by Melanie Brunson

In 2007, ACB will be holding both the affiliate presidents' meeting and the legislative seminar in Washington, D.C. I hope many of you will begin making your plans to attend one or both of these meetings, as I expect that we will have a full agenda for both.

The affiliate presidents' meeting will begin on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007, and run through around noon on Sunday, Feb. 25. The legislative seminar will begin later on Sunday afternoon and run through Tuesday, Feb. 27. Both of these events will be held at the Holiday Inn-Rosslyn at Key Bridge, which is located at 1900 N. Fort Myer Dr. in Arlington, Va.

This hotel is right across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. and is very accessible by both the Metro and taxicab. The Rosslyn Metro station is within a short walking distance from the hotel. And the room rate is only $99 plus 10.25 percent tax per room per night!

The hotel is ready to accept reservations now, so please don't wait to call them at either (703) 807-2000, or toll-free 1-888-465-4329. When you call, be sure you give them our group code, which is ACB.

We will give you more information about the agenda for the affiliate presidents' meeting and the issues that will be discussed at the legislative seminar a little later. However, it is very likely that the legislative seminar topics will include consideration of legislation dealing with the Randolph-Sheppard and Javits-Wagner-O'Day programs, two programs which are important to the livelihoods of a significant number of people who are blind. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the Departments of Defense and Education, are all interested in making changes to these programs, so both programs have been under fairly close scrutiny during the past few months. The problem is that there is very little agreement among policymakers as to exactly what the problems are and how they should be resolved. The result is that some of the proposals being floated at the time of this writing would have very harmful consequences for people who are blind and want to find employment through one of these programs.

Fortunately, the organizations of and for the blind are working together to insure that any legislative proposals preserve those aspects of the programs which provide employment opportunities for people who are blind while making legitimate efforts to improve the effectiveness of the programs. To that end, we have offered a legislative package of our own, and many aspects of it have been very well received by Senate staffers who have seen it. Just last week, Congress received the long-awaited report from a committee of representatives from the Departments of Defense and Education, as well as the Committee for Purchase from People who are Blind or Severely Disabled, which was supposed to offer recommendations on how the provisions of both the Randolph-Sheppard and Javits-Wagner-O'Day acts should be implemented in order to eliminate all confusion about which statute governs in any given situation. We received a copy of this report several days ago and are still analyzing its implications. But one thing is certain: it does not eliminate any confusion! In fact, it is my opinion that it raises more questions than it resolves. Much of its wording is vague and therefore subject to varying interpretations. At this time, it is unclear what Congress will do with it; we are urging them to leave it on a shelf somewhere until we have had an opportunity to point out its flaws to them so that they can make an informed decision regarding it.

When the dust arising from the release of this report settles a bit, which may happen by the next issue of "The Braille Forum," I plan to write more on the issues surrounding these programs, because they will have implications for many of the programs and services we care about as an organization, as well as for the livelihood of many of our members. Some of the issues are a bit complicated and many have become the center of fairly emotional debate in the disability community, so I anticipate that it will be some time before they are resolved. But when the heat gets turned up, which it will, we will need to be prepared for action in a prompt, firm and united fashion. It is my hope that through the pages of this publication, through our legislative seminar and any other vehicles we can use to distribute information, we will be able to offer you the tools necessary to preserve these and other crucial programs for people who are blind. The threat to programs that allow people who are blind to become economically self-sufficient and gainfully employed is real, and decisive action is necessary to help preserve those opportunities. We will all need to work together if we are to achieve success, and if we do, I believe success is very attainable. Stay tuned and get ready to join the fray!

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