Braille Monitor March 1986
by Marc Maurer
It was Saturday, November 10, 1979--an afternoon for raking leaves and playing football. But something else was afoot. In a hotel room in Oklahoma City the board of directors of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) was meeting to plan and strategize. The speaker was Dick Johnstone, President of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, and his manner was impassioned and emphatic. The atmosphere was tense, for NAC (as usual) was in crisis. The Minneapolis Society for the Blind was one of NAC's closest allies and strongest supporters, and Johnstone was there to give them the word. His folksy beginning did nothing to diminish the force of his message:
"Golly! How do you follow all this? There's nothing I can add to what these people have said about accreditation, and I frankly don't intend to even try and do it, because everything they have said applies equally to the Minneapolis Society for the Blind... I'm proud of Dr. Bleecker and NAC for their deep, deep help... NAC has helped us, helped us strengthen our board and our organization. Now, as to NAC: all agencies in this room, if they do not belong, should... NAC has proven leadership; all NAC needs now is a few more teeth and the money to apply them... Let's all support NAC fully! Believe me, NAC is worth fighting for... I would like to express an invitation to NAC to hold its convention in Minneapolis in 1980... I hope you will consider it, and I hope we'll see you there next year."
When Johnstone spoke at that 1979 NAC meeting in Oklahoma City, NAC and the Minneapolis Society for the Blind were hand in glove. It was hard to believe it could ever be otherwise. The blind of the Minneapolis area had long felt that the Society was totally unconcerned with their well-being, that the Society custodialized and exploited, and that it showed no sensitivity at all to the real needs and everyday problems of the blind. Its officials worked with NAC and served on NAC committees and on the NAC board--and NAC reciprocated. It gave its blessings to the Society on all occasions. It turned a deaf ear to all complaints made against the Society, even when there was clear-cut evidence of conflict of interest or illegal behavior by Society officials.
In 1979 NAC was telling all who would listen that it was making great progress and on the verge of new breakthroughs in gaining respectability, credibility, and new members. Of course, it has been saying the same ever since, but the facts say otherwise.
For one thing, there is the question of numbers. At that famous meeting in 1979 NAC had only accredited something under a hundred agencies. Today (almost seven years later) the number is not much greater. There are approximately 500 agencies for the blind in America. Only slightly more than 100 have ever associated themselves with NAC. Even when National Industries for the Blind promised to pay the costs for workshops to become NAC accredited, the shops refused to sign up. And of those agencies which have signed up, a substantial number are now failing to pay their NAC dues.
At its 1985 fall meeting in Little Rock, NAC made an all-out effort to present a positive face to the public and create an upbeat image of growth, but the effort backfired. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was invited to attend and was announced as coming to give the keynote address, but he was not present. NAC notified the press that city and state officials were its strong proponents, but when the media investigated, the support was more in the claim than the reality.
And then there were those things that lurked in the shadows, still not suspected by most of the NAC attendees--things which waited to come to light and emphasize the disintegrating pattern. There was, for instance, Kansas, which within only a few days of the Little Rock meeting would kick NAC out and break the bonds of association. There was the Michigan School for the Blind, a long-standing NAC ally--an institution which was soon to tell NAC that it no longer wished to have its accreditation or its stamp of association and approval.
And, perhaps, most of all there was the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. Surely not Minneapolis! There was a time when the Society rode high in the Twin Cities. But no more! The exploitation and the failure to respond to the needs of the blind inevitably took their toll over the years. The Minneapolis Society for the Blind (which has now changed its name to MSB) turned in its time of need to its trusted ally NAC--and, of course, NAC (equally fallen on evil days) behaved as might have been expected.
MSB (or, as it has always been called, the Minneapolis Society for the Blind) was recently evaluated by a NAC on-site review team--and MSB did not fair well. MSB responded to NAC's review with a stinging rebuke. Sources inside NAC suggest that this is only an example of the fragmentation and disarray which are taking place with increasing frequency.
The Minneapolis Society's characterization of the on-site review has the ring of truth, even if the description of services provided by the Minneapolis Society seems more invention than fact. In its comments to NAC the Society says:
We vigorously object to the NAC review report on Vocational Services, both in section D-6 and in other references to the department throughout the entire MSB review report. Not only does the NAC report reflect negatively on Vocational Services (due to gross inaccuracies and distorted or incomplete information from the review team), but it is also a sad reflection on the process of accreditation represented by NAC. Objections to the NAC report on Vocational Services fall under the following three areas.
