by Melanie Brunson

I am very pleased to report to you that ACB has hired Eric Bridges of Arlington, Va. to direct its advocacy and governmental affairs work in Washington, D.C. Eric is no stranger to the blindness advocacy field. He has spent the last six years working in the government relations department of National Industries for the Blind. This work has given him a good understanding of many of the issues we are currently dealing with in Washington. In addition, Eric has spent the last six months working on Capitol Hill as part of a fellowship program sponsored by the Brookings Institute. He has been working in the office of a Congressman from Minnesota. Finally, he has been a member of the National Alliance of Blind Students and is well-known to many members of ACB. We are very excited to have him on board.

Eric's arrival is coming at a good time, as there is plenty to do on the advocacy front. One issue in particular has come to the legislative forefront. As many of you know, the talking book program run by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has gotten a lot of attention lately. For several years, patrons of NLS have been awaiting the transition to digital talking books. That transition is set to begin next year. In anticipation of it, NLS asked for an appropriation of about $19 million for the next fiscal year, and $76 million over the next four years. As of this writing, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee has recommended that the full committee authorize an appropriation of $7.5 million for the next fiscal year. This is less than half of the money NLS needs to begin the production and distribution of digital talking books! As you might expect, neither of the major organizations of the blind find this action acceptable.

There are a number of reasons why this transition is important to blind talking book readers, and why it is necessary to fully fund it. The cassette tape players that are currently in use are no longer being made. The recording industry is phasing out the use of cassette tapes. Even CDs, which critics point to as an alternative to the flash memory cartridges being proposed by NLS, are fading in popularity because they are not durable. It would be impractical for NLS to ship books on CDs multiple times because they would not hold up over time.

Another vote is expected by the House Committee on Appropriations next week, but I expect the issue will still be under consideration by both houses of Congress by the time you read this article. It generally takes several months for both chambers to complete their work on appropriations, even though their respective appropriations committees give them recommendations. What that means is that you still have time to voice your support for the talking book program. Please contact your senators and representatives and tell them how important your ability to have access to talking books in the future is to you. Strongly urge them to vote for funding for the National Library Service that is sufficient to insure their ability to continue to make talking books available for all Americans who need them.

If you have questions, need a phone or fax number for a congressional office, or want to know what has developed since this article was written in mid-June, please contact the ACB national office and listen to the Washington Connection, or send me an e-mail to [email protected]

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