Sue Ammeter of the Washington Council of the Blind. "... as a longtime person in this organization, I would like to have ... I really think that we need to concentrate on what people in this organization want, hearing from the grass roots, and I think Chris can do that for us," Skivers said. "One reason I think he's going to do that [is] because he's in California and there's a lot of us and we'll yell at him if he doesn't do that."
Brian Charlson's speakers were Sanford Alexander and Al Gayzagian. "I'm not going to spend a lot of time going down the resume of his accomplishments and position," Alexander said. "But I would want to address to the membership a couple of concerns that we have. We've heard from Charlie Crawford, and from Paul, that we are in times that hold challenges for us. We have things that as blind and visually impaired people we know are important to us that we need. We have, however, an environment outside of our system that is less than friendly, might even be classified as hostile. We need people who understand not only what we inside of the blindness system need to be able to operate and perhaps even survive, but we need people that also know how the structure outside of our system operates and lives."
While the standing and roll call votes were being counted, Byington presented resolutions. Speicher thanked his listeners for their support, and Paul Edwards for inviting him to run for a board seat. Edwards thanked Speicher for all his good work.
Brian Charlson received 602.5 votes (55.58 percent), and Chris Gray received 481.5 (44.42 percent), making Charlson the winner. Charlson requested the floor. "I'm sorry; I'm a little jittery," he said. "You guys can give a person a scare, I want you to know. I want to first thank those of course who voted for me, but I want to assure those who did not that if there's something I've done during the past four years that you're concerned about, that my phone number is open, my e-mail is open, and I'd like to hear about it and see what we can do to correct it. You need to know that 20 years ago ... Chris Gray was in my wedding as one of my groomsmen. You also need to know when he ran for the board I was his campaign chairman back in Utah. We can work together in this organization. We always have, and we always will. Thank you very much."
Chris Gray thanked his supporters. "We're here for each other, that's really what it's all about, and I think we're all going to go on working together," he said.
The next office available was second vice president. Pam Shaw was the nominee; she was elected by acclamation. "I understand your vote to say three things," she said. "First, you're saying that you do believe that I am capable of serving you in this capacity. But second, I think you were saying that you expect me to listen to you at all times, and third, that you trust me to act in your best interest. And I commit to you to always do that. Thank you."
The next person on the list was Cynthia Towers, nominated for secretary. She too was elected by acclamation. "Does that mean I have to do the minutes again?" she asked, teasingly. "Thank you so very much for your support ... for believing in me ... for being the great organization that you are. I hope to continue to learn, to work, to grow, and to get to know all of you better in my next two and final two years as your secretary."
The last position was the post of treasurer, and the nominee was Patricia Beattie. The convention elected her by acclamation also. "Thank you, ACB," she said. "I really appreciate your continued support, and now I guess I'll just have to keep checking those numbers ■ and that's my job. Thanks for letting me do it one more time."
To fill Pam Shaw's empty seat on the board of directors, the convention elected Sanford Alexander of Kansas. "There are very few times I think I've been close to speechless, and I think this is definitely one of them," Alexander said. "... I have the privilege now to serve you in helping that airplane get up off the runway. Thank you very much."
The rest of the session dealt with amendments and resolutions.
A great deal of Friday's session dealt with resolutions. However, there was time for ACB treasurer Pat Beattie to present a report. "American Council of the Blind is in great financial shape, and I'm pleased to report that to you," she stated. "When I first came on the board about 11 years ago, we had to pay our own way ■ airline tickets and rooms ■ and we were broke, had laid off staff, etc. So we've come a long way in this last decade of the 20th century. What I've tried to do in my tenure as treasurer is to be the voice of you as your elected representative on the financial matters, and I■ve worked closely with the budget committee ... I'm also, of course, working closely with our new executive director and the president in making some of the decisions that need to be made on the spot ... There is just no question but on a day-to-day basis to make sure that your rules, your policies, the constitution and the will of the board, your elected representatives, is carried out in as fair and as business-like a manner as possible."
She stated that Jim Olsen and his staff were the backbone of the finances of the organization. "His stewardship is just yeoman," she said. "But he agonizes over some expenditures that sometimes Paul and I'll say, 'Let's just do it. It's for the good of the organization.' But he wants to be sure that indeed it is authorized."
Beattie mentioned the PriceWaterhouse audit of ACB's accounts for 1998 as compared to 1997. Revenues for 1998 totaled $1,743,000, down a bit from $2,177,000 in 1997. Expenditures were about the same, $1,629,000 in 1998, compared with $1,623,000 in 1997. Net assets amounted to $2,682,000 for 1998. "The good news also is that we have, at the end of 1998, $550,000 in reserves in the American Council of the Blind accounts, and another $350,000 reserves in ACBES, for a total now in reserves of $900,000," she said. In the long-range plan, the goal was $1 million; "we're getting there, folks." As of May 31, ACB is right on target financially, she noted. "I would encourage all of you state affiliates, national special-interest affiliates, and individuals, either through your life members or perhaps some planned giving, remember to keep ACB in your thoughts and in your advocacy. It does take resources to do this work." Her report was accepted.