1. The team's preparation for the on-site review.
2. The process of the on-site review.
3. The content of the review report.
The team's preparation for the on-site review: Both members of the D-6 on-site review team stated at the outset of our meeting that they had not read the self evaluation, nor had they read the program descriptions of services that were included with the self-evaluation. Extreme effort had been exerted by the self-evaluation team to be complete and fully accurate in this report in responding to the itemized standards of sections 1.1 through 7.6. In addition, a 13-page comment and programming for improvement section was included. This lack of preparation on the part of the NAC review team greatly hindered meaningful dialogue at the actual time of our meeting.
Process of on-site review: The meeting of the NAC On-site Review Team with Vocational Services was scheduled on July 16 from 9:45 to 11:15 a.m. Team members, Fred Weber and Steve LaGrow, arrived for the meeting after 10:10 a.m. and left before 11:00 a.m., therefore reducing the meeting time by over 40 minutes. Mr. Weber took the lead in asking questions of staff present. He appeared to be anxious to confirm a predetermined opinion; however it was not clear what that opinion was. On several occasions, the Vocational Services Evaluator/Work Adjustment Trainer was cut off in mid-sentence when attempting to answer a question for Mr. Weber. This type of interaction resulted in the NAC team not gathering a full understanding of Vocational Services, current programs, or future plans. Please note also that full program descriptions (a five-page hand-out) and a detailed analysis of future plans (Programming for Improvement, pages 10-13 of the attachment to the self-study) were included in the Self-study report. The On-site Summary, 3/1 and 4/G, also included major plans for the future.
Content of the Review Report: Introduction: A total of 81 persons were served in FY84, not 30 as stated in Section D-6, Introduction, and in other notations in the report. This information was provided in Agency Profile B-l (pages 5 and 6). The report inaccurately reported nine clients in the total program on the day of the team visit. Our client records show a total of 23 clients in the program the week of July 15: Standard program, nine clients; Monitored Job Search, eight clients; Technology program, nine clients. Three people were receiving services in more than one program.
The team inaccurately reported physical space utilized for Vocational Services. The areas are a large Electronic Sensory Aids Laboratory, a separate Work Sample Evaluation area, a training room for group classes (8-10), two smaller resource rooms for client use, and three staff offices.
The components of Vocational Services as described by the team are grossly inadequate and in no way reflect the true nature of the program. If this description stands, the Accreditation Commission will not have a fair picture of the Vocational Services program at MSB. A clearer picture would be drawn with the following description of components.
STANDARD PROGRAM provides clinical evaluation, work adjustment, career exploration; this program also provides limited skill training in office occupations, packaging/assembly and power sewing.
TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM provides assessment and training on electronic sensory aids.
JOB SEARCH PROGRAMS provides full range of placement services including classroom training in job seeking skills, job search strategies and extensive job development and placement.
Selected Services are available on a component basis from each of the program areas.
Recommendation 1: The statement that Vocational Service is not in compliance with MSB's mission statement seems unjustified. Sections 1.1 and 1.2 (rated E) clearly state (attachment, page 1, of the self-study) the purpose of mainstreaming blind and visually impaired people in individual levels of readiness and competency ; in other words to learn new and adaptive skills and provide opportunities for achievement of self-confidence and independence. If the Vocational Service statement is not in compliance with the MSB mission statement, further clarification is necessary from the NAC team.
This is what MSB says in response to its treatment by NAC, and if one reads between the lines and knows the background of the two organizations, both come off badly. The Minneapolis Society is a faltering husk of what it once pretended to be, and it never was very much, despite NAC's former statements to the contrary. Yet, it is clear that the NAC team did a hatchet job, falling short in exactly that area in what it claims to do best, "professionalism." Here we have held up to view NAC's vaunted "quality services," its "assurance" that accredited agencies meet standards, its ethical conduct and expertise.
It is clear that the breakup is coming. At its 1985 Little Rock meeting NAC indicated that it is reducing its size. It has had a board of thirty-five members. Over the next two years this number will be cut to eighteen. NAC is also having financial trouble. Its budget for 1986 is $452,000--exactly what it was for 1982. The finances are crumbling; the prestige (such as it ever was) is evaporating; and the supporters are defecting. The chickens come home to roost.
Remember the old "knock knock" jokes? They are still around.