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Look for coverage of awards which were presented at the 2000 convention, as well as pre- and post-convention board meetings, in the December "Braille Forum."
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Because this year's banquet speaker happened to be a professional entertainer, we were not allowed to tape the banquet. We hope to interview Terry Kelly for a future issue of the Forum. Check out his web site at http://www.terry-kelly.com.
To hear all of the ACB national convention general sessions, visit ACB Radio, http://www.acbradio.org.
The editorial staff wishes to express its gratitude to Ken Nichols for his extraordinary photographic coverage of the 2000 convention, and to Jay Doudna and Mike Duke, without whose excellent recordings and tireless dedication to the task of editing the minidisks and preparing the convention tapes we would not have been able to bring this convention issue to publication.
It is getting very difficult to find a way to say all the things I want and still leave time for any more programming on Sunday night. Not only have I been kept more than busy, but ACB continues to move ahead with an agenda that includes more and more initiatives on which I can report progress. We also continue to operate in an environment which is becoming more complex and hazardous, and where there are more barriers and opportunities emerging every day. This year has been notable in so many ways that I must actually choose the items that I will focus on.
I want to start by suggesting to you that the single most momentous event to occur in the past year was a decision that was made very quietly and without much fanfare by our board. At our September board meeting Chris Gray, Brian Charlson and I proposed that we try to find a way to begin broadcasting on the Internet. By December of last year ACB Radio was launched. In April of this year we expanded from a single radio station to three channels. Since then ACB has produced 10 hours of new programming every week on our mainstream channel, broadcast music by blind musicians 24 hours a day on our cafe channel and offered the finest in old-time radio on our treasures channel. None of this would have been possible had we not been able to employ part-time one of the most capable people I have ever had the pleasure to know, Jonathan Mosen. I would also suggest to you that no single action taken by ACB has done more to make us a household word with blind people all over the world than setting up ACB Radio. Now we have some 2,000 discrete listeners who tune in to ACB Radio every week, and the numbers are growing all the time. We are broadcasting programming from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States and will, within the next few months, launch Spanish-language programming. All the programming on ACB Radio is being produced by blind people for blind people and, in fact, my words are right now being carried live to anyone listening to mainstream around the world.
I wish that I could spend my whole report talking about ACB Radio, but there are other things that have occupied us in ACB this year and not all the news is good. There is growing hostility to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and 10 years after its passage, the Supreme Court has accepted a case which could seriously limit the applicability of this law. More than that, there is a bill in Congress that would seek to say to businesses who have done nothing to remove barriers to access for people with disabilities that they will be protected from complaints for 90 days after someone notices their facility or service is not accessible. The American Council of the Blind will continue to affirm that people with disabilities must and will be protected by the civil rights laws that we worked so hard to get passed. All of you can play a part. When your rights are not being recognized, you must file complaints. The Department of Justice believes that many blind people are simply not standing up for what the law requires. If we do not demand that society include us, we should not be surprised if it does not.
The American Council of the Blind has continued this year to work with other blindness organizations with mixed success. Last fall, Charlie Crawford and I went to Baltimore and met with other leaders of blindness organizations at the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind to develop and implement strategies to safeguard and extend the provision of separate services to people who are blind. While we have worked to see results come out of that initiative, they have been slow to emerge. Nevertheless, along with the NFB, NCSAB, AFB, and other organizations, we are continuing to develop consensus on how the rights of blind people to effective, discrete service delivery can best be protected. We will continue to work to develop a model commission bill and other appropriate documents that will help all organizations of and for the blind to speak with the same voice on this issue. In December, I participated by teleconference with the leadership of NCSAB and continued to try to get that organization to adopt the 13 principles ACB adopted last year by resolution. While I am happy to report that some states have accepted them, we still have work to do and we must continue to press state agencies to accept the accountability that these principles assure.
This year has seen our pedestrian initiative make huge strides forward. The success of that initiative does not lie with ACB at the national level, for the most part. Rather, it has depended on the hard work of state and local affiliates. In Michigan, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere, we are beginning to build community support for the idea that people who are blind have the right to expect to be able to cross the street as safely as everyone else can. We have begun the process of getting language into federal regulations that defines what an accessible pedestrian signal is and, with the assistance of other organizations, have released the second edition of our pedestrian safety handbook. It is sad that all blind people are not working together to lessen the likelihood that people who are blind will die because they do not have the kind of protection the environment can afford. We must and will oppose the notion that still comes from the National Federation of the Blind that accessible pedestrian signals are unnecessary. We will also continue to work to assure that detectable warnings do not remain reserved so that blind people know when they are about to cross a street with a blended curb. This is just one instance where we have found ourselves at odds with the NFB this year.
We continue to work for the adoption of mandates that will assure that descriptive video will be available to some extent on prime-time television. We believe that the Federal Communications Commission will issue rules to assure that this will happen within a month. It is amazing to me that the NFB has chosen to actively oppose these efforts. The motion picture industry has been overjoyed to be able to suggest that blind people don't want descriptive video and that they have the input of a leading organization of blind people to prove it. Sales of described videos, attendance at theaters where described movies are available and increased use of SAP channels when descriptive video is available for television belie this ludicrous assertion. The ACB will continue to argue that descriptive video is an element of the fundamental right of all people who are blind to have the same access to information as others have. We in ACB do not presume to suggest that entertainment and enjoyment are not important. If captioning for people who are deaf grows, we will assure that descriptive video grows as well. This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of descriptive video. We have come a long way but we still have a huge distance to travel. We will work to assure that video description begins to be included on DVD releases and we will continue to fight for the expansion of described television.
There are three areas where ACB and the NFB have worked well together this year. We cooperated on the issue of Social Security linkage and I believe it is a measure of our ability to cooperate that one of the speakers at ACB's legislative seminar was Chris Cox, NFB's legislative person. We also found ourselves working together both at the legislative level and within the blindness community to assure that no person who is only blind should receive less than the minimum wage while employed in an industries program. We have also worked together to promote the emergence of a standard on which publishers can agree that will make it easy to produce books in accessible formats. We have actually made a lot of progress this year and I believe that, over the next year, some sort of agreement will emerge that will make textbooks for children available in electronic form from their publishers which can easily be converted into accessible formats. For the first time children will be able to have books as soon as their peers, as a matter of right.
The ACB continues to believe that the blindness community is too small and too threatened to be divided. We therefore welcome all opportunities for our whole community to speak with a single voice and will continue to cooperate with all who are truly interested in seeing the rights of blind people extended. Among the core values that underpin all that we do are two beliefs. We believe that blind people have the right to expect society to make accommodations to allow people who are blind to fully participate in their communities. We also believe that blind people have the right to choose. In terms of the disability rights movement, this is called consumer choice. Every blind person learning technology should be able to choose what is best for him or her based on being exposed to more than one screen reader or magnifier. Every blind person in rehabilitation should be able to choose where and how he or she is to be trained based on appropriate information about available options. Every blind person ought to be able to choose what job he or she wants and where he or she works.
This last inalienable right of blind people is being threatened by a proposed regulation from the Rehabilitation Services Administration. We are pleased to be able to welcome to ACB Dr. Frederic Schroeder who is the commissioner of that organization and I hope and believe that he will respond to my remarks on this issue. This is a complex regulation and I'm sure that I will be guilty of oversimplifying what I am about to say. For the past several years RSA has been concerned about being certain that rehab counselors work for placements that optimize the ability and potential of consumers with disabilities. Emphasis has therefore been placed on making sure that the person with disabilities is employed in an integrated setting. In essence, this means that extra credit was given counselors who placed people out in the community working alongside people who are not disabled. ACB and NIB have consistently argued that people with disabilities have the right to make an informed choice to work in industry programs. The proposed regulation goes much further than RSA has in the past. It indicates that a placement in a setting that does not meet the test of integration will not count as a successful rehabilitation outcome. It is suggested that people who can't be placed or choose not to be placed in an integrated setting should seek funding from other sources rather than through vocational rehabilitation. Rehab dollars can be used for training and evaluation in industry programs but individuals who declare their intention to work in an industry program that does not qualify as integrated forfeit the right to rehabilitation dollars or to be counted as a successful placement. There are many people who choose to work in industry programs because such programs have set up opportunities for blind people that will actually allow them to earn more money than they are likely to outside of an industry program. The Seattle Lighthouse, for example, has set up a cooperative program with the aircraft industry that allows blind people to earn more than $11 an hour. Yet a person choosing to work in such a program would be declared not countable as a successful rehab closure. Both the 1992 and 1998 amendments of the Rehab Act clearly and unequivocally regard consumer choice as a value that should be paramount in delivering services to people who are disabled. Yet this new regulation seeks to force people not to work in industry programs because they do not meet the integration test and therefore cannot count as a successful rehabilitation outcome.
As if this were not arbitrary enough, supported employment placement is accorded more weight by RSA than a placement earning at or above the minimum wage in an industries program. We in the American Council of the Blind categorically and unequivocally oppose the abrogation of the right of a blind person to choose with full information where he or she chooses to work by a regulation that arbitrarily makes value judgments about the quality of work that is available in an industry program. We will protect the right of blind people to choose to work in industry programs and will oppose the implementation of this new rule.
We are disturbed that the federal government should seek through regulations to categorically limit consumer choice which is a core value of the legislation under which rehabilitation services are provided. We are even more astounded that the National Federation of the Blind is apparently prepared to support a regulation that has the potential of denying thousands of blind people the right to perceive themselves as successful or to receive the ancillary rehab services they deserve because they choose to work in industry programs. Fewer than 170 people who are only blind are working for less than the minimum wage in industry programs affiliated with National Industries for the Blind. Thousands of blind people are working at well above the minimum wage in such programs. They perceive themselves as successful. This regulation would brand them failures. It would also make it less likely that rehab would look to industry programs as appropriate placements for those who might choose to work in such programs. How can an organization that claims to be a proponent of consumer choice as the NFB claims to be support this regulation?
