by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the NFB Resolutions Committee. The following is her brief description of each resolution considered by the committee at the 2000 convention. The texts of the thirty-four resolutions passed by the convention follow this article immediately. This is what Sharon says:
At the Resolutions Committee
By longstanding tradition the resolutions committee meets on the first day of registration for the convention. This year was no exception. The meeting was held on the afternoon of Monday, July 3. Another tradition is that the resolutions committee is large and truly represents the breadth and depth of the Federation. This year forty-three members comprised the committee. It is also customary to have a large audience in attendance. The 2000 convention followed this tradition as well.
The 2000 convention will be remembered for the record or near record number of resolutions introduced and for the innovative solutions recommended in these resolutions. The committee considered thirty-six resolutions. Thirty-four of them came to the floor of the convention. Two were defeated in committee. The thirty-four resolutions passed by the convention deal with suggestions to the 106th Congress, changes to Social Security, reforms in rehabilitation, improvements needed in education, and nonvisual access issues. The participation of so many authors enhanced the quality and diversity of these resolutions.
The convention passed two resolutions expressing opposition to legislation under consideration by the 106th Congress. Carlos Servan, the Deputy Director of the new Nebraska Commission for the Blind, introduced resolution 2000-15. This resolution expresses the Federation's opposition to H.R. 2870, the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Coverage Act. One major reason for our opposition to this bill is that learning to live as a blind person is not a medical issue. As the resolution explains: "This legislation would have the ultimate consequence of replacing the coordinated and comprehensible approach envisioned in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, with a fragmented and bureaucratic rehabilitation-delivery system, governed more by the objectives of managed care than by the provision of services needed by and planned for the individual."
Resolution 2000-19, sponsored by Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, outlines the reasons for our opposition to H.R. 3590, the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Notification Act. Title III of the ADA prohibits public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, stores, banks, and other covered entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. This bill would require a potential plaintiff in Title III ADA cases to notify the owner of public accommodation of his or her intention to sue and describe how the owner discriminated against the person with a disability. The potential plaintiff would also have to wait ninety days before filing a suit. Such an approach hardly enables the aggrieved blind person to obtain the desired goods and services.
In the National Federation of the Blind we take a proactive approach. We did not merely pass resolutions opposing existing legislative proposals. We also passed several resolutions calling on Congress to initiate and pass legislation. Kristen Cox, Assistant Director of the NFB's Department of Governmental Affairs, sponsored resolution 2000-02, which urges Congress to enact legislation to compel publishers of textbooks to provide usable versions of electronic texts purchased for sighted children to school districts that serve blind children. Blind students must receive their materials in accessible formats if they are to have a quality education.
Two resolutions called upon the Congress to improve the plight of blind sheltered shop workers. In resolution 2000-03, introduced by Jason Ewell, a 1997 scholarship winner who attends John Carroll University in Ohio, we demand that wage equity for blind individuals be included in any changes to the federal minimum wage law. The second resolution was also introduced by a student, Angela Sasser, President of the Texas Association of Blind Students. In resolution 2000-07, we urge Congress to amend the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act to ensure that blind shop workers have the opportunity to hold management and supervisory positions.
Once again we urge Congress to eliminate earnings limits placed on blind people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance. As Sheila Koenig, Secretary of the National Association of Blind Educators and the author of resolution 2000-06, explained: "The earnings limit is the number one barrier to productive work by the blind."
Resolution 2000-23 also calls for changes in Social Security policy. As its author, Mrs. Cox explained that blind people who receive Social Security benefits must report earnings from work activity. Frequently disputes about whether the beneficiary has been overpaid arise. During the appeal process the Social Security Administration stops all benefits even though a final determination is yet to be made. This resolution insists that the Social Security Administration abandon this unfair policy. Further we call upon Congress to amend the Social Security Act to eliminate this policy if the Administration fails to take action. These resolutions demonstrate that the Federation will be very busy on Capitol Hill during the coming year.
The convention passed six resolutions concerning rehabilitation services. Jim Antonacci, president of the NFB of Pennsylvania, proposed resolution 2000-01. This resolution expresses our opposition to efforts made in Louisiana and Florida to privatize rehabilitation services. We call upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to prevent privatization from occurring in any state.
Resolution 2000-10 promotes informed choice by calling upon the Rehabilitation Services Administration to publish such statistics as outcome information on an accessible Web site. Mrs. Cox, the proponent of this resolution, explained that such information would be useful to clients and advocates as they develop their individualized plans for employment.
