by Euclid J. Herie
From the Editor: Euclid Herie is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and President of the World Blind Union (WBU).
The advantage of wearing two hats at once is that one can cover a little more ground. I will indulge your patience for a moment with a few comments. First of all, as President of the World Blind Union, I bring you greetings from the blind of the world and from the officers, including Dr. Maurer, who, as you know, is the President of this region. Also, as President of the CNIB, I bring you greetings from our National Chairman and our Canadian delegation including Mr. Graham Stoodley, who is a member of the CNIB National Board of Directors and Chair of the National Client Services Committee, and Mr. James W. Sanders, Vice President, Client Services and Technology.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Dr. Maurer and the National Federation of the Blind for hosting this event. Hosting such an event takes a great deal of planning and organizing. The NFB are gracious hosts; their generosity of spirit and effort I know will make this event a huge success.
The history that Dr. Maurer referred to is important because there are always new players and stakeholders at the table. Kenneth Jernigan and I talked about the importance of this kind of conference some ten years ago. I have no idea whether he suggested it or we both did. However, I think it is a tribute to his vision that technology would play a major role in creating the opportunity, economic security, and freedom needed by blind people. So I am particularly mindful that Dr. Jernigan would be pleased to know that for the fourth time in this decade we have brought together truly the best and the brightest in North America and around the world. When we met last April, Dr. Maurer suggested that we have a fourth conference, so again, Sir, I appreciate that in your role as President of the NFB you have assumed the mantle of moving this very important agenda forward.
The World Blind Union through its Committee on Technology raises the specter of problems ahead in obtaining accessible and affordable technology because 80 percent of blind people do live in parts of the world where access to technology, electricity, or telephone lines is still a dream of the future. So either our talk of accessibility and affordability can remain as an oxymoron, or we can forge a blueprint that will make it a reality. I urge all of you to take on this challenge at this conference.
Research is critical. I am proud to say that we in Canada, through the CNIB Winston Gordon Award, have recognized excellence in technology. Three winners are present in body or spirit today: Deane Blazie, the first winner; Raymond Kurzweil, the second; and two years ago Kenneth Jernigan was honored at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. We also sponsor a $10,000 research grant, the Ben E. and Mary Hochhausen Award available to anyone in the world.
When Kenneth and I talked ten years ago, Web sites and cell phones were really not a part of our daily lives as they are today. It is amazing how much progress we have made in this decade. Also this past decade we have seen a time of deregulating only to regulate. We will be speaking a lot about that in the next two days because, as we have freed up the airwaves and other public supports such as transportation and other things,it has forced in the disability field, and certainly in the blindness field, pressures to create regulations that put a stop to the kind of systemic discrimination that all of us face so often in our daily activities.
We must be mindful of what these so-called freedoms are going to mean in our world in the next millennium with terms such as e-com and digital economy. However, either blind people in the world are going to be within the digital economy, or we are going to fall outside the realm. I would suggest to you that in some parts of the world--even in developed countries--as the digital economy speeds up, gains momentum, and is hugely funded, blind people are victimized and continue to fall between the cracks. I know that you will be astounded in the course of these next few days at what you will hear in that regard. We must understand the implications for blind persons of globalization as a phenomenon and a reality of our life in the future. . . . The NAFTA agreements in our countries, the European Bloc, the now G 20 that has been established, the UN agencies and that whole entire system affect blind people directly.
In Canada we have established partnerships within the blindness field, for example, with the Library of Congress through Mr. Cylke's programs and with many other countries around the world. I truly believe, whether in accessible technology or the range of services and programs, that this sector will not escape globalization any more than the other things that touch your life. We are seeing these trends move ever more rapidly. It is therefore incumbent on the leadership in this room during these two days to exploit this opportunity. Let us take the long-term view, create that vision, build on it, and secure it. As the conference agenda indicates, we are here to set in motion action plans for the technology services that blind people will require in the third millennium.