I am not going to spend as much time on internal ACB affairs this year because you will hear as the week goes on from the other officers of ACB and from our executive director who will tell about the work that they have been doing and the activities they coordinate. I must tell you about one exciting change that has taken place during this year. ACB decided to create a new position that would work to coordinate the efforts of ACB and the American Council of the Blind Enterprises and Services program which runs the thrift stores that raise much of the money we at ACB use to operate. I am very pleased to inform all of you that Jim Olsen was appointed as both organizations' chief financial officer. I cannot think of anyone more suited to help us build a seamless program of cooperation than Jim and would ask all of you to join with me in congratulating Jim on his new position. I would not be able to do all the things I do as president were it not for the hard work of the board of directors and of those in the national office. I particularly want to acknowledge our executive director, Charles Crawford. His energy and enthusiasm and hard work have made my job much easier. Our organization is growing. Circulation of "The Braille Forum" has increased 7 percent over the past year. There is a reason why we are attracting more people. We are the organization that consistently seeks to see to it that real change happens in the lives of people who are blind. I pledge to you that as president of ACB I will continue to act as your steward. Like any good steward, I get to taste the wine. I have had the chance to sample affiliates from all over the country this year. Our mid-year meeting is growing and we held our largest legislative seminar ever. Our web site under the able leadership of Earlene Hughes continues to grow from strength to strength. Many of our affiliates are growing as well. That is a sign of health. We still have a great deal to do but I believe this has been a year of immense achievement both for ACB and people who are blind. That is a credit to all of the members of ACB, not to me.
As I said at the start of this report, I can only cover the highlights. Many accomplishments and concerns are not included here. I want to end this report with a challenge. Next year we will be 40 years old and we will meet in Des Moines. Incidentally, my presidency will come to an end there as well. I challenge ACB to work with me this year to give us even more to celebrate in Iowa. Help me by coming to Des Moines ready to celebrate a growth in every single affiliate! Help me by working at home and nationally to make sure that the new millennium will be as rich with rights upheld and extended for people who are blind as we can make it! Let's work this year to make our streets safe for blind people and to make the information highway a place where blind people can drive. Let's make this the year when we reach out to each other and embrace success! May all of us as individuals and organizations welcome the new millennium proud of who and what we are and determined to show the world, whether it cares or not, that we and ACB are determined to be all that we can be!
Paul Edwards presents his annual "State of ACB" message to the convention.
Each year ACB members look forward to the national convention, where exhibits of accessible, adaptive technology abound, an ever-widening variety of meetings, meals, and tours take place, and there are countless opportunities to get together with friends old and new. This year's eight days of convention met every expectation!
"Welcome to the 39th annual convention of the American Council of the Blind!" said ACB President Paul Edwards to an expectant audience that filled the ballroom in Louisville's Galt House Hotel. Then everyone stood while the color guard from the Kentucky Air National Guard marched down the center aisle, bearing the American and Kentucky flags, with boots clunking and commands flying.
After the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and an invocation, Bradley Mann sang "My Old Kentucky Home." Then, Kentucky Council of the Blind president Eugene Willis gave a welcoming address. "Hello, ACB, and how y'all doing? ... This is a dream come true to stand on this stage and welcome what I feel is the greatest organization of blind people in the world!...we just want to say welcome to our old Kentucky home, ACB!"
Russ Maple, "A" District Commissioner for Jefferson County, welcomed visitors to the area. "It is indeed a pleasure ... to be able to officially welcome you ... to our community. I have been involved [with KCB] since 1973 ... It was a great pleasure to see this organization grow from what it was then until what it is now and to know in my heart and in your hearts what it will be and what it can be."
The report of the president, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue, dealt with a year of accomplishments and the challenges which still exist for blind and visually impaired people.
Edwards ended his report with a challenge: "Next year we will be 40 years old, and we will meet in Des Moines. Incidentally, my presidency will come to an end then as well. I challenge ACB to work with me this year to give us even more to celebrate in Iowa. Help me by coming to Des Moines ready to celebrate a growth in every single affiliate! Help me by working at home and nationally to make sure that the new millennium ... will be as rich with rights upheld and extended for people who are blind as we can make it. Let's work this year to make our streets safe for blind people and to make the information highway a place where blind people can drive. Let's make this the year when we reach out to each other and embrace success. May all of us as individuals and organizations welcome the new millennium proud of who and what we are and determined to show the world whether it cares or not that we in ACB are determined to be all that we can be."
Next, Edwards introduced Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the convention's keynote speaker. "When I was a very young person, in 1978," Edwards began, "I first met Fred Schroeder. We were part of an AER panel on orientation and mobility ... Dr. Schroeder was on the panel before me ... [he] made an impassioned and very effective statement on the subject of why a totally blind person ought to be an orientation and mobility instructor. And by the time [he] was finished, ... the folks who were listening ... didn't care what I said, because they were already too mad! But, since 1978 Ižve gotten to know Dr. Schroeder well and ... I don't think there are very many blind people in the United States of America who are as committed to the interests of blind people."
Schroeder remembered that panel, too, stating, "I hope that this evening isn't a repeat of the response that I got back then when I sought to enter the field of orientation and mobility."
Schroeder reviewed his administration's major accomplishments of the past eight years. "In those years, rehabilitation has assisted 1,676,900 people with disabilities in going to work, and there is a steady increase in the number of people with disabilities going to work each year," he said. "... In eight years, we now have 37,939 more people going to work each year than we did at the beginning of the administration."
Schroeder outlined modifications to the Rehabilitation Act which RSA has championed during his watch, including strengthening and expanding the choice provisions; broadening the role and strengthening the authority of the rehabilitation councils; incorporating a presumption of eligibility for individuals who receive SSI or SSDI; and giving individuals the right to develop their own employment plans. He then moved to the topic of great concern to many in ACB: the notice of proposed rule-making to remove work at an industries for the blind (workshop) facility from the rehabilitation agency's definition of an allowable employment outcome. "We believe the Rehabilitation Act puts an emphasis on integrated employment, and as a result there has been a steady decrease in the number of people assisted in entering sheltered work through state rehabilitation agencies," Schroeder said. "It's down by about 50 percent over the past two decades, both in real numbers and as a percentage of all successful closures." One concern RSA has attempted to address was rehab agencies' allegedly steering clients to sheltered work as the only available opportunity. "We're not trying to denigrate sheltered work. ... But we are looking at our system and trying to set up an incentive that will push the system to develop integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities."
RSA looked over a variety of its data in trying to understand this issue, Schroeder said. Last year, the rehabilitation system placed 7,765 people nationwide in sheltered work; of those, 89.3 percent were closed at sub-minimum wages. The average hourly wages for people in sheltered work were $2.53, contrasted with $8.65 for people placed in integrated employment. An average work week for those in sheltered workshops was less than 30 hours. Access to health insurance was also limited; at closure, only 16 percent of people in sheltered work had access to health insurance. After two years, only 11.7 percent had insurance. But of people in integrated employment settings, 58 percent had access to health care.
"There is some evidence that blind people overall do better in sheltered work than the rest of the population," Schroeder said. "[But] we believe that the system must be pressed to develop employment opportunities for people that offer the opportunity for upward mobility ... [and] the ability for people to develop in their careers, and our data simply do not show these kinds of upward gains for people placed in sheltered work."
Why an NPRM? "To get perspectives from all people who have a stake in a particular issue, to make certain ... we have a policy that promotes high quality employment [and] real opportunities for integration for people with disabilities, including blind people." One item included in the NPRM is that the rehabilitation agency would be responsible for referring people to a community service provider if they really want industrial-type work. "We're not trying to prevent anybody from entering industrial work who genuinely seeks that as an employment outcome," said Schroeder. "But what it would mean is that the rehabilitation agency would not get credit for the closure unless the individual entered integrated employment ... at or above minimum wage with the exception of supported employment."
One issue the agency scrutinized was whether people develop work skills at non-integrated workshops and then leave that setting for integrated employment. Looking at the last three years of data reported, only 3 percent of people were referred for additional rehabilitation services. "The intent here is to ... line up the incentives, so that when an individual comes through the door ... the system will be compelled to work with that individual to develop his/her potential and not just place the person in the most readily available job, but really develop the [best] kind of employment opportunity ... for the individual," Schroeder concluded.
After the keynote address, President Edwards and CFO, Jim Olsen presented 16 new life members with plaques. (See "ACB Welcomes 18 New Life Members," by Charles S.P. Hodge.) Then Edwards and Olsen presented two affiliate charters: one to the D.C. Council of the Blind (formerly known as the D.C. Association of Workers for the Blind) to acknowledge the chapter's name change; and one to Blind Friends of Lesbians and Gays (BFLAG).
Rochelle Foley gave the initial credentials report. The evening concluded with the roll call of affiliates.
The day's theme was Partnering with Decision Makers and Service Providers. But before the speakers came several resolutions: 2000-19, which congratulates the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its leadership in issuing proposed video description requirements and urges the commissioners to adopt the rule as proposed; and 2000-06, which directs the ACB staff to investigate the issue of business-related tax deductions for guide dog expenses and to insure that the allowability of this deduction is fully understood by Internal Revenue Service officials. Resolution 2000-01, which dealt with the accessibility of door locks and padlocks, was defeated. (A complete copy of the resolutions is available online, as well as in braille, large print, and computer diskette. Contact the ACB national office to request a copy.)
Rochelle Foley presented the final credentials report. Janiece Petersen, D.C. Council of the Blind president, appealed the committee's decision, stating that "our record for having things in on time has been very good up until this year." Petersen explained that DCCB's long-time treasurer, who was sighted, had left the job; the treasurers who succeeded him were totally blind, with difficulties procuring reading help, and one had become ill. "D.C. has 68 members, and turned in $204, and we would like the consideration that ... we did try to solve the problem, but it took a lot longer than we thought it would. I do recognize what the constitution and the rules of the organization say. ... It won't happen again ...," Petersen said.
Foley responded that all membership lists had been sent out between February 11 and February 17, and that she had contacted the national office on June 1, seeking the credentials report. "I believe that their check and their list ... did come in on or about June 12 ... They had 68 members, which would have given them three votes, and the committee voted to recommend that they be seated with two votes this year."
The convention voted against accepting DCCB's appeal, and D.C. was docked a vote. The final credentials report was adopted.
Oral Miller described the convention's Recreation Zone as a place where people could learn about activities like goalball, aerobics, audible darts, and chess. The U.S. Braille Chess Association, Miller said, was slated to hold its national championship tournament at the end of convention week.
Later in the morning, Miller described his interactions with the board of the United States Olympic Committee. "That board consists of 117 people," Miller said. "Ladies and gentlemen, that's not a board, that's an unmanageable mob. And apparently that's been realized by consultants who are in the process of reorganizing that organization ... At that meeting, I had an opportunity to make a number of remarks, [including pointing out] one position that we do not intend to accept ... [is] the iniquitous concept ... of 'separate but equal.'"
Miller told the USOC that "it will not be enough to put disabled athletes off to the side and say, 'We'll do something for them, and that's it.' As an advocate, I'm looking forward to taking part in this process, providing input as the U.S. Olympic Committee does look into this ... whether I'm there wearing a hat connected with the American Council of the Blind, the U.S. Association for Blind Athletes, or other organizations."
