Last month, I told you about one of our most exciting and successful advocacy efforts of 2006, the victory in ACB's suit against the United States Treasury. However, while that was certainly a highlight of 2006, it was not the entire story of ACB's advocacy and legislative efforts. We experienced a number of successes during the year.
In January, Day Al-Mohamed compiled a list of some of these successes. Some of you have seen it on ACB listservs and it is now on the ACB web site. But I thought that it contained so much good information that everyone who cares about ACB should get a chance to read it. Therefore, I'm including it in this article. I've also added a couple of items that we thought of since the list was compiled. I hope you will enjoy reading this list as much as I did.
As a result of ACB's leadership in the voting arena, we were part of a successful grant ($5,000) partnered with the National Disability Rights Network to increase education and training for poll workers regarding people who are blind or visually impaired.
1. The President's budget called for a plan to divert 1/3 of workers' payroll contributions into private accounts and impose steep cuts to traditional Social Security benefits. ACB worked in coalition with other organizations in successfully preventing funding cuts to Social Security and changes toward any privatization that would risk disability benefits to people who are blind or visually impaired.
2. ACB joined with DREDF in a lawsuit filed against the Social Security Administration for failure to provide correspondence to people who are blind or visually impaired in accessible formats.
3. ACB has submitted comments on six separate notices of proposed rules from Social Security and met with Commissioner Barnhart personally to discuss access issues and the new Social Security Disability Determination Process. The result is that the new process should be friendlier and faster for people who are blind or visually impaired.
1. ACB created the first-ever brochure specifically aimed at Emergency Preparedness for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired, and followed this success with "Emergency Preparedness for your Service Animal or Pet," copies of which have been requested by individuals and agencies across the country. Special thanks to GDUI for helping with the final language and The Seeing Eye for providing funding for the production of the brochure.
2. ACB acts as a leader in the disability community on the issue of communications as related to emergency preparedness, which culminated recently in a presentation for Homeland Defense Journal on Emergency Communications -- Can You Hear Me Now?
3. One of ACB's legislative imperatives for last year involved emergency preparedness and called for the inclusion of people with disabilities in every phase of emergency management activities at all levels of government, post-disaster case management services, the requirements for accessible temporary and replacement housing, non-discrimination in services on the basis of disability and a national disability coordinator in FEMA. That effort was an unqualified success with the passage of HR 5441. The legislation included those very points and its passage can be directly traced to advocacy efforts by ACB members.
1. Pedestrian safety is still one of ACB's strongest arenas of advocacy. The Interagency Committee on Disability Research hosted a public meeting and requested written comments with respect to the federal disability and rehabilitation research agenda. ACB reserved time on the agenda to present its concerns with regard to the policy implications of moving from the larger Rehabilitation and Research Training Centers to the smaller Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects. But perhaps more importantly, ACB encouraged more research and funding into the issue of pedestrian safety, and raised the question of the impact of quiet cars on the independent and safe travel of individuals with visual impairments.
2. H. Con. Res. 235 states that "each state should require any candidate for a driver's license ... to demonstrate, as a condition of obtaining a driver's license, an ability to associate the use of the white cane and guide dog with visually impaired individuals and to exercise greatly increased caution when driving in proximity to a potentially visually impaired individual." Long known as one of ACB's pedestrian safety efforts, H. Con. Res 235 was passed by Congress last October -- a powerful message to states.
ACB provided comments to the Department of Transportation on the Air Carrier Access Act proposed guidelines and spoke out in support of the rights of individuals with both severe hearing and severe vision loss to be able to travel independently.
1. ACB successfully lobbied for a Medicaid Commission to prevent arbitrary cuts in Medicaid funding. In addition, ACB helped to prevent the conversion of Medicaid to a block grant program.
2. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) formally announced their intention to bar, without exception, Medicare coverage for any device such as closed-circuit television systems (CCTVs), magnifiers, and any other low vision aids or technologies. ACB submitted comments opposing this change and almost exactly one week ago met with CMS personally to discuss the issue.
1. ACB has supported video description for many years. Two bills were forwarded in Congress last year on the issue and video description was successfully added on to the large telecommunications bill S. 2686. Although the final legislation did not move, ACB was successful in having video description included in the committee report, and several legislators have expressed interest in supporting similar access language in the upcoming year. In addition to that, ACB was asked to present on the topic in an international forum in Japan.