In resolution 2000-14 we call upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to establish a policy prohibiting state vocational rehabilitation agencies from counting blind people who work in sheltered employment as successfully rehabilitated clients. Noel Nightingale, a member of the national Board of Directors, President of the NFB of Washington, and the author of the resolution, remarked that sheltered employment should not be considered a final employment outcome for blind people. They must have access to further vocational rehabilitation services.
Jim Willows, President of the NFB of California, proposed two resolutions to enhance rehabilitation services. First, resolution 2000-17 calls for the elimination of the order of selection for blind persons. Order of selection is a procedure that state agencies use to determine eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services during times of tight budgets.
Mr. Willows's second resolution, 2000-27, calls upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to reissue policy guidance ordering state agencies to purchase adaptive technology for blind employees. Too many state agencies try to make the employer pay for this technology instead of doing the job themselves.
The last resolution dealing with rehabilitation is 2000-29, proposed by Ted Young, a long-time Federation leader in Pennsylvania. Because of this resolution, the Federation will seek federal support to establish specialized independent living centers to serve blind people.
The convention passed five resolutions concerning education. The trend in kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education is to measure progress in education by proficiency testing in subject areas and school-accountability testing. Three resolutions address problems with these tests experienced by blind students across the country.
In resolution 2000-09, introduced by Pam Dubel, Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, we urge state departments of education to adopt policies to insure that blind students have the opportunity to participate in all testing programs and to obtain standard high school diplomas.
Kim Aguillard, a 2000 national scholarship winner who just graduated from high school, proposed resolution 2000-13. In this resolution we urge state departments of education to adopt policies compelling all developers of standardized educational tests to consult with professionals in the blindness field and blind people as they develop proficiency and accountability tests so that these tests can be readily and appropriately adapted in nonvisual formats for blind and visually impaired students.
Resolution 2000-22 was also introduced by a student, Allison Hilliker, from Michigan. This resolution affirms the authority of the student's Individualized Education Program team to determine appropriate accommodations for the student to use when taking these standardized tests.
Another area of testing in which problems with accommodations have developed is the General Educational Development (GED) test, the alternative path to completion of high school. Doris Willoughby, a renowned author of books and articles on the education of blind children, addressed this issue in resolution 2000-25. The GED test regulations illegally prohibit the use of a live reader to read test questions. A second problem is that there is some indication that the test will not be available in Braille when it is revised. In resolution 2000-25 we call upon the American Council on Education to administer the GED test in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The last education issue that the convention dealt with by resolution was the role of disabled student services offices on university campuses. The two sponsors of this resolution, 2000-31, have direct knowledge of the problems. Shawn Mayo is President of the National Association of Blind Students, and Jim Marks directs a disabled student services program in Montana. The resolution urges that: "This organization urge the Association on Higher Education and Disability and the U. S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to join with it in developing and publishing a guideline and best-practice model for accommodating blind students in higher education to maximize learning and eliminate the unnecessary, unintentional, and widespread fostering of dependency now occurring on America's college campuses."
The largest category of resolutions passed by the convention dealt with access issues. Several resolutions covered policies, while the remainder dealt with access to specific sources of information. These resolutions also urge both the government and private industries to work closely with us to eliminate nonvisual access barriers.
Michael Gosse, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, proposed resolution 2000-11. This resolution would expand nonvisual access by calling upon Congress to apply the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all recipients of federal grants and contracts. Currently Section 508 accessibility requirements apply only to the federal government, itself.
Resolution 2000-16 would expand nonvisual access requirements by including them in the Universal-Service-Initiative provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The purpose of this initiative is to provide greater access to the Internet and other telecommunications services through public schools and libraries. In this resolution we call upon the Federal Communications Commission to develop rules covering nonvisual access. This resolution was proposed by Mrs. Cox and Steve Jacobson, a leader in the NFB of Minnesota and Vice President of the NFB in Computer Science.
Four resolutions address research access issues. In its National Digital Library Program the Library of Congress is digitizing selected collections of its archival materials. Nathanael Wales, president of the California Association of Blind Students, proposed resolution 2000-18. In this resolution we call upon Congress to make sure that the National Digital Library Program materials are accessible to blind people.
The remaining three resolutions concern access to the World Wide Web with its wealth of research material. Gary Wunder, a member of the national Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Missouri, proposed resolution 2000-21. This resolution offers specific suggestions to industry and training institutions to promote the design of accessible Web sites.