Miller noted with pleasure that a number of outstanding blind athletes are participating in training programs at U.S. Olympic Training Centers. He then introduced Trischa Zorn, who was scheduled to speak at the Sports Fanatics' Luncheon that afternoon. Over the years, Zorn has won 41 international gold medals, five silver medals and four bronze medals; she holds six world records, and was scheduled to participate in this yearžs Paralympics.
"When Mr. Miller called me and asked me to come here, I really jumped at the opportunity because ... I've been involved with disabled sports since 1980, and I've heard of the ... American Council of the Blind, but I've never really had the opportunity to come," Zorn said. "I was sitting in the main meeting last night and to see ... so many committed people is a true humbling experience, and I just commend you and I encourage you to follow all your dreams ... if you set a goal, you can reach [it] if you sacrifice and dedicate your life [to it]."
Ralph E. Bartley, superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind, spoke about the goals KSB is attempting to implement. "Many of the things that we want to do here ... involve partnerships ... with you, the American Council of the Blind ... with our business communities ... [and with] a variety of folks to really support the educational system that we have," he said. "KSB has a unique opportunity to be a partner with other folks in terms of providing educational services in the state."
The school is responsible not only for operating the school itself, but also for providing the consultants who contribute technical assistance to the state's 176 school districts, and preparing the braille and large print materials for blind and visually impaired students in those districts. "By 2014, all blind or visually impaired students educated in Kentucky public schools [including KSB] will perform at a level equal to the average of all students in Kentucky," Bartley said. "We've set those high goals, and we intend to do what it takes to make sure that the students we work with ... have an opportunity to access that [standard]." To improve transition outcomes for blind and visually impaired students, Bartley stated that KSB's goal is that by 2014, blind and visually impaired students in Kentucky will transition to post-school activities, including further education and jobs, at the same rate as students who are not disabled.
All blind and visually impaired students in Kentucky must have equal access to technology. "You can't do things academically today, you can't do things in the work force today, if you are not technologically literate," Bartley said. "And as a result we have made major gains in terms of ... just putting the infrastructure in." He noted that by the start of the school year, KSB expects to replace all of its 486 computers with Pentiums. "We faced, like you do, ... the accessibility [issue] ... even the accessibility issues are constantly changing in terms of equipment and the materials that are available. ... We reach out to you and ask for you to join us in this very exciting time in this partnership ... Together I know we can do it."
Rep. Ann Northup from Louisville's Third District said, "People that are elected to public office come from all different perspectives, all different experiences, all different backgrounds ... Certainly they're motivated to run for office because they believe they can make a positive difference in our communities and in the lives of people that live in our communities. But the reality is ... that all of our experiences do not prepare us for meeting the needs of all the different communities that are part of this community and all the communities across the country. And so we depend on learning and understanding, to advocate for public policy based on the communications, the friendships, the alliances that we are able to build through the partnerships in our community."
Public policy has changed over the years, Northup continued. For years, it was a "one size fits all" approach; today, individuals are recognized for their needs and differences. "Today more than ever we are recognizing that we need every American to be able to participate in our communities and in the workplace ... For years, the American systems thought we were doing you a favor. You're doing us a favor. You are participating and contributing to the overall productiveness of our communities, of our workplaces, and we need you! And you should be proud of that fact."
On the subject of specialized services, Northup said, "At this point, I'm convinced that if we lump all disability services into one office and don't have a specific effort to address the blind community's needs, we will diminish the services that are specifically targeted to the blind community, [and] that won't allow you to take advantage of all the other services that we provide the disability community. So while I do believe those partnerships are important, while I do want you to be able to benefit from all the disability services, I am very concerned about any effort in this country to somehow lump it all together and keep records all together and success rates all together. Unless we constantly monitor the specific success rates [of] the blind community separate from the disabled community altogether, I am afraid that those services would begin to lapse." She encouraged ACB members to meet with their elected officials in person, so that they would understand the needs of blind people.
Lori Kay, the new director of WGBH/Descriptive Video Service, discussed ACB's continued partnership with DVS. She thanked ACB for all its support over the years, and requested ACB's help with a program preference survey.
"Paul mentioned something last night ... [about] the FCC mandate," she began. "He's heard through the grapevine and I've heard through the grapevine that there will be an announcement later on this month. We're just so thrilled that the ... FCC is supporting descriptive video just as they supported closed captioning for deaf people."
In other news, Kay told the convention that WGBH/DVS would soon open an office on the west coast. "The reason behind the move to DVS-West is to allow for more programming to be described," she said. "We have taken on a lot of programming for PBS and Turner Classic Movies. Also, at the same time we're trying to grow our Motion Picture Access Project." Fourteen theaters have been equipped with the Mopix technology, and DVS hopes to get those theaters more films to increase the demand for described movies.
Dr. Tuck Tinsley, who has been president of the American Printing House for the Blind since 1989, described some of the history and current programs at APH. "On this day in 1863," Tinsley began, "The Union army was victorious on the final day of the battle of Gettysburg. APH's operation was interrupted by the Civil War. They set us up as a Union hospital, although we were never used. No injured came in. ... I donžt even know if our employees realized that the Union army had wrapped up the victory at Gettysburg ... but if so, I imagine that they all got a couple of shots of bourbon and had a toast ... with the Confederate sympathizers using it as a painkiller and probably the Union just toasting for good cheer."
"APH is unique," Tinsley said. "... APH produces 25 million pages of braille, 25 million pages of large type, and three million cassettes each year. In addition, APH manufactures more than 300 unique products for people who are blind and visually impaired, and is the official source of educational materials for the 58,000 pre-college-level legally blind students in the U.S."
In 1996, APH was adopted by Toyota, which began teaching the staff its production system. "That provided a stimulus for a change," Tinsley stated. "They've worked with us off and on since then. And the Toyota production system works." APH has committed itself to Toyota's four philosophies, he added. Those are: the customer comes first; people are the most valuable resource; continuous improvement; and shop floor focus. "Continuous improvement means always trying to close that gap between what you have and what's ideal," he noted.
"In organizations," he continued, "you have fiefdoms, little groups, cliques and so forth. Shop floor focus says those people who provide products ... [and] services, that's where your focus is. The business office, marketing, the president's office, you're all there to support those people who are getting products out."
"People truly are the most valuable resource," Tinsley said. "To recognize the best employees," he said, "you really have to understand what's important to them. And what's important to today's employees? ... In a tight job market, we're struggling with that. It's really important to realize that they're different, individually and as a group."
How about that focus on the customer? APH has done customer surveys and asked them what they need or want. The organization has asked people for ideas, and even initiated awards for ideas that result in a product. In 1996 there were 10 new products; this year, there are 72 in the works, and 30 others on hold. There will be a new puzzle map of the United States in a month, Tinsley said, "and this thing is dynamic!" It even includes braille labels on the inside of the states, and the states of Alaska and Hawaii.
Tinsley said that continuous improvement is the key element in the Toyota system. APH has taken seven steps to make sure change occurs: setting the goal; setting the organization structure; doing the training; promotion; defusing success stories; having incentives and awards; and performing diagnoses and monitoring. APH's goal, he said, "is to change the culture of work and life at APH by continually reviewing processes and functions to increase efficiency, reduce waste and improve the overall quality of life for the people who work at the American Printing House."
"In quality, you strive for zero defects," Tinsley said. "Often you accept less." He said that the APH tape recorders had been built in China, and that when defective recorders were discovered, they were shipped back to the manufacturers. "Some industries have a zero-defect policy. We are striving for that."
Carol Jordan-Stewart, recording studio director at APH, described the pleasure she has derived from story-telling for the American Printing House. "I have been a narrator in the NLS system for 10 years; I've recorded about 300 books; I've been the studio director now at APH for nearly a year," she said. "Several people have said, 'Oh please, don't stop reading!' and of course my boss is here so I probably shouldn't say this, but I do still sneak into the studio every once in a while. I've been asked to speak about narration, and I wasn't sure how to get started until last night at the reception someone said to me, 'I get so much pleasure out of listening to the books that you read' and without even thinking, I said, 'Almost as much pleasure as I get out of recording the books that you listen to.'"
Being a narrator, Jordan-Stewart said, "is about being a storyteller. It's about taking something that was meant to be taken in through the eyes and translating it into something that comes in through the ears. And much of that translation process ... is about being able to tell a story well."
The tradition of storytelling, she said, goes back to when language was first created. "I suspect our need to tell stories prompted much of language development, and certainly prompted much of its refinement. Our need to make ourselves understood and to understand is very important ... since the power of storytelling lies in the need of the listener to hear the story, the bond between the teller and the hearer is very strong. ... Some of the best moments of my life have been spent alone in a very small room in a basement in front of a microphone."
"The word of the week is 'partner,'" said ACB first vice president Pam Shaw of the theme which would dominate Tuesday's general session, which focused particularly upon ACB's partnerships with industries for the blind, and featured spokespersons from those industries.
The convention first passed several resolutions: 2000-25, dealing with Freedom Scientific; 2000-16, dealing with RSA's proposed rule change; and 2000-04, dealing with accessibility of appliances.
Van Fulghum, nominating committee chairman, presented the committee's report. For the board of publications, the slate included Winifred Downing of San Francisco, CA; Charlie Hodge of Arlington, VA; and Richard Rueda of Whittier, CA. For the board of directors, the nominees were: Dawn Christensen from Holland, OH; Oral Miller, Washington, DC; Mitch Pomerantz, Los Angeles, CA; Jerry Annunzio, Kansas City, MO; and Dr. Ed Bradley, Houston, TX.
Paul Edwards responded to the situation of there being two candidates from the same state by telling the convention that the election itself would eliminate the constitutional problem. "... As soon as one or [the] other of the candidates who have been selected on the slate from California is elected, then the second individual who has been chosen will not be able to run," Edwards explained. "Therefore, someone else will need to be nominated from the floor from another state for a board of publications position."
Edwards proposed further that incumbent positions would be the first ones voted upon, that the convention would elect the board of directors first, and the board of publications last. The convention accepted the nominating committee report and Edwards' proposal for the handling of elections on Friday.
Jim Gibbons, who has been CEO and President of National Industries for the Blind since 1998, began by thanking ACB for its support last year when GSA attempted to close all the federal supply depots. Although GSA has slowed down those closures, Gibbons said, NIB expects, during coming years, to encounter dramatic changes in the distribution system that encompasses the federal government's supply mechanisms and the industries for the blind which supply products to the government.
"... Because of your efforts, the efforts of our associated agencies, [and] grass roots efforts from our employees ... we have committed to work with GSA to ensure that their transition [is] seamless to our government customers, and we ensure that our high-quality products ... are still going to be able to be delivered to the federal customer(s) ... Thank you ... for your support during a very dramatic period of NIB's history."
