by Barbara Pierce
The Braille Monitor does not ordinarily reproduce documents from the American Council of the Blind because there is little of value in them, and the Monitor serves as the magazine of record for happenings in the field of work with the blind. Those who wish to know what is occurring in our field routinely check the Monitor.
However, Charlie Crawford, Executive Director of the American Council of the Blind, has circulated material which merits publication, not for the content of information it provides, but as an explanation of the character of democracy and standard of conduct within the organization he purports to represent.
Within the field of work with the blind, the desirability of cooperation among entities dealing with blindness is almost a constant theme. Even officials of the American Council of the Blind urge that cooperation occur. However, their notion of cooperation involves having other people permit them to pretend to be the leaders in the field and adopt their point of view. When this does not happen (and very few have been hoodwinked by the histrionics of this small organization), ACB officials sometimes write with vituperation. They engage in name-calling, and they add bad taste to vindictiveness.
It is worthy of note that the ACB has recently engaged in concerted attacks upon Federation programs such as the NEWSLINE for the Blind® network and the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. It would be difficult to comprehend the depth of hatred certain ACB officials possess for the Federation without reading it in their own words. Consequently, we reprint Charlie Crawford's letter along with an accompanying press release to illustrate that hatred.
The Monitor is careful to research the truth of the statements it reports. Much error appears in what we are reprinting here, but we do not print it for the purpose of asserting that it is true.
The ACB repeatedly declares that it is democratic. Nevertheless, it is clear from correspondence emanating from its offices that the elected officials of ACB do not control or direct the organization. Rather Charlie Crawford, who has been hired to serve as executive director, is in control. So much for democracy; so much for being represented by people who are accountable to the electorate.
One of the more curious arguments contained in this material reveals much about the internal workings of the ACB. Charlie Crawford argues that the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind takes positions not supported by the membership. He urges that the membership rise in opposition to the leadership. The portrayal that he offers is that the leadership is out of touch with the membership and that the leadership is taking a position unsupported by the membership of the Federation. Others have jumped to this unwarranted conclusion in the past. Perhaps the ACB is willing to take positions that its own membership would not support; however, the NFB develops its policies in Convention assembled and counts upon its President to carry them out with vigor.
Therefore, and in the role of magazine of record, we offer Monitor readers the following documents, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling errors, exactly as we received them. The following e-mail-circulated message was written by Charles Crawford, in his official capacity and conveying his official views concerning a disagreement of policy between the Federation and the Council. Readers are requested to note Mr. Crawford's choice of terms and tone. The Federation's position on this issue is well known; Mr. Crawford's capacity for vituperation may not be.
From: Charles Crawford
The trust has been broken. ACB has confirmed that the National Federation of the Blind has entered litigation against the requirements for described video on television from the Federal Communications Commission. We have good reason to anticipate that the corporate entertainment industrial complex of the National Association of Broadcasters, The Cable Television Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America have or will soon have taken the same or similar action.
This contemptuous and irresponsible assault on our national blindness community is made only worse by the participation of the Federation. Whatever respect may have existed for the NFB, can no longer be said to exist after this outright and arrogant betrayal of the interests of the clear majority of blind people who simply have sought to gain access to visual information denied us before the advent of video description technology.
This repulsive treachery to our own community must be seen for what it really is. No amount of philosophical excuse making by the Federation can change it. Whether they did it for money, for pride, for the continuation of their belief that they alone know what is good for blind people and we have to accept their edicts, (whether we like them or not), does not change their treasonous behavior in the least.
While ACB cannot tell the Federation how to conduct its affairs; we must hold them accountable for their actions. Their membership must now take cognizance of what their organization is doing. We can only hope that this latest example of complete disregard and disrespect for blind people will finally cause the membership of the Federation to rise up in outrage and disgust and demand a complete house cleaning of NFB policy and behavior. Otherwise, they will continue their reckless course of "our way or no way" and its shameful results. Their membership will be then seen as nothing more than unthinking followers of a discredited and foul organization that has lost touch with who we are as blind people and is willing to sell out the integrity of the very people it claims to represent.
Not their buildings, not their money, not their propaganda, nor all their false self aggrandizement, can hide their obvious contempt for all that we blind people have done in the face of their opposition to secure our own well being and improve the quality of life for our community. Unless they make major changes, to reform their shameful ways; they will be known by all who seriously care about the well being of blind people as, "The National Federation of the Blind; changing what it means to be ethical."
That was Charlie Crawford's message; now here is the press release the ACB circulated:
American Council of the blind Condemns
entertainment industry's Greed
Denounces Federation's Failure to Support Access to Information
for People Who Are Blind
Reaction was swift from the American Council of the Blind upon learning that the National Association of Broadcasters, The Cable Television Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America had initiated litigation to overturn a government requirement that the television industry make a portion of their programming accessible to visually impaired and blind people, through a secondary channel that can be turned on by viewers. "After fifteen years of struggle simply to gain access to the same programming that all other Americans enjoy; we can only conclude that this assault on the rights of people who are blind and visually impaired by corporate entertainment has everything to do with their own greed and nothing to do with any principles of decency," said Paul Edwards; President of the Blind council. Edwards continued, " As a group we have few financial resources, but our tens of thousands of members have the conviction that we matter enough as people to defend our rights to information from an industry engaged in selling its entertainment to the general public. We will fight this at every turn."
" ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford angrily added, To add insult to injury, we understand that the industry has enlisted the aid of the National Federation of the Blind, as a related plaintiff in their suit. We can only view the Federation as a traitor to our community. We urge their members to exercise their rights as thinking citizens and people who wish to participate fully in their communities, by refusing to acquiesce to the will of their leadership, which appears to be more co-opted by industry than motivated to serve the needs of people who are blind."
Crawford urged members of the NFB to contact their leaders to express their disapproval of the organization's unwillingness to support the access to information which video descriptive services represent. "
The battles began last year when the Federal Communications Commission considered the request of a coalition of groups, including people who are blind and visually impaired and their advocates, to require that programming on television be made accessible to people who cannot see what's happening on their television screens, through an inexpensive technology called video description. The technology allows for the creation of a secondary soundtrack, where a narrator describes visual elements of a program during the natural pauses that occur in dialog. In this way, a person who cannot perceive the visual elements of a program or performance can gain a genuine understanding of what is happening and fully enjoy the event. All this comes through the secondary audio channel that is already available on stereo television sets. Making the secondary soundtrack available will be even easier as digital television comes onto the scene.
Both the industry and the National Federation of the Blind have argued that the television industry should not be compelled by the federal government to provide accessibility through video description. Others, including the American Council of the Blind, point out that the technology has been available since the early 1980s, but the industry has done next to nothing to make their programming accessible to people who are blind.
"Blind people are tired of waiting for access to entertainment and information that others in our society, including people who are deaf and hard of hearing, can take for granted," Crawford said.
ACB President Edwards vowed to vigoriously defend the rights of the blind and appealed to other people who are blind and visually impaired and people who care about doing what is right, to join in efforts to preserve the FCC requirement that network television make its programming accessible to everyone who wants to watch it.