Following several resolutions and amendments, first vice president Brian Charlson gave his report. "Simply let me tell you that it's been my pleasure to continue to perform the functions of first vice president, which include oversight of two committees, those two committees being the information access committee ... and the membership committee ... Both of those committees have been very active throughout the year, both of them have been quite successful in their activities, and I think that many people here have participated in those processes." In addition, Charlson has represented ACB in the North American- Caribbean region of the World Blind Union, which meets twice annually, and on a trip to Madrid, Spain. He has also participated in the information access task force, being in contact with Microsoft, IBM and others, in cooperation with AFB, NIB and AER. "We do not work in isolation, we work in partnership, and it's been very, very successful at getting us into the doors of these companies to speak to them about issues as early in the process as possible," he said. "Seldom do we get everything we want. Seldom, in fact, can we tell them what we demand that they do. But we certainly can do our best to influence their business decisions. We tell them what we need out of the product; we do not tell them how to accomplish it." This practice has been very successful, he noted.
After several more resolutions, John Horst presented his convention report. There were 1,200 people who actually registered. "Of course, there are always additional people who show up," Horst stated. Counting exhibitors, there were more than 1,500 people in attendance at the convention, 89 exhibit booths, and about 525 volunteers. He thanked the convention committees and Cathie Skivers for their hard work, and the audience for its patience with the move of exhibits to the Marriott Hotel.
The remainder of the session dealt with resolutions and amendments to the constitution and bylaws.
Executive Director Charlie Crawford presents his report to the convention.
Michael Byington presents a resolution to the convention.
ACB Lions president Alan Beatty, Milly Lillibridge, Lions International President Jim Ervin, and ACB President Paul Edwards share a smile with the photographer after the general session.
Julie Carroll explains a resolution from a microphone on the convention floor.
Dr. Stuart Wittenstein of the California School for the Blind tells the convention about the school■s summer academy programs.
Steve Speicher, standing on the platform at the speaker■s microphone, focuses on the long-range plan.
Oral Miller and Kevin Szott stand together, wanting the best for America's blind athletes, and smiling for the photographer.
Barbara Caruso, speaking from the platform microphone, tells the convention how much she enjoys recording talking books.
Rudy and Anne Thompson share a quiet moment with ACB President Paul Edwards during the life members■ reception.*****
At the 38th annual convention of the American Council of the Blind, the life membership pool grew by 14 people. The new group of honorees was evenly split between those who were honored by their affiliates and individuals who stepped forward on their own to join the group. Current life member Rudolph Thompson of Philadelphia honored his wife, Anne Thompson, with a life membership. Alice Johnson of Denver, Colo.; John McCann of Alexandria, Va.; Anna Porter of Lancaster, Pa.; Bernard Werwie of Arlington, Va.; Amanda Lee of Alexandria, Va.; and Kirby Sullivan of Moore Haven, Fla. also stepped up to join the ranks. Those honored by their past or present affiliates were: Charlie Crawford of Silver Spring, Md. (given by Bay State Council); Dawn Christensen, Holland, Ohio; Ken Emmons, Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Leroy Price of Whitehall, Pa.; Calvert Durden of Tallahassee, Fla.; Sue Ammeter of Seattle, Wash.; and Pat Price of Indianapolis, Ind. ACB President Paul Edwards tried unsuccessfully to contact Pat Price by telephone from the stage at the opening session of the convention, but he said that when someone like Pat Price receives an ACB life membership, you as an officer have to go that extra mile to make a phone call to honor such an individual.
All new life members should be honored for their many and varied contributions to ACB, their state affiliates and local chapters. If any individuals or affiliates are interested in finding out more about ACB's life membership program, I encourage you to contact ACB Assistant Treasurer Jim Olsen in the Minneapolis office at (800) 866-3242. Here's hoping we have another bumper crop of new life members at the Louisville convention next year.*****
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 National Organization on Disability recently announced its VOTE! 2000 Campaign, a non-partisan effort to increase the number of voters with disabilities by 700,000 in the year 2000 elections. The campaign has three objectives: to conduct a get-out-the-vote drive; to increase registration nationwide of people with disabilities; and to ensure that the nation■s 120,000 polling places are accessible to all voters with disabilities. Jim Dickson, the campaign director, said in a press release, "If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as the non-disabled, 7 million more votes would have been cast in the last presidential election. We are the 'sleeping giant' of American politics." People with disabilities usually vote at a rate 20 percent below non-disabled voters.
PULSE DATA MOVES
Pulse Data International, the manufacturer of the SmartView Reading Machine, has moved! he new address is 351 Thornton Rd., Suite 119, Lithia Springs, GA 30122-1589. The toll-free number remains the same, (888) 734-8439; the local number and fax have changed to (770) 941-7200 (phone) and (770) 941-7722 (fax).