2. When the FCC passed regulations that seemed to indicate that people with sensory disabilities need not have full access to programming, and that it was acceptable not to provide emergency information to people with sensory disabilities in a manner they can access, ACB, working with the National Association of the Deaf, was successful in forcing them to change it back to require access.
3. Recently, AT&T Inc. and Bell South Corporation made the declaration of their intent to merge. ACB filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission in response to this proposal. Although it sounds as if a company merger is not an ACB issue, it is important to remember that the AT&T Inc./Bell South merger is perhaps one of the largest telecommunications mergers in history. This convergence would create a company that would have tremendous influence in all arenas of wireline, wireless and broadband communications and is likely to result in the convergence of technologies that result in new and improved features and functions across various services. ACB urged that the Commission impose some disability-specific requirements on the merged entity. We recently discovered from an FCC announcement that there was definitely a disability concession in the merger document. ACB may just have helped create something unprecedented in a merger -- to have a disability consumer condition. The final order will not be out for a couple of weeks yet, but what we have seen so far in the Appendix to AT&T's letter of Dec. 28, 2006 to the FCC listing all their "Merger Commitments" it says: "Services to Customers with Disabilities: AT&T/Bell South has a long and distinguished history of serving customers with disabilities. AT&T/Bell South commits to provide the Commission, within 12 months of the Merger Closing Date, a report describing its efforts to provide high quality service to customers with disabilities."
ACB has always been a supporter of the power of partnering. This was never so true as with ACB's latest partnership with the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). PSI is a national non-profit membership-based organization that works with state and local government agencies to partner with manufacturers, retailers, environmental groups, federal agencies, and other key stakeholders to reduce the health and environmental impacts of consumer products. One of their projects is to develop a national solution to the problem of unwanted phone books. Among the proposals is one to create a national 411 directory. The advantage of such a system to our community had not been something considered by this environmental group, so now we hope to work together to make this a viable option of the future.
Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian, two California attorneys who have worked with ACB for a number of years now to make banking and other business transactions more accessible to blind and visually impaired people, successfully negotiated agreements this past year that will make point-of-sale machines in Safeway and Trader Joe's stores more accessible to blind shoppers. Customers will be able to enter their own PIN numbers when making credit card purchases in those stores. More details about what to look for if you shop at either of these stores will be provided in a future issue of "The Braille Forum."
Efforts to alter, or even undermine, the Randolph-Sheppard program continue. ACB has joined with its affiliate Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, as well as the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of Blind Merchants, and others with an interest in preserving this program, to form the Blind Entrepreneurial Alliance. This group will engage the services of a lobbyist to help coordinate and implement a comprehensive legislative effort to preserve the Randolph-Sheppard program.
ACB has not just been an active participant, but a leader, in 2006. This can be illustrated by the following new appointments of ACB staff to boards, committees and task forces, shown below.
Day Al-Mohamed: Committee Member - National Telecommunications and Electronic Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC) Co-Chair - Documentation and Technical Support Subcommittee for TEITAC Board of Directors - Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Co-Chair - CCD Civil Rights Task Force Member (Communications lead) - CCD Emergency Preparedness Task Force Co-Chair - CCD Telecommunications and Technology Committee
Melanie Brunson: Member - Pennsylvania College of Optometry Public Advisors Council Member - National Council on Accessible Media (NCAM) Access Alerts Advisory Board Steering Committee member, Blind Entrepreneurial Alliance
Phil Strong: Member - American Public Transportation Association - Accessibility Standards Policy and Planning Committee Member - Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) and Federal Advisory Committee Member - Technical Assistance Subcommittee Primary Reviewer - Easter Seals Project ACTION, External Review Panel Steering Committee Member - The National Complete Streets Coalition Member - National Capitol Region Transportation Planning Board Member - District Department of Transportation Bus Shelter Technical Advisory Committee Access for All Advisory Committee - National Capitol Region Transportation Planning Board
What is not mentioned above, but should be acknowledged and applauded, is the many leadership roles that individual ACB members are taking in their communities, and their active participation in advocating for the equal rights of people who are blind and visually impaired. The impact of those efforts can be seen at the local, state and federal levels. Let's keep up the great work in 2007!
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