Gibbons discussed marketing strategies which NIB has been implementing since he became CEO. In the beginning, he said, NIB was "basically a monopoly." Its perception of itself as an agency with guaranteed markets led to such practices as, "when items were added to the federal government procurement list, our practice was to 'wait for the order and ship within 60 days.' That's not good enough for our government customers anymore, with procurement reform and the pressures that are put on all organizations to deliver and meet expectations of customers." NIB and its associated agencies have responded to customer demand by modernizing products. In addition, JWOD.com, where federal employees can order industries-produced products online, has attracted 5,000 new customers since January 1.
NIB created 400 new jobs during 1999, 100 of which were service jobs; wages ranged from $6.50 to $20 an hour. The organization also partnered with a variety of distributors outside the General Services Administration program. NIB is working with them all, he said, "and we are adopting more and more commercial practices to serve our customers, partner with our partners, and most importantly, to demonstrate that we have the capabilities, both organizationally and at the people level, to compete in a commercial environment. ... This year, we're on track to be at least 25 percent year over year growth over 1999. And that has happened because the employees who work in our associated agencies have an attitude that says, 'Bring it on. ... We will take the challenges.' And NIB, with our agencies, has stepped up to the plate to be a customer-facing and a market- facing organization, and we let the market drive us."
Gibbons, who had assured ACB at its legislative seminar in March that he personally favored paying at least minimum wage to blind industries employees whose only disability is blindness, reported that NIB's board had adopted the same position late last spring. "Our board of directors officially took a position to support, encourage and promote the payment of at least the federal minimum wage to persons whose only disability is blindness, and we're going to do that and attack that, in a way that doesn't jeopardize employment and doesn't put persons' or individuals' jobs at risk. ... I believe that it's an issue that we across the blindness system need to work together on to solve." Solutions include working with consumer groups and vocational rehabilitation.
Gibbons said that in 1998, there were 250 "blind-only" employees making sub-minimum wage within the system; in 1999, there were 185. "And I suspect in the year 2000, those numbers will be even lower ... Those sound like small numbers to me because I think about the 350,000 who aren't working, but I know in your hearts as advocates and fighters that that's still a number that you want me to work on, and I commit that we will work on that ... productively but in a manner that meets the needs of individuals."
"It's up to NIB," Gibbons continued, "to reach out to the rest of the blindness system to find those opportunities for blind people. If we can't do that when we know how it works, then how do we expect corporate America to do that and to ensure enabling work environments?"
Gibbons also commented on Schroeder's speech from Sunday. "Dr. Schroeder spoke the other day that 'no policy is perfect, but this moves the ball forward.' I'm not so sure that it might not be a lateral pass, and I think that we need to stand together to ensure that we don't do anything that serves as a disincentive to employment and choice for people who are blind. And I do agree that policies have to move the ball forward, but policies can't be derived based on data from the general disability population for us." NIB will work with ACB, RSA, Congress and whomever else it must, he said, to be sure "that we don't take away opportunity and take away choice."
And where is NIB going? Gibbons said he was trying to move NIB in three directions: one, to ensure that the JWOD Act continues to have value for all stakeholders; two, to partner with NIB-associated agencies; and three, to ensure employment choice and enabling work environments. "Encouragement, engagement, enabling. That's the direction that I'm going, and that's the direction that will ensure that we sustain employment opportunities ... for the people that we exist for."
Janet Griffey, director of rehabilitation service at New Vision Enterprises Foundation, an associated NIB agency in Louisville, told ACB that her agency is providing good jobs for blind people in Louisville. Griffey joined the New Vision Enterprises staff in September 1999. "When Bob Jarboe, our president, hired me, he told me, 'You have a challenge of bringing on other opportunities and choice for people with vision impairments.' And that's what I've done. As of today, we have served 104 people. And that's just within the Louisville area." New Vision now operates VA Hospital switchboards in Louisville and Lexington; those jobs employ 12 people at the Louisville facility, and 10 at the Lexington facility. And two operators have been promoted to switchboard supervisors.
Another job opportunity at New Vision is customer service, Griffey said. Training lasts four weeks; then there are two weeks of hands-on work experiences. The organization has built partnerships with New Life Computers (Eugene Willis' company), and with National City Bank in Louisville.
"I'm proud to say that New Vision pays above and way above minimum wage," Griffey said. "After 30 days of employment, we provide 100 percent paid health insurance to the employee, and for your dependents it is at a group rate, so that allows you to ... support your families. We also provide life insurance, dental, vision [insurance] ... and, probably in the next month or so, we will be starting a retirement plan with a percentage of matching funds. So you can see that New Vision really has a new vision, and it is really focused towards you."
When Pam Shaw introduced Bob Johnson, President of Opportunities for the Blind, she said that the foundation had awarded its largest grant ever to the American Council of the Blind in support of the small business seminar which was occurring at this year's ACB convention.
"The American Council of the Blind, as it says on the cover of 'The Braille Forum,' strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people," Johnson began. "And how fitting it is to have independence listed first among those goals on this day that we commemorate our nation's independence."
How is a small business born? "Often someone sees an unmet need and seeks to fill it," Johnson said. "That's exactly how and why Opportunities for the Blind was created. We knew that there were many capable blind people across this country who desired to advance their careers or business goals but lacked the financial wherewithal to do so. Our first grant was to a 12- year-old seventh grader from the Seattle area who scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of his SAT -- a seventh grade blind child! Today he is a professor at a prestigious school of mathematics, and he has proven to himself and others that blind people can excel in almost any field."
"Opportunities has helped a variety of people," Johnson continued, "including a person who went on to become a well- respected head injury consultant in a major shock trauma program; an attorney who became a circuit court judge; and a Kentucky man who does leather work in the horse trade ... Later this year, Opportunities for the Blind will give away its one millionth dollar in direct financial assistance to the blind."
What does his organization look for when deciding whom to help? Johnson said that, first, the person must demonstrate that he or she has what it takes to be successful; second, he/she should be looking for work in a field where blind people aren't usually working. Financial need can also be a factor, he added. Opportunities for the Blind has formed partnerships with rehabilitation agencies to help various individuals; the company has also offered challenge grants to convince other groups to help. Some of the kinds of things Opportunities has done include: subsidizing the first six months of employment for an individual working at a living history museum in Maine; purchasing equipment for a man who has his own woodworking and stained glass business; providing a computer for a Michigan woman who plans to do medical transcription work at home; supplying start-up costs for a sandwich and salad deli; and contributing a scholarship for a student getting a master's degree in nutritional science.
"If you don't fit someone else's mold, but your idea has merit and you have some matching talent, give us a try," Johnson said. Application deadlines are February 15, May 15, August 15 and November 1; decisions are usually made four to six weeks after the deadline.
Dr. John Buckley, chair of the scholarship committee, presented the 2000-2001 scholarship winners. This year's winners were: Robin Smithtro, Boulder, CO; Ramah Leith, Corvallis, OR; Terry Murphy, Mineola, NY; Dana Patrick, Amarillo, TX; Margaret "Marlow" Koller, Phoenix, AZ; Sandy Marsiglia, York, PA.; Alysa Webb, Colorado Springs, CO; Malcolm Travers, Albany, GA; Judy Jackson, Lubbock, TX; Matt Van Fossan, Pittsburgh, PA; Sathish Sundaram, Cambridge, MA; Kate Loveless, Worland, WY; Samuel Joehl, Chicago, IL; Jeremy Johansen, Santa Barbara, CA; Sam Gruver, Port Angeles, WA; Brian Higgins, Brewer, ME; Ying-chieh Chiang, Stillwater, OK; Heidi Pfau, Colchester, VT; Peter Ince, Berkeley, CA; George McDermith, Colorado Springs, CO; James Konechne, White Lake, SD; Jason Bryant, Huntingtown, MD; Eric Holland, Baytown, TX; Lucille Stern, Wakefield, RI; and Stephanie Partlow, Burlington, NC.
"The digital world," said Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, "is a very interesting place to find oneself, and ... people are saying, 'Why haven't we gotten there yet? Why don't you have a CD-ROM? ...' And I keep saying, 'But it's a very tedious and difficult process to switch.'' In fact, Cylke doesn't anticipate NLS' releasing the first digital product until 2003.
NLS is halfway through the 13-step process which will culminate in a switch to digital products, he stated. The first step was to make the decision to do it; second, there was the announcement in the "Commerce Business Daily"; then specifications were drafted and reviewed by current and potential producers. Cylke said that NLS was finalizing its specifications and expects to have them done by October so as to be included in the 2001 bid process.
To compare costs, NLS conducted a study which identified every cost involved in producing a book on cassette tape. It checked the change in readership rate and circulation growth, as well as the number of machines in use and in the repair shop, and a number of other factors (98 in all). "Now," Cylke said, "we have to plug in the costs for the other media, for example the CD. Or the solid state, which is what we hope we'll get to. And then we have to compare these costs, and then we have to get into the most important part of it: is the new machine ... usable by you in a reasonable way? That's not a cost, but that's the whole human factor side. So I would hope that ... you'd see ... that it's a very lengthy, very sophisticated, very heavy, mind-bending operation."
He asked his listeners to pick a number, then continued. "In approximately 10 to 15 years, what will you have? You will have a system where you can play a book and you will be able to go into specific index points. ... You will have a system that can be as thoroughly checked as it possibly can, and when you realize that this effort conservatively is projected to cost us $150 million, think again when somebody comes up or comes on the radio and says, 'Why are they going so slowly?' You wouldn't have it any other way."
On Wednesday, the convention took up the two issues which many consider the most crucial problems to be solved if blind people are to take their rightful places within mainstream society: access to information, and access to transportation.
The first order of business on Wednesday morning was consideration of resolution 2000-02, which expresses ACB's dissatisfaction with the inaccessibility of Intuit Corp.'s financial software products, including Quicken, Turbotax, and Quickbooks. It urges Intuit to incorporate standard Windows controls, plain (non-graphical) text, and keyboard command capabilities into its software products, and urges Microsoft to revoke its logo approval agreement from Intuit products which run under Windows 95, 98, and NT until or unless Intuit makes changes to make its products accessible to people who are blind.
Discussion which followed Michael Byington's reading of the resolution focused on exactly how inaccessible Intuit's products, particularly Quicken, actually are (with Richard Villa of Texas and John Mattioli of Massachusetts noting that they, in fact, can use the Quicken product), and whether the resolution should go even further than it had -- to state ACB's intent to take legal action if necessary to force Intuit Corporation to take our demands seriously. Amendments were proposed and defeated, and, in the end, the resolution was adopted nearly unanimously.