FOCUS ON ACCESS
The Mississippi State University RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision will conduct its annual training conference entitled "Focus on Access Technology for Persons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired" March 29-31, 2000 in Minneapolis. The hotel is the Hilton Minneapolis and Towers. For more information, contact John Maxson at (662) 325-7824.
Christian Record Services, Inc. of Lincoln, Neb. has several magazines available in braille and on tape. "Children's Friend" is a quarterly magazine for preteens that features character-building stories. It is available in braille. "Young & Alive" provides quarterly reading material for teens and young adults; topics include personal relationships, sports, hobbies, health, and practical Christian living. It is available in braille. "Christian Record" is a quarterly devotional magazine for adults; it is available in braille. It presents articles of contemporary interest, including "Dimensions of Health." If it's in-depth Bible lessons you're looking for, check out "The Student." It is a braille and cassette magazine featuring such lessons, and subjects such as earth's last-day events, the Christian's life and work, the path of faith, and Christian maturity. It is published monthly, and contains Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. "Christian Record Talking Magazine" is a variety magazine for teens and adults containing interviews, inspirational articles, and a health feature called "Healthwatch." It is published monthly. "Encounter" is for late teens and adults; it is published bimonthly on cassette. It features a sermon of the month, answers questions from the Bible, and delves into Bible prophecy. Christian Record Services also has a talking book lending library of 1,700 titles in a wide variety of interest areas. For more information, contact the company at PO Box 6097, Lincoln, NE 68506-0097 or call (402) 488-0981.
EYE HEALTH PROGRAM
The National Eye Health Education Program of the National Eye Institute recently established a Low Vision Public Education Program. This program aims to increase awareness of low vision and its impact on quality of life. The program includes a consumer media campaign (print, radio and TV ads); educational material; an outreach program; a traveling exhibit that will be on display in shopping malls; a toll-free number for consumers to order those educational materials; and information on the NEI web site.
Have you ever wanted a computer, but been unable to afford it? Well, there is an answer out there. To obtain a computer, you must know the keyboard or complete a touch typing course. This can be done by using "Touch Typing in Ten Easy Lessons," which is available at your talking book library; by taking a free home study typing course from the Hadley School for the Blind (800-323-4238); or by going to a local high school or community college and taking a class. You then pay a $30 fee to cover the cost of packing and shipping. You can receive a 386 or 486 CPU, monitor and keyboard if you demonstrate your interest by reading the provided recorded tutorials and practicing on DOS, WordPerfect, and the screen reader commands. If you lose interest, return all the materials so that another person can use them. The cost of access software is your responsibility. Your state rehabilitation program may purchase the screen reader, modem, printer and other equipment; consult your counselor. For more information, contact Robert Langford, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, TX 75238; phone (214) 340-6328.
Have you been looking for that special someone, yet can't seem to meet him or her? Special Singles may just have the answer. Special Singles is an organization for disabled people that will facilitate social contacts for the purpose of friendship through phone conversations, e-mail pen pals and, if desired, dating or marriage. It is run by Rev. Doris Waters, a retired Lutheran pastor and former social worker, and Barbara Rowens, a school guidance counselor. For more information, call (610) 891-9755; visit http://www.specialsingles.com; or write Special Singles, PO Box 1381, Media, PA 19063.
The Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind recently announced a national employment recruitment initiative to attract blind and low-vision Americans interested in employment opportunities in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. This program lets the Columbia Lighthouse gather resumes and create a database of people looking for work in the area, and will assist recruits in identifying job and internship opportunities. For more information, contact the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, National Employment Recruitment Initiative, 1421 P St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005; phone (202) 462- 2900.
FOR SALE: Computer with Windows 95, ZoomText, JAWS and laser printer. Asking $1,500 or best offer. Includes shipping. Contact Rosemir at (510) 233-6105.
FOR SALE: VTEK CCTV with 15-inch black-and-white monitor. In excellent condition; about four years old. Asking $1,500. Call Steve R. at (219) 531-0954.
FOR SALE: APH Handicassette-II four-track player/recorder with rechargeable batteries and compressed speech. Under warranty until April 8, 2000. Asking $100. Contact Richard Brock, 15806 Fernway Rd., Shaker Heights, OH 44120-3356; phone (216) 751-9134.
WANTED: Sharp talking calculator/clock. Write or call Robert Feinstein, 1750 E. 14th St. #2E, Brooklyn, NY 11229; e-mail [email protected]; phone (718) 627-0713.
20330 NE 20TH CT.
MIAMI, FL 33179
FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
57 GRANDVIEW AVE.
WATERTOWN, MA 02172
SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
7601 CRITTENDEN ST. #F-2
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19118
556 N. 80TH ST.
SEATTLE, WA 98103
906 N CHAMBLISS ST
ALEXANDRIA VA 22312
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT
2118 NW 21st St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73107
ELIZABETH M. LENNON, Kalamazoo, MI