by Mitch Pomerantz

Here is the second installment of my report to the membership at our conference and convention in July.

Transportation, public and otherwise, is another of our challenges and certainly critical to the kind of lives we lead. Drastic reductions in funding for public transit and paratransit services have made getting around extremely problematic in many parts of the country. Some major cities have all but eliminated non-peak hour bus service and as we know, paratransit does not operate when fixed-route service stops. So, how do we get to work, or wherever it is we need to go?

Over the past few years, even stepping out of our front doors has become a challenge with the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles. As you know, ACB actively advocated for passage of H.R. 734 and S. 841, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. This legislation would require the transportation secretary to conduct a study to establish standards for minimum sound information necessary to be conveyed to blind and visually impaired pedestrians by hybrid vehicles. While both bills were attracting significant numbers of co-sponsors, their futures were still unclear.

Enter Toyota and the national uproar over the safety of its automobiles. H.R. 5381 and S. 3302 -- the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 -- were introduced in May and June, respectively, and the language contained in 734 and 841 was amended into those bills. They were approved by their committees of origin and are expected to pass the House and Senate shortly. As there are some minor differences between the two versions (although not in the hybrid vehicle language), they will likely need to be reconciled in conference committee. Nonetheless, ACB and all blind people should have something to celebrate by the time Congress recesses later this year.

Access to information is a broad category and one which increasingly affects every aspect of our lives. It is also the area in which ACB has seemingly been the most active since our last convention. It is ironic that as more of us gain access to computers and the Internet, we seem to encounter greater obstacles to accessing that wonderful medium of communications, education and just plain fun. It's that old dance: two steps forward and one and a half steps back! But, we are making progress.

For starters, ACB has worked with Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian for over 15 years to gain access to web sites and to assure privacy in conducting transactions at tens of thousands of businesses around the country. By using a strategy they developed known as "structured negotiations" to achieve enhanced access to goods and services for blind and visually impaired people, Lainey and Linda have made the lives of each and every one of us that much better. As they will be speaking about their successes on Tuesday morning, I'll say no more except to ask you to give them a big ACB hand for their efforts on our behalf.

In October, the judge in ACB's suit against the Social Security Administration rendered a favorable decision, one which requires SSA to provide blind and visually impaired recipients and representative payees letters and other written information in braille and/or on CD. Subsequently, although not mandated by the judge, Social Security has indicated its willingness to provide such information in large print and audiocassette as well. ACB owes a huge "thank you" to our executive director, Melanie Brunson, along with Arlene Mayerson, lead attorney for DREDF, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, for their efforts on ACB's behalf. We've won a tremendous victory, of which we may all be extremely proud. Wednesday through Friday of this week, an attorney from DREDF will be here to assist those of you who have yet to sign up to receive accessible information from SSA.

The long-awaited Treasury Department report -- compiled by the consultant some of you met with at the 2008 national convention in Louisville -- was released last August (note: 2009). In May, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued its Notice of Proposed Rule-Making based on Treasury's report. ACB has serious concerns about both the report and the NPRM and with the assistance of our attorney, Jeffrey Lovitky, we are preparing comments on the latter document.

As I indicated in my report last year, ACB joined with approximately 30 other organizations in the Reading Rights Coalition to press Amazon -- manufacturer of the Kindle E-Book Reader -- to market a fully accessible device, and the Authors Guild -- which directed Amazon to turn off the text-to-speech feature for a significant number of its e-book selections -- to reconsider its directive. With the Kindle's menus inaccessible and the text-to-speech feature disabled for most books, the ACB board of directors felt that it was critical for us to become involved with this coalition effort. And in June of 2009, ACB joined with the NFB to challenge Arizona State University and, indirectly, a number of other universities which chose to use the inaccessible Kindle in several of their classes. I'll say no more about these activities as immediately following this report, we have a very special guest: Daniel Goldstein, the attorney for the Reading Rights Coalition, who will update us on its activities.

Another significant legislative initiative involves our work to pass H.R. 3101, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. This bill does a number of things to make cell phones, on-screen menus and emergency notices and movies more accessible. Recently a similar piece of legislation, S. 3304, was introduced in the Senate. While not as strong as the House bill, it seems to have legs as they say and last month, a hearing on 3304 was held. As was the case in 2008, ACB member and Iraq War veteran Jesse Acosta testified on our behalf. Once again, thank you, Jesse. It is our understanding that there is an excellent chance that S. 3304 will be passed, perhaps as soon as July 26th, the 20th anniversary of the passage of the ADA.

ACB continues to be actively involved on the international scene as a member of the World Blind Union. Over the past several months our energies have been focused on advocating for the free exchange of braille materials through our participation in the World Intellectual Property Organization. Both Melanie and Eric Bridges have attended meetings in Geneva, Switzerland to advocate for support of a treaty which would guarantee open access to copyrighted material across international borders.

ACB Radio is alive and well under the able leadership of its managing director, Larry Turnbull. It reaches hundreds of listeners weekly with ACB's positive message about blindness and blind people, and I encourage those of you with access to the Internet to give it a listen, if you've not done so already.

Part III will appear in the November issue.


ACB President Mitch Pomerantz presents his report to the annual conference and convention at the Phoenix Downtown Sheraton. He stands behind a lectern on the stage in front of the room; behind him is a banner reading “American Council of the Blind.”

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