ACB also sent a message to NATO -- the National Association of Theater Owners, that is! This resolution grew out of comments which the president of that organization, John Fithian, had released in response to a lawsuit which a young man in Oregon had filed against a movie theater concerning their obligation to make films accessible by installing DVS Theatrical technology.
Fithian said, "The lawsuits are contrary to the position of eading national disability rights organizations, counterproductive to the needs of lawyers' clients and wholly lacking in legal merit. ... DVS technology ... provides no assistance to patrons who have been blind since birth, since they have no visual memory. Moreover, audio description can distort the artistic integrity of the film."
ACB expressed its unanimous disdain for this point of view by passing resolution 2000-07, which expresses support for video description, whether provided by a live person or supplemental pre-recorded soundtrack, and urges film producers and theater owners to provide audio description in all newly produced, re-released and restored movies. The convention also passed resolution 2000-36, which tells ACB to support and participate in the collaborative process among blindness organizations, educators, producers of materials in alternate formats, and the publishers who produce textbooks for secondary school children.
Article III, "Membership Voting and Dues," Section B-1 of the ACB constitution was amended by unanimous vote to state, "to remain in good standing, an affiliate shall maintain a membership of at least 13, the majority of whom are blind."
Section A-2 of Article IV, "Officers" was amended to state, "A candidate for the position of director shall be considered to be from the state in which he or she maintains legal residency at the time the election is conducted, and shall be considered to be a resident of that state until the end of that particular term." The majority of members assembled in convention felt that this amendment did nothing more than to, in the words of first vice president Brian Charlson "codify current practice," and the amendment was passed.
Article IV-E was amended, unanimously, to read, žThe Board of Directors shall hold at least three regular business meetings during the year."
With regard to polling of members of the ACB board of directors, the convention voted to prohibit polling by mail or telephone (thereby requiring board members to vote in person).
The convention voted to require all members of the board of directors, including its secretary and treasurer, to be legally blind. Formerly, Article IV-F had excluded the secretary and treasurer from this requirement. There was some discussion about whether the wording should exclude the descriptor "legally," but the consensus of the group, as expressed in their vote, was that the term "legally blind" is a more descriptive way to express the intent of the constitutional change.
Robin Wallen expressed the sentiment of the majority of the convention as follows: "As we know, the other organization of the blind has never truly recognized legal blindness or low vision, and that's one thing I'm really proud of the ACB for doing, and therefore, I really believe that the term 'legally blind' should be in the amendment."
"When I travel around the country, and the world," said Brian Charlson, "I'm asked, what is it about being blind that's the biggest pain ... It's difficult to say there's one specific thing. Probably, the two biggest things are access to transportation and access to information. ACB is working day in and day out for pedestrian safety on the transportation side of the equation, as well as through our environmental access committee to deal with the problems of gaining access to information."
Charlson, who oversees ACB's information access committee, represents ACB on the access to information organizational task force, and works professionally in the field of assistive technology training, moderated a panel discussion which presented a series of "snapshots" to illustrate where blind people are with respect to accessing information.
Debbie Cook, who is the chair of the information access committee, spoke about implementation of Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act.
"The resolution about Intuit," said Cook, "is the perfect segue to what I'm about to say about the implementation of Section 508. Certainly there are some people who can access some of the software packages which Intuit produces, or certain other software packages produced by other companies, which still other people are not finding accessible, or are finding only partially accessible."
Section 508 is going to make a difference, she said, not because it requires manufacturers to make their products accessible. It doesn't. Rather, the law requires the federal government, and state governments as well, to purchase only those products which have been made as accessible as possible. Cook and others have been involved in the process of defining the standards. Just having real standards to point to and to measure against will go a good part of the way toward solving the problems of product accessibility.
"If you think about the massive purchasing power of the federal government, coupled with that of the 56 states and territories," Cook says, "you begin to realize the kind of difference 508 can make! And that, coupled with the accessibility requirements in Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, which we've been discussion over the last several years, will go a long way toward moving us in the direction of better product design."
Mike Duke described the evolution of the National Association of Radio Reading Services into the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS). The name change coincided with the expansion of services that has characterized many of these operations over the past 20 years.
"Now we have options," says Duke. "We have the radio, the telephone, the Internet ... The more options you have, the more potential you have for reaching the audience that you need to reach. I love options!"
ACB has been a participant in the organization from its beginning. Just as the association was changing its name, ACB Radio was established, and this placed ACB directly into the audio information services arena as a key player. Duke believes ACB's membership in the organization is in the best interest of ACB and all people who are blind. With ACB's full participation, the two organizations will be better able to speak the same language on crucial issues, such as audio description, low-power FM, copyright and Internet access issues, Duke says. "There has already been important and meaningful dialogue between the two organizations in all of these areas."
"The programming which is a part of ACB Radio's 'Mainstream,'" says Duke, "is exactly the type of informational programming that should be a part of every audio information service format." He urged his audience to encourage their audio information service providers to take advantage of this excellent programming opportunity.
Kim Charlson, president of the Bay State Council of the Blind, described her affiliate's collaborative endeavors to persuade the Fleet Bank to make their ATMs accessible to New Englanders who are blind. These efforts, which have involved the Bay State Council, the NFB of Massachusetts, and the state's protection and advocacy agency, are expected to result in accessible Fleet Bank ATMs throughout New England within the next two years.
"We certainly looked to the leadership of California, the true pioneers in ATM access," Charlson began. She noted that there are also active cases right now in Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and others will be following, to make bank services accessible to all people who are blind.
The Massachusetts organizations are currently in the negotiated settlement phase of their agreement with Fleet Bank to come up with an implementation agreement covering accessibility for more than 2,000 ATMs in the Fleet network throughout New England. The protection and advocacy agency which became a partner with the blindness groups is not unique to Massachusetts, according to Charlson. Every state has a P&A agency; all are funded with federal dollars and provide civil rights and other advocacy legal services to people with disabilities. The Bay State Council went to P&A, the Disability Law Center, and told them that they felt their case against Fleet Bank was one with global significance for people who are blind. They also made the strategic decision to involve the NFB of Massachusetts in the case from the very beginning, and so there are eight individuals and two organizational plaintiffs listed as complainants in the suit.
"I felt that our case would be 100 percent more successful," Charlson said, "if we could persuade the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts to sign on as a legal plaintiff ... I didn't want to have the organization come along and say, 'but we didn't buy into that' ... So, I offered the NFB of Massachusetts the opportunity to join in our case."
Charlson noted that the Massachusetts case demanding ATM access is just one example of the kind of cases with which ACB affiliates can ask their protection and advocacy agencies for assistance. She pointed to the Massachusetts example as proof positive that, whenever it is possible, collaboration with P&As, as well as other blindness and disability focused groups, can lead to positive results in the realm of achieving access to information and services.
Brian Charlson wrapped up the access-to-information panel presentation by saying, "Gaining access to information is not a task that can, or should, be done only by organizations. It needs to be accomplished by individuals. When you are denied access to information, you must file a complaint. Access denied affects your livelihood, your education, and it affects not only you, but all the generations to follow. We need to set the stage and make it happen!"
Debbie Grubb introduced the topic of pedestrian access by noting that ACB's Pedestrian Safety Handbook has been completed, and is available online. The handbook covers accessible pedestrian signals, as well as the identification of intersections via tactile warnings.
Richard Long and David Gooth described their research into roundabouts, and their negative impact on the safety of pedestrians, particularly pedestrians who are visually impaired. They acknowledged the financial and moral support which ACB and the U.S. Access Board have provided the Western Michigan University research project, and announced that their research will be expanded by a $4 million, five-year grant which has been received from the National Eye Institute, to conduct a detailed study into blind pedestrians' access at complex intersections.
"Roundabouts are important to you," Long said, "because they are going to grow dramatically in number during the next ten years or so." A roundabout, he explained, typically contains no signals and no stop signs. The only traffic control typically is a yield sign; vehicles that enter the roundabout must yield to vehicles that are already in the circulating roadway.
Typically, there are painted crosswalks for pedestrians located just outside the roundabout itself -- at the entry and exit legs. Often a one-way road will split into two or more lanes at the entry point, allowing more vehicles to enter the doughnut-shaped intersection. This configuration poses particular challenges to pedestrians, "because sometimes you can cross one lane, but then the vehicle in the next lane will fail to yield for you," Long explained.
Roundabouts, which are used in all traffic environments, and are becoming more common in commercial settings, have very positive features for drivers and people who ride in vehicles, Long explained. For example, roundabouts significantly reduce the death and severe injury rate when accidents do occur, because vehicles move rather slowly and are prevented from turning left in front of oncoming traffic. "Our challenge," Long said, "is to figure out how everybody can have access to this type of intersection. We are not anti-roundabout ... but we do want to ensure that all people can access the intersections."
The researchers traveled to Europe to investigate claims that there are no pedestrian access problems there -- where there are currently more than 40,000 roundabouts in existence. In London and in Lyonne, France, the researchers learned from their conversations with traffic engineers, orientation and mobility instructors, and blind and visually impaired individuals, that roundabouts are just as difficult for European pedestrians who are visually impaired as they are for American blind travelers. "One lady that we talked with in Lyonne," Long said, "told us, in her very elegant French, that her strategy is to pray and go!"
In Britain, traffic engineers tend to install mid-block accessible pedestrian signals near roundabouts. But even this strategy, the researchers have found, is not an entirely satisfactory solution. In their investigations in U.S. cities, the researchers attempted to learn how visually impaired pedestrians make the decision to initiate pedestrian crossings at roundabouts. They found that at high-volume roundabouts, masking noise has a significantly negative effect on a blind traveler's ability to determine when it's safe to cross. Blind travelers may experience significant delays while they decide when it's safe to begin crossing, and, in some cases, their safety has been severely compromised. Furthermore, even at low volume, one-lane roundabouts, researchers found that weather conditions or the geographical configuration of a particular setting could make a significant difference.
"Once these problems are better understood," said Gooth, "there will have to be a combined effort on the part of consumer organizations, individual consumers, representatives of national organizations, traffic engineers, and researchers to solve the pedestrian safety problems which the roundabouts present."
Lukas Franck described the lengthy process which ACB and other advocates had undertaken to ensure that language describing accessible pedestrian signals will be included in the next revised edition of the Manual of Universal Traffic Control Devices, the so-called "Bible" of transportation engineers.