Resolution 2000-30, proposed by Chris Danielsen, a leader in the NFB of South Carolina, offers an interesting suggestion to manufacturers and service providers of personal digital assistants that could also increase access to Web information for the blind. The resolution reads in part: Personal digital assistant "manufacturers and service providers have used specially encoded electronic files. . . which provide text versions of information available on Internet Web sites in a format designed to be compatible with the PDA technology and small screens used on PDA's. . . ." It is the opinion of the National Federation of the Blind that this method of presenting Web-based information could also be used effectively by blind users of desktop computers and other access devices." We intend to work with industry to explore these possibilities further.
John Miller, President of the Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind, and members of the Federation's Research and Development Committee came up with a method to increase access to scientific and mathematical material. In resolution 2000-24 we call on publishers who offer scientific publications on the World Wide Web to offer these publications in MathML, an electronic markup language for displaying and reusing mathematical and scientific notation.
The convention passed four resolutions dealing with access to information delivered by technologies other than computers. Brian Miller, a former scholarship winner and a leader in the NFB of Iowa, proposed resolution 2000-05, concerning audio description on television. As the resolution explains: "The blind are routinely denied access to text information flashed on the screen such as emergency weather updates, news bulletins scrolled along the bottom of the screen, sports scores, program guides, phone numbers in advertisements, the identities of speakers during news programs, and other data not otherwise read aloud. The resolution then resolves that: "This organization call upon the Federal Communications Commission to modify its currently proposed and narrowly focused mandate for descriptive video in favor of one that would prioritize making universally accessible, important on-screen textual information available to America's blind television viewers through a standardized audio format."
Resolution 2000-04, mandating audio description of all television programming and DVD, was defeated in committee. The resolutions committee also killed resolution 2000-12, calling for the support of low-power FM radio.
Resolution 2000-28 was proposed by Curtis Chong, the director of technology for the National Federation of the Blind. In this resolution we "call upon national, state, and local election officials to abandon their misguided efforts to develop tactile overlay schemes and to concentrate instead upon providing full nonvisual access to electronic voting technologies which permit the blind to cast and verify their votes without sighted assistance."
Resolution 2000-32 proposes that the cellular phone industry provide nonvisual access to all cell phone features. This resolution was sponsored by Cary Supalo, a 1994 NFB scholarship winner who currently attends Penn State University, and Jamal Powell from Illinois.
Kevan Worley, the newly elected President of the Blind Merchants Association, sponsored resolution 2000-34, which calls upon the cable and satellite-dish industry to work with us to develop an effective, convenient, and inexpensive method to make all on-screen programming information available to blind consumers.
The remaining six resolutions cover a variety of subjects that do not fit into one specific category. Curtis Willoughby, a long time federation leader from Colorado, proposed resolution 2000-08 concerning accessible pedestrian signals. We urge the United States Access Board to adopt standards that provide for tactile accessible pedestrian signals only where unusual circumstances exist and where other methods of making the intersection pedestrian-friendly are in use but are not sufficient.
The resolution also resolves that: "This organization insist that traffic engineers and public officials employ all practical methods to make all intersections pedestrian-friendly and use tactile rather than audible signals where accessible pedestrian signals are installed."
Most conventions pass at least one resolution concerning the Randolph-Sheppard program. Resolution 2000-20 expresses our opposition to a proposal by the General Services Administration to apply performance criteria to blind vendors which are arbitrary, capricious, and not in compliance with the law. This resolution was proposed by Larry Povinelli, Treasurer of the NFB of Virginia.
Restrictive dealerships of assistive technology were the subject of resolution 2000-26, proposed by Curtis Chong and Michael Jones, president of the NFB of Alabama. In this resolution we call upon manufacturers of assistive technology for the blind to eliminate practices which stifle competition and limit consumer choice.
The convention passed two resolutions objecting to a new certification scheme for professionals in the field of work with the blind. Resolution 2000-33 was proposed by Debbie Stein, First Vice President of the NFB of Illinois. It outlines our objections to the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, which was incorporated this past January.
Mrs. Cox proposed resolution 2000-36. In this resolution we call upon all state and local education agencies to refrain from recognizing certification by AER or by the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals in determining qualifications for orientation and mobility instructors.
The last resolution that I will describe in this article is resolution 2000-35. It was proposed by Rami Rabby, a longtime federationist who works for the U. S. Department of State and is currently stationed at the United Nations. In this resolution we call upon the U. S. government fully to support the formulation by the United Nations of an international convention on the rights of people with disabilities.
The above information is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the convention. Readers should examine the complete text of each resolution to understand our policy on these subjects fully.