Braille Monitor February 1986
The history of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and 'Visually Handicapped (NAC) resembles an erratic tea kettle. It simmers along on a daily basis in its defensiveness, negativism, and anger; and then it boils over and tries to burn somebody. Fortunately the attempt is usually unsuccessful.
In the 1960's, when NAC was being put together and was trying to gain complete control over all of the agencies serving the blind, the dog guide schools were contacted. The most reputable of them put together proposed standards and submitted them, but this was apparently not what was wanted. When the dog guide school officials saw the result of their edited product, it was a mass of vagueness and verbiage, eminently suitable for the exercise of personal whim and pressure by the teams which would do NAC's evaluating and accrediting. The dog guide schools (being interested in professional performance, not ward politics) bowed out.
Ever since, NAC has been trying to recoup. From time to time it makes direct contact, usually implying threats if its accreditation is not embraced. However, more often (especially, in recent years) the American Council of the Blind has carried the ball. The Guide Dog Users, Inc. (the ACB's innocent sounding front organization) does what it can to pressure and imply threats--so far, without noticeable results. Of course, one could call the resentment and hardening of attitudes which have been engendered noticeable results--and, perhaps, also positive results.
Be that as it may, the American Council of the Blind (well, all right, the Guide Dog Users, Inc.) has been at it again. The nice language does not conceal (perhaps it is not meant to conceal) the threat. But Harold Pocklington, Executive Director of Leader Dogs for the Blind, does not simply stand and wag his tail. He bites back. Here is the pertinent correspondence:
Oak Park, Illinois
October 17, 1985
Guide Dog Users, Inc. is a national consumer organization, affiliated with the American Council of the Blind. Through our quarterly newsletter, national convention programs, and related activities, our organization strongly supports efforts to improve the quality of services provided to blind persons by Guide Dog Schools throughout the United States. We recognize that with the growing number and variety of such schools in recent years, the problem of quality control has become far more serious than in the "old days" when one or two well-known and established schools dominated the field.
We believe that a strong system of voluntary, non-governmental accreditation such as that routinely used by colleges and universities, professional schools, hospitals, and similar entities serving the public interest, provides the best available means of insuring the maintenance of high standards of Guide Dog Schools. We are urging all non accredited Guide Dog Schools to examine the many advantages and benefits offered by the co-existing accreditation program currently serving this field. That program, as you may know, is provided by NAC, the National Accreditation Council of Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped.
NAC's accreditation standards for Guide Dog Schools were developed in the late 1960's by a wide representative cross section of leaders in the field. Although a number of these persons and many of their successors have expressed interest in accreditation and have taken part in the on-sight review process offered in achieving and maintaining accredited status, only one Guide Dog School has thus far sought and gained this recognition. This is unfortunate and reflects negatively on the Guide Dog field. However, we are confident that with more information about NAC's accreditation program those leaders responsible for establishing priorities in this field will give more attention to the need for accreditation. With growing emphasis on public accountability in the nonprofit area, the practical value of accreditation is greater today than at any time in the past. Accreditation emphasizes systematic self-study and peer review. Without question every Guide Dog School could benefit significantly from participation in the process.
It is particularly important to address this issue without delay. The existing standards for Guide Dog Schools should be updated to keep pace with new developments in this growing field. NAC is eager to undertake this revision and will seek full input from the field if and when the project is approved by its Commission on Standards. NAC will not, however, initiate such an expensive and time consuming process if the Guide Dog Schools themselves fail to take serious interest in the enterprise. Furthermore, if the standards cannot be revised in the very near future, it is likely that NAC will withdraw them from the field. As the recognized accrediting authority for agencies serving blind persons in the United States, NAC is responsible for periodic comprehensive revision of its standards. But this effort is futile in the absence of support from the field to which the standards apply. The Guide Dog field would be very poorly served if the NAC standards were lost through apathy, indifference, or unawareness of those responsible for the administration of the schools. Nevertheless, this is a very real possibility.
It will take firm decisions by the governing boards of these schools to preserve the accreditation system in this field. But we believe that such decisions would be made if board members were provided with accurate information about the benefits and advantages of accreditation. We have such information and earnestly request an opportunity to share it with you. We can arrange to have one of our members meet with you and your board at any time to discuss this matter in more detail. We hope that you will be able to grant this request and look forward to hearing from you in the very near future. Please contact me at the above address or by telephone at 312-848-6191.
Phyllis Stern, President
Guide Dog Users, Inc.
October 29, 1985
Mrs. Diane McGeorge
Enclosed is a copy of a letter received the 28th of October. Several questions come to mind which you might help answer.