Franck explained that, because audible-and-tactile pedestrian signals had never been included among the topics discussed in the manual, "They just didn't exist for the traffic engineers." If the engineers had the excuse that accessible pedestrian signals were not covered in the MUTCD, Franck continued, then, from their point of view, they had a legitimate excuse for not putting in the devices. He, along with Julie Carroll, Beezy Bentzen, Donna Sauerburger, and Janet Barlow, have been working for about five years with the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to inform them about the need to include information about accessible pedestrian signals in the manual. Success is on the horizon.
"We have every hope that there is going to be, for the first time, in the year 2000 edition of the MUTCD, mention of accessible pedestrian signals," Franck said, "and then that excuse will be gone!" Franck and Charlie Crawford concluded the presentation by celebrating the success of advocates in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Mich., and Parma Heights, Ohio, who are getting accessible pedestrian signals installed at complex intersections in their communities, because, in part, of the proposed MUTCD language which was published in the Federal Register, and also because advocates have not given up! "It's not just happening in Michigan and Ohio," Crawford said. "It's happening in cities and towns across this country, where blind people have become aware that we have the tools, we have the power, we have the vision, and we have the resources to move as local communities in partnership with ACB, to make a change in our pedestrian environment. It is happening, and it will continue to happen. I invite all of you to get in touch with the national office, so that we can work together in your local community to make that difference."
Scott McCall, AFB's Vice President for National Programs, updated ACB on progress toward achieving common goals expressed in the ongoing partnership between the two organizations. He spoke about successful advocacy efforts in which both organizations have collaborated, including increasing the funding from $12 million to $15 million for older adults who are served under the Chapter II program. "We anticipate," McCall said, "that when this year's budget is signed, we will have increased the Chapter II funding from $15 million to around $18-$20 million." To address the problems of unemployment and under-employment among people who are blind, McCall said, AFB has updated its publication, "Are You Looking for a Few Good Workers?," and provided support for the Mississippi State University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center project to help rehabilitation counselors succeed in the area of job placement. McCall described expected progress in collaborative efforts among AFB and its partners, including ACB and the American Publishers Association, to find ways to get textbooks in the hands of visually impaired students at the same time that their sighted peers receive these materials. The "Solutions Forum" efforts are expected to culminate in legislation which will mandate equal access to educational materials for blind and visually impaired secondary school students.
He noted the success of AFB's new technology-related publication, "AccessWorld," which has attracted more than 1,100 subscribers in its first six months of publication. AFB continues to be actively involved in making comments regarding Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, with the goal of making sure that all aspects of technology are accessible to people who are blind. He mentioned that AFB has broadened its view of literacy to include access to information, not only in braille, but also through large print, screen magnification, and technology. AFB has recently opened a National Literacy Center in Atlanta, and expects to expand its efforts to improve literacy, dramatically.
Finally, McCall described a team effort to redesign the AFB.org web site, to make it completely accessible, and to make the site as interesting and compelling as possible. As the Wednesday session concluded, Mike Duke announced to the convention his affiliate's intention to contribute $3,000 to ACB, with $1,500 supporting publication of the Pedestrian Safety Handbook, and $1,500 supporting ACB Radio.
The session opened with Hattie Bond, president of the Tennessee Council of the Blind, presenting a check for $300 to ACB from the Tennessee Council. Then Robert Miller, the newly elected president of the Florida Council of the Blind, presented ACB with a check for $5,000. "$3,000 is for ACB Radio," he said, "and $2,000 is for the pedestrian safety manual."
Resolution 2000-28, which urges EEOC to include the category of "blind and visually impaired" in the data which it collects from employers, passed unanimously. Resolution 2000-30, which urges APH narrators and management to resolve their labor dispute, also passed unanimously. And resolution 2000-32, which urged ACB to work toward funding chapter II independent living services for older adults who are blind at the $26 million level, passed after some discussion and a slight change in wording.
A new Section G was added to Article IV, "Officers," which allows at least five members of the board of directors to call a special meeting of that body, with notice being sent by mail and postmarked at least 14 days before the meeting date.
Jonathan Mosen, president of the Association of Blind Citizens in New Zealand, explained that accessible pedestrian signals are the norm rather than the exception in New Zealand's cities. "Never," he said, "have I heard a single blind person in New Zealand ever suggest that it is appropriate for us to be deprived of an accessible version of the information communicated visually to the sighted from those signals."
The New Zealand Association, which represents about 2,000 of the 12,000 blind people served by the country's Royal Foundation for the Blind, votes for its officers by postal ballot sent to all members. Currently, the association is lobbying for a change in the governance of the Foundation, with which, Mosen says, the association has had a cyclical relationship over the 50 years of its existence -- sometimes working as collaborative partners, sometimes working in opposition to one another. The change for which the association is lobbying would require all board members of the foundation to be elected by all the blind people the foundation serves.
Speaking about New Zealand's system of annual payments to people who are totally blind, Mosen said, "Acknowledgement of the costs of blindness and of a decent society's obligation to compensate for those costs in order to level the playing field is just as important to us as environmental accommodations. As just one example, the Internet may be a nice thing for sighted people to have for recreational use at their homes, but for us, it can make the difference between being able to read our local newspaper independently and not having in-depth information about the world around us; between having the dignity of completely managing our own finances, or sharing this very private information with a volunteer; between truly browsing before making a purchase, and relying on a busy shop assistant or a third party to shop. There are many other costs [of blindness] in terms of under-employment, lost opportunity, and lost leisure time. Compensating for all these costs is a principle we hold dear and fight for."
Mosen thanked ACB for its work with computer access issues. "Thank you for the strong stance you take on computer accessibility," he said. "You are making a difference that extends well beyond your membership and well beyond your borders."
He continued his presentation by "putting on another hat" and talking about the phenomenal growth of ACB Radio. "ACB is justifiably proud of the board of directors' decision to establish the only global blind Internet radio station," Mosen said. By July 2000, ACB had listeners in 43 countries.
In addition, the content of programming had expanded to include three separate radio stations, with plans for further development and diversification. Mosen said that ACB Radio is planning to make the links of performers on the ACB Cafe accessible to listeners, so they can purchase the music they hear and like. He anticipates an ever-increasing array of on-demand programming, and encouraged members to contact him with their suggestions for interviews. ACB Radio is opening a whole world of options to its listeners, even those who think of themselves as computer novices. Any listener who has questions about accessing the Internet station, downloading or installing software, and so on, can contact [email protected] by e-mail for immediate, specific answers to questions or troubleshooting problems.
"The comprehensive help section on our site and its speech- friendly layout has meant that less experienced computer users are gaining the confidence to download and install the free software that not only brings ACB Radio into their homes, but also offers thousands of other exciting listening choices. So, as well as providing our own content, ACB Radio is serving as a gateway to the world of accessible information and entertainment on the Internet."
The general session ended by separating into three breakout sessions: transportation, life-long learning, and arts and leisure.
The Friday general session focused on access to information, and, once again, on effective partnerships. Executive director Charlie Crawford and several officers gave brief reports, and several constitutional amendments were debated. One proposed amendment, which concerned the dates and procedures for annually updating membership lists, was referred back to the committee for reconsideration in 2001. Four other amendments were adopted, and four resolutions were presented and adopted unanimously. Dawn Christensen was elected to another term on the ACB board, and Oral Miller, Mitch Pomerantz, Ed žDocž Bradley, and Jerry Annunzio were also elected as new directors.
"Aloud" is a system developed by Asko Corporation which allows a pharmacist to digitally record the information contained on the labels of medication bottles so it can be accessed by using a specialized "Aloud" player. According to Nick Knoll, who demonstrated the system to the convention, the player costs about $95, and the company currently expects the drug stores which offer this product to absorb the cost of the labels.
Knoll reported that the Veterans Administration, which sponsored research and development of this product, expects to be utilizing the system during the fourth quarter of this fiscal year. In addition, the company is in final negotiations with the Kroger grocery chain, as well as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which serves all of western Pennsylvania, and the entire country via mail order.
Kathy Eble who, with her husband, Bill, founded Home Readers, a company which records mail-order catalogs, urged ACB members to write to companies which offer the convenience of mail-order shopping and urge those companies to make their catalogs accessible to blind consumers by funding recordings of their catalogs, and adding their catalogs to the list of publications which Home Readers produces.
Charlie Crawford said that, after 14 years of concerted effort, he could report with relative confidence that the FCC would announce on July 21 a rule requiring the major television networks to make visual information accessible to blind viewers through video description. "We didn't do it by talking about the way the world is," Crawford said. "And we didn't do it by blaming everybody else for everything. We did it by simply delivering the message, we have the right to the information that everyone else can take for granted on a public airway, and we want to be able to participate in that experience so we can participate with the rest of society."
"We are building access to information at the street level, right where the pedestrian signals are," Crawford continued. "And we are doing that as an organization that goes to traffic engineers through our local membership and says to them, 'We live in this town. We are a part of this community. This is our home. Help us to make it safe for everyone.'"
Crawford said that ACB has been able to accomplish installation of accessible pedestrian signals in cities and towns across the country because of its moral authority to comment on the need for making the information accessible, and because of the technical expertise to which the organization has access, through the work of people like Julie Carroll and Lukas Franck. ACB will continue to make the environment safer, he stated, by helping people who are blind to know where they are once they have been able to successfully cross the streets in their communities.
"It's not enough to be able to know when you can cross. You have to know where you're crossing. When they make intersections that have angles and turns and islands and pork chops, and any other current word that they can figure out," Crawford stated, "we need to have ways to know where we are and how to get where we're going, and ACB will make that happen ... The national office commits to you and the organization commits to you that we will provide you with the training and materials you need to make sure that you can be effective advocates where you live."
An amendment to Article V, which adds a section stating that the nominating committee can nominate only those persons who will be able to serve in the offices for which they have been nominated, was adopted unanimously
In a close vote, the convention adopted an amendment to Article VI, adding a "Section B," which allows 75 percent of affiliates to convene a membership meeting, 60 days after written notice is sent by certified mail to the national office and included in all organizational media.
Many, including Charlie Hodge and M.J. Schmitt, spoke against a proposed amendment which would have removed the constitutional requirement for members of the board of publications to live in diverse sections of the country, and the amendment was not adopted.
An amendment to Bylaw VII clarifies the board of publications' role with regard to official ACB publications, declaring the BOP's jurisdiction to include establishment of "editorial standards and policies applicable to all ACB communication formats, including but not limited to periodicals, the ACB convention programs and ACB brochures, the ACB web site and ACB Radio."
"NCSAB is working hard on partnership," said NCSAB President Terry Murphy. "We know we can improve it, but it is our pledge, and our actions show we're serious."
Murphy cited collaborative efforts involving NCSAB with ACB, NFB, RSVA, the Merchants Division of NFB, NELDS, and a number of state agencies to preserve the Randolph-Sheppard priority in states like Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, and in legal action taken against the NISH/Goodwill-sponsored lawsuit which sought to exchange the Randolph-Sheppard priority for an alleged JWOD priority in the case of a cafeteria facility. NISH and Goodwill are appealing the decision which favored the Randolph-Sheppard priority, and Murphy assured his listeners that NCSAB, RSVA, and others will continue to support the vendors in this crucial case.
Paul Edwards introduced John Polk by stating that, since APH management, in the persona of Tuck Tinsley, had commented on the ongoing labor dispute between APH management and AFTRA, the union which represents APH narrators, when he had answered questions at the conclusion of his convention presentation earlier in the week, ACB had been persuaded, by, among others, Charlie Hodge, to allow the narrators to state their side of the dispute for five minutes and with no ability to accept or respond to questions. "Since electing the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists to represent us, over two years ago," Polk said, "we've been attempting to negotiate with management at APH a fair contract for our services ... Our objectives were to put forth reasonable proposals for annual increases in pay, basic employee benefits, and improved working conditions; to resolve any differences through compromise; and to reach a fair agreement without having to take action which would jeopardize the service we provide to you."
Polk said that APH's management had not attempted to negotiate in good faith with the union, or to resolve the differences between management and labor. In fact, APH's most recent proposal would reduce the narrators' pay even further -- by another 6 percent -- leaving APH narrators with wages which are 17 percent lower than the average rate for other narrators in the U.S., he said. In addition, he reported, APH's negotiating team has stated that they will not raise the narrators' pay, not because there's not enough money in the NLS contract, but because they don't want to. They have stated that they will not even consider the narrators' proposals concerning employee benefits.
According to Polk, the union believes that APH wants to deny the narrators the full union representation they voted for by a margin of more than two-to-one two years ago. In fact, he said, APH management had threatened the narrators with a lockout, which would jeopardize the entire recording operation. "We want you to know that these differences can be resolved," Polk said. "We need your help in convincing them to take steps to reach a fair and equitable contract with the narrators ... Tell APH that you want them to come back to the bargaining table with proposals that indicate their commitment to reaching a fair contract with narrators."
The convention also passed several resolutions: 2000-13; 2000-11; 2000-12; and 2000-17.
While first vice president Charlson, second vice president Shaw, and secretary Towers gave brief reports detailing their activities and those of the committees they chaired over the last year, Kathey Wheeler presented the constitutional amendments which were considered, and Michael Byington offered the four resolutions which were passed during Friday's session, elections began, and vacancies on the ACB board were being filled.
Dawn Christensen, chosen by the nominating committee to run for a second term, and opposed in her race by Richard Villa, thanked the convention for its vote of confidence. "Know that my ears are open, and I will be happy to do whatever I can for betterment in the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired," Christensen said.
Mitch Pomerantz, selected by the nominating committee, was opposed by Terri Lynne Pomeroy. Pomerantz said, "You have given me a tremendous honor. I have been coming to conventions since 1984, and I have grown to love and respect this organization more and more each year. I will do my darnedest to make this the best organization of blind people in the country. We already are the only consumer organization of blind people in the country."
When Oral Miller was elected by acclamation, he said, "You may be sure that I intend to perform those duties with the same thorough, careful consideration that I have tried to apply in performing other duties over the years, and ... if you have concerns, please let me know. I will be very pleased to listen to you. That doesn't mean I will always be able to agree ... and sometimes we cannot do overnight all the things we would like to."
When Ed "Doc" Bradley of Texas won in his contest with Ralph Sanders of Maryland, Bradley said, "I will do everything I can to make you as proud of ACB as I am."
At the conclusion of a three-way race between Jerry Annunzio, Terri Lynne Pomeroy, and Ralph Sanders -- and an hour after the scheduled end of the session -- Annunzio said, "Thanks, ACB, for staying with me, and I'll stay with you!"
Saturday was a day for concluding convention business; for holding more elections; presenting, adopting, and debating all the resolutions that remained; for giving out more awards; hearing the treasurer's report; saying good-byes; and beginning to think about 2001 in Des Moines.
As he opened the floor to nominations for vacancies on the board of publications, President Edwards congratulated all the newly elected directors on ACB's board and commended those directors going off the board for their very distinguished service.
Winifred Downing was elected by acclamation to a second term on the ACB BOP. "I've certainly enjoyed my two years on the board of publications," Downing said, "and I look forward to serving further. I thank everyone who voted for me, and thanks to all of those who give us ideas that we can use in our board meetings."
In a closely contested race, Charlie Hodge defeated Mike Duke and earned a second BOP term. "I want to thank those who supported me for re-election ... I will do my best to make sure that our publications are fair, balanced, and reflect on you proudly," Hodge said.
Mike Duke defeated Carla Ruschival from Kentucky to fill the third vacancy on the BOP. "I appreciate the opportunity to accept another ACB challenge," said Duke. "Isn't democracy wonderful! There were three excellent candidates [for the two contested positions], and I thank you all very much for your vote of confidence."
In her treasurer's report, Pat Beattie told the convention, "ACB is healthy financially, in the way that it is investing in the future of our own organization and of blind people in this country."
Beattie acknowledged these very generous donations from ACB affiliates: $200 from North Dakota; $300 from the Tennessee Council; $400 from the Vermont Council; $2,000 from the Florida Council for the Pedestrian Safety Handbook; $3,000 from Oregon including $1,000 for the scholarship fund and $2,000 for the general fund; $250 from Bay State; $3,000 from the Mississippi Council including $1,500 for ACB Radio and $1,500 for the pedestrian safety campaign; $1,000 from the Alabama Council for the scholarship program; $1,000 from the Virginia Association of the Blind; $415 for the VIDPI Kellie Cannon Scholarship Fund; and $500 from the Des Moines Chapter of the Iowa Council of the United Blind -- for a total of $17,000 collected during this convention. At the conclusion of Beattie's report, Mitch Pomerantz, president of the government employees affiliate, rose to add to that tally by $1,000 which includes $500 for ACB Radio and $500 for "The Braille Forum."
Beattie concluded her presentation by saying, "ACB is financially healthy. We have a good staff. They're all getting paid their wages and benefits. We have expanding programs. I am particularly pleased about ACB Radio and about the pace of the pedestrian safety campaign."
After thanking the members of the convention committee for all the work that had gone into putting on such a successful convention, LeRoy Saunders said, "The Kentucky Council of the Blind has put more work into this convention than any of you will ever know. Carla was more or less the lead person, but there were many people from KCB who were involved, getting volunteers and just doing so much."
Eugene Willis, president of KCB, said, "We appreciate you all coming. We hope you all had a great time. Please come back and be with us again. If there's anything we can do in the future to help this organization, you know we'll be on your side."
"We had 1,401 people register for this convention," Saunders continued. "Jim Olsen says this is one of the highest numbers ever!"
Donna Seliger, president of the Iowa Council of the United Blind, gave the convention an overview of what they can expect from Des Moines next summer. "Next year," she said,"is the 40th birthday of ACB. I think we should celebrate it in style!" She then described the city of Des Moines, which has the largest number of eating establishments per capita in the country, and preliminary plans for the 2001 convention, which will use five hotels, three of which are on a climate-controlled skywalk connected to the Des Moines convention center. She encouraged members to ask questions about the Des Moines convention via e- mail at [email protected]
Saunders told the convention that a representative from the Des Moines Convention and Visitors' Bureau had already registered well over 300 members for next summer's convention. The convention rose and gave Saunders and his committee a standing ovation for all the work they had done to produce one of the most successful conventions in ACB history.
Stating that resolution 2000-20, which would have rescinded the charter of BFLAG because an agenda for the board of directors' meeting at which the BFLAG vote was taken had not been released 15 days in advance of the meeting could not be introduced on the convention floor because to do so would be unconstitutional, Paul Edwards, in his capacity as convention chair, declared the resolution out of order.
"I feel that what I'm about to do is constitutionally the only choice that's left to me," Edwards said. "I am going to declare this resolution out of order ... because the ACB is an organization which needs to have available to it a capacity to govern. This resolution would open the door for a whole series of others that would essentially make it impossible for the board of directors to function effectively. The subject matter of this resolution doesn't matter. What does matter is that it is not appropriate for the convention of this organization to become involved in matters that are purely internal to the board of directors."
Mike Geno of Michigan, who authored the resolution in question, attempted to appeal the decision of the chair, stating that the ACB constitution allows the convention to adopt a new resolution which can reverse a previous resolution. While acknowledging Geno's ability to appeal his ruling, Edwards stated, "What you are speaking to relates to the status of a resolution. The chair's use of a declaration of out of order concerns the constitutional balance and has nothing to do with the issue of resolutions." Geno's motion to appeal Edwards' out- of-order declaration was defeated.
Resolution 2000-26, which would have required the board of directors to comprehensively review all due process provisions relating to its actions and procedures, and to alter its practices to ensure that all due-process requirements are met, was declared out of order by Edwards for similar reasons. The chair's declaration was not appealed.
"The board of directors of this organization is certainly open to dealing with an issue of its conduct at a properly scheduled board meeting of the American Council of the Blind ... The proper way of effecting government is to utilize the channels that are already there ... Had anyone wished to have this issue raised by any board member at any time, I would have been more than happy to place this item on an agenda," Edwards said.
Two resolutions were referred to the board of directors for further consideration. The convention then adopted all remaining resolutions.
Rob Hill, president of Blind Friends of Lesbians and Gays, holds the affiliate's charter which he just received from ACB president Paul Edwards.
Jonathan Mosen is hard at work, fielding questions from the ACB convention web site to be answered by the speakers. Mike Duke is sitting to his left.
The scholarship winners of 2000. Front row: Robin Smithtro, Judy Jackson, Alysa Webb, Dana Patrick, Kate Loveless, Margaret Koller. Second row: Dr. John Buckley, Samuel Joehl, Sandy Marsiglia, and the representative from Kurzweil. Third row: Matt Van Fossan, Jeremy Johansen, Samuel Gruver, Ramah Leith. Top row: Terry Murphy, Brian Higgins, Sathish Sundaram, Malcolm Travers.
The new board of directors and officers. Top row: Brian Charlson, Sanford Alexander, Oral Miller, Ed Bradley, Jerry Annunzio, LeRoy Saunders, Paul Edwards, Mitch Pomerantz. Bottom row, seated: Kim Charlson, Alan Beatty, Sandy Sanderson, Pat Beattie, Pam Shaw, Cynthia Towers, Debbie Grubb, M.J. Schmitt.