"Our organization strongly supports efforts to improve the quality of services provided to blind persons by Guide Dog Schools throughout the United States."
We wonder what suggestions might come from NAC to improve quality.
You likely know the three major schools--represented by the Executive Directors including yours truly--spent considerable time developing what we thought were realistic standards. We were surprised to see the reams of verbiage that came back. We also were surprised to learn a committee of "Peers" would investigate, review, or whatever to see if schools were worthy of accreditation.
The letter states "only one guide dog school has thus far sought and gained accreditation." The letter further states "reflects negatively on the schools." My personal opinion is the fact that only one school bothers to accept NAC as the standard bearer reflects negatively on NAC.
The letter threatens "The Guide Dog field would be poorly served if the NAC standards were lost. Nevertheless this is a very real possibility."
Your thoughts, please. As a recent victim of our service, you might help us with answers.
Hope you are doing okay. It was fun having you with us.
Harold L. Pocklington
Leader Dogs for the Blind
November 8, 1985
This will respond to your letter of October 29. In that letter, you asked for my thoughts concerning the process of accreditation of dog guide schools which could be provided through NAC (National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). First of all, I am aware that you, along with the executive directors of Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind, meet on a regular basis to share ideas that will improve the services delivered by your respective schools. This seems to me to be a very positive approach to use. You have also made me aware of the fact that, at one time, you, along with other executive directors of dog guide schools, developed standards for your respective facilities which have been demonstrated to be very effective. The best test of any service delivery system are the results which it produces. I think it is of note that the one school that has sought NAC accreditation is not one of the larger schools in the field, and of equal importance is the fact that the leading schools have not felt it necessary to seek NAC accreditation. The leading schools in the field have produced excellent quality teams.
You might be interested to know that there are approximately 500 agencies in this country delivering services to the blind. Less than 100 of these agencies have sought NAC accreditation; and although some did seek accreditation a number of years ago, they have not chosen to re-accredit when given the opportunity to do so. Many of the agencies which presently are accredited by NAC are not the agencies regarded by the blind of this county to be delivering quality services.
As a recent graduate of the Leader Dog School, having received my fifth dog, I have watched with pride the progress and growth of the Leader Dog program. I can attest to the high standards of performance which you have established. I am acquainted with a large number of blind people who have obtained dog guides from other major schools in the country, and it has been my experience that they are extremely happy with the results of those schools. The high quality of performance demonstrated by graduates of the dog guide schools is the most valuable tool by which to evaluate your standards.
I hope these ideas have been helpful to you. I look forward to working with you in the future.
November 14, 1985
Dear President Stern:
We are writing in reply to your letter of October 17, 1985. We sincerely trust you understand our position.
As stated in your letter, "NAC standards were developed in the late 1960's by a wide cross section of leaders in the field." Those standards were developed by the Executive Directors of the three oldest and most experienced schools in the U.S. I was one who spent considerable time on the development.
The three schools chose not to accept the so-called standards as they came back in reams of forms and paperwork. We have read all the statements that our refusal reflects negatively on the dog guide field. Perhaps the schools, with their own high standards, feel those who would be the inspectors really know very little about the dog guide work developed over many years. We speak for Leader Dog when we say we believe we know what we are doing.
The people we serve seem to be satisfied we know what we are doing. We haven't had anyone question our standards. There are numbers of friends who believe in our self-policing standards enough that we continue to operate. There is no doubt our accountability is satisfying most people. All schools seem to be getting along well without NAC's blessings. Who is NAC to determine whether we do self-study? Who will do our peer review? We repeat--we study the operation of Leader Dog every day of our life. We update every phase of the operation when we see the need. We can't think of a committee that could improve our operation.
We quote a letter just received from a graduate who has had five Leader Dogs over a period of thirty-five years: "I have watched the progress and growth of the Leader Dog program. I can attest to the high standards of performance which you have established. I am acquainted with a large number of blind people who have obtained dog guides from other major schools in the country, and it has been my experience that they are extremely happy with the results of those schools. The high quality of performance demonstrated by graduates of the dog guide schools is the most valuable tool by which to evaluate your standards."
There are approximately 500 agencies in the U.S. delivering service to the blind. Less than 100 of these agencies have sought NAC accreditation. Some had accreditation, but did not bother to repeat.
We believe we can handle our own affairs. If the dog guide schools don't respond to your suggestions, it may be they don't believe the method of accreditation can be done only by you. We believe we can be our own judge of operation, without any help from NAC or a committee NAC might appoint. We are not indifferent, unaware, or apathetic. We just believe if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Board of Trustees is fully aware of our decision. Hope you understand our position.
Harold L. Pocklington
Leader Dogs for the Blind