All of my stress, anxiety and worry sluffed off as my feet left the deck of the boat. The ascent was surprisingly gentle, not the rapid upsweep I'd expected. The two-man crew handled the lines connecting me to the large parachute as they called out how many feet were between the deck and me. I couldn't help but smile, at first slowly, but soon in a large goofy grin as the ropes were let out faster and I could feel myself rising into the evening sky.
When I first heard of parasailing, I thought it was something only adventuresome people did. Then the idea was presented to me as part of a fundraiser for Guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI) at the 2000 convention in Louisville. Ginger Soucy, the dedicated, energetic GDUI convention committee chair, had found an outfit just opening its parasailing business on the Ohio River. Having gone parasailing off the coast of Maine, she highly recommended it as fun and safe. The boat's captain readily approved of a fund raiser taking blind people up into the sky, 300 to 400 feet at the end of ropes with only a parachute and the wind to hold them up. If Ginger was game and this man had no reservations, I had to try it.
As the convention neared and the arrangements for the GDUI High Flying Fund Raiser came together, I found myself growing more and more excited at the prospect of flying. Once the fund- raiser was announced, several blind people related their experiences of parasailing on the ACB listserv. They did say it was like flying. That was it! I had to go!
This trip had a deeper purpose, though. After four years, I was leaving the presidency of GDUI. It had become a calling for me and even though being president of such an organization can involve much stress and struggle, GDUI was such a part of my life that I needed an appropriate closure to my time "in charge." With this in mind, my dear husband, Kent, gave me a late June birthday gift of a parasailing trip, to be taken after my time as GDUI president had ended.
Our trip began with Captain Barney deWitt of Eagle Eye Parasailing and his son and First Mate, Trent, meeting us at the dock. They explained how the trip would go and what to expect. Several blind people had already gone parasailing with the Eagle Eye crew. Captain Barney and Trent were completely at ease as we climbed aboard. Toby, my golden retriever guide dog, was so excited to be on a boat again. As an experienced sailor from puppyhood on Long Island Sound, he found his feet quickly and made himself at home. The other four-legged passengers, Maxwell and Gina, also quickly settled in next to their handlers. Vicky Winslow, Carla Campbell and I had dared each other to this trip. We had worked so hard on this particular convention and had shared so much over the past several years. This ride, this hour and a half away from everyone, was our special treat to each other.
On went the life jackets, mandatory on the river. Barney swung the boat out into the channel and made his way about 12 miles up river from the docks near the Galt House. The light evening wind sent my hair into swirls. It couldn't blow hard enough for me at that point. Finally, a feeling of speed, of moving purposefully, freely, overtook us and we whooped with joy. No more crowded halls to navigate, no more meeting rooms to find, no more lines to wait in or elevators to board! We were free! We were no longer consumed with being blind!
Barney and Trent gave us careful but relaxed explanations of the harnesses we would use. Wide webbing straps fastened securely around the waist, fitting tightly so as not to hang the rider in the air. Two cuffs that felt like padded cup holders for cold drinks fitted around the rider's legs. The padding on the backs of the leg cups acted as a seat. From the straps that hit one around mid-thigh, two straps came upward with large hooks on the ends to hook into the rings on the parachute ropes. I can honestly say that we were all a bit skeptical about the equipment, but Barney assured us that no one had ever fallen or been hurt parasailing on his boat and we believed him.
I took prerogative as "Fearless Former Leader" to go first. Toby watched, concerned, from the end of his leash hooked to one of the seats in the passenger area of the boat. I followed Trent up the three or so steps to the back "launch area." Trent showed me the wider webbing straps, slanting upward from the deck, that hooked into the parachute. Then he snapped the hooks on my harness into the rings mounted in them as he instructed me to sit down on the deck. I know my hands gripped the straps extending upward from my thighs a bit too tightly as I rose and my legs went from straight out in front of me to a position much like dangling from a high playground swing. Cheers and whoops followed me into the air from the passenger section of the boat as I went up. On the deck were two of my best friends in the world, anxious no doubt to hear about what I was doing from Barney and Trent.
The boat made a burring sound below me but all around was only a gentle whoosh of wind. There was just enough breeze to keep my hair off my neck and out of my eyes. The breeze seemed to concentrate in the space between the ropes directly in front of me. Once I felt secure enough with the rigging, I removed my hands from the straps and swung my arms wide. With a wild yell and that ever-present goofy grin, I bid farewell to my GDUI presidency and responsibilities.
That release of emotion, of tension, concern and frustration with a long week of convention flowed out of me like the breeze. Then it was time to explore. I swung back and forth slightly, extended my legs and leaned as far back in the harness as it would support. The temptation to do a back flip was overwhelming but the equipment wouldn't allow it. Then I discovered the most interesting part of the ride. Sound! Leaning just past the ropes to my left or right put my head in a clear space where the wind did not whistle. Sound from the banks and boat deck was carried straight up into the parachute that acted like a parabolic dish. I heard conversation from a house on the shore about a barbecue as if the people were standing just to my left shoulder. Birdcalls came from both sides, not frequent, but interesting nonetheless. I also heard city sounds from downtown Louisville as the boat swung me about. Riding the gentle sweeps as the boat turned or a breeze shifted lulled me into a deep relaxation. The force of the harness and parachute held me like a large hand as I experimented with my body and ears to explore this new world.
As the chute descended, I heard Barney calling out how many feet to go before I touched the deck. The ride couldn't be ending so soon! On Barney's advice I hit the deck running. Amazingly I stayed on my feet as Trent unhooked me from the ropes and guided me back to Toby. All I could say for several minutes was "Wow!" Then it was time to relay vital information to Carla and Vicky about how the ride felt and how to gather sound and movement. They, in turn, filled me in on my goofy grin that still would not leave my face.
As Carla and Vicky in turn ascended into the sky, we listened to the description of their movements. The dogs expressed momentary concern over their missing handlers but soon grew bored. Each of us found different ways to enjoy the ride. Carla manipulated the chute, moving it left and right in arcs. Vicky executed some stunning ballet moves as she tested the limits of the harness and ropes to hold her. We all noted that there was one point where we drifted off into blissful relaxation.
As Barney turned the boat to head back to the docks, we shed our now hot and restraining harnesses. The stifling life jackets would have to stay on until we docked, but once the ride back began, we got a little crazy. Trent warned Vicky and I that this was not a scene from "Titanic" as we climbed to the bow and stood bravely. Chased, we got down and behaved ourselves, but not before letting out some more yells and whoops as Barney went over some swells.
After 10 years of coming to ACB convention, I have seen people reach a point. The strangeness of being around hundreds of other blind people, the confusion of getting around, the tangle of elevators and the vast array of things to do can overwhelm anyone. Those of us in charge of coordinating the variety of events and services provided during the convention often operate on little sleep, much cynicism and a healthy regard for the unexpected. But then there is that point, the time when something happens and we discover something new about ourselves.
I have witnessed newly blinded people discovering that they can indeed get around by themselves in the complex hotel after being helped by skilled blind peers and a host of volunteers. I have seen people catch the fire and enthusiasm of special interest affiliate and general session programs. I've seen people cry with empathy when they finally find people who encounter the world as they do. Every convention, be it ACB or any other organization, has its "convention high," that very period of ascension. No matter how bad everything else is, one incident saves the entire week and lends purpose and meaning to it. For those who work behind the scenes, such as Vicky and Carla, who spent endless hours training and coordinating the GDUI volunteers, there must be a "high," a closure, an experience unlike anything they have dealt with all week long. This trip fulfilled that need for closure, that need to know that we are more than blind people or more than a task needing to be done. We are human, craving experiences beyond what others perceive us as needing or wanting. The combination of the skilled Eagle Eye crew, their belief and trust in our abilities and the sheer physical sensation of flying gave me a new goal for any convention experience. Ascending.CAPTION
The 39th annual convention of the American Council of the Blind marked a new milestone in expanding our roll of life members. Eighteen dedicated people either chose to purchase their own life memberships, or were honored by their affiliates with the bestowal of a life membership in ACB.
Janice B. Gable of Jackson, Miss., Earlene Hughes of Lafayette, Ind., Diana June Colburn of Hayward, Calif., and Ben V. Luden of Westport, Conn., all came forward to purchase their own ACB life memberships. In addition, to honor his hard-working wife, Frela Grubb purchased an ACB life membership for current board member Debbie C. Grubb of Bradenton, Fla.
Three ACB affiliates purchased life memberships to honor two members of each of their affiliates. The ACB of Ohio honored Dr. Dessie Page of Columbus, and Lillian Sego of Mayfield Heights. The Mississippi Council of the Blind presented ACB life memberships to Clyde Morris Ward of Pearl and Bonnie Gordon Thompson of Jackson. Not to be outdone, our host affiliate, the Kentucky Council of the Blind, proudly presented ACB life memberships to a dynamite mother/daughter member team, Verna L. (Lula) Dotson and Carla S. Ruschival, both of Louisville.
With pride and melancholy, the Alaska Independent Blind posthumously honored Frank Haas of Haines, a long-time active member, who died at the end of 1999. The ACB of Colorado enthusiastically presented J. Alan Beatty of Fort Collins, current ACB board member, with his ACB life membership. The Badger Association of the Blind truly surprised its former executive director and former ACB board member Adrian DeBlaey of Milwaukee, Wis., by bestowing an ACB life membership. In a rare moment, DeBlaey was caught virtually speechless!
The list of new life members who were similarly honored by their affiliates includes Lucille Fierce of Saint Louis, who was honored by the Missouri Council of the Blind; Mary McCann of Virginia Beach, who was honored by the Virginia Association of the Blind; and Walter Gibson of Durham, who was honored by the North Carolina Council of the Blind. Finally, last but not least, the Florida Council of the Blind honored its immediate past president and former board member Carl McCoy of Tallahassee with a well-deserved ACB life membership.
This excellent delegation of new life members raises the honor roll of ACB life members to 132, and is reflective of the commitment and devotion which these leaders and pillars of strength have brought and continue to bring to ACB's ongoing endeavors. It gives me a great deal of pride and satisfaction to welcome this new group to our ranks. I greatly enjoyed meeting and spending some time with a number of these new ACB life members at the reception that was held in the president's suite just prior to the ACB annual banquet.
I urge all individual ACB members to consider stepping forward and joining the life membership honor roll. A life membership in ACB costs $1,000, which can be paid in an installment plan of $200 a year over five years -- a mere 50 cents per day over that five-year period. I also urge ACB affiliates to seriously consider purchasing life memberships to honor their own members who have contributed much over so many years. Let's all look for deserving and meritorious nominees who can be duly honored as new ACB life members at next year's 40th annual ACB convention in Des Moines, Iowa.
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