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The Braille Monitor,  June 2001 EditionThis is a line.

ACB Takes a Fling at Laying down the Law

Charlie Crawford
Charlie Crawford

      From the Editor: Almost a half century ago, when the National Federation of the Blind was beginning to be a force in the field of work with the blind, many professionals in the field became uneasy at the prospect of consumers finding an independent voice and point of view to use to influence legislators and the general public. (See the speech by Dr. tenBroek elsewhere in this issue.) At about that time the NFB underwent what we now think of as a civil war in which we threw out those who preferred confederacy to a strong federal model of organization. This was great news to all those who wished the consumer movement nothing but ill because it inevitably diverted a certain amount of NFB time and attention away from efforts to improve services to blind people. But the split had another advantage for our enemies: the splinter group was so eager to garner approval from any quarter at all that it was only too happy to play yes man to the lead offered by agency professionals in any agency dispute with the NFB.

       The political situation continued about like that until the late eighties or early nineties. At that point Kenneth Jernigan and Bill Gallagher along with others began to put their minds seriously to building harmony where they could in the field and agreeing to disagree quietly where they could not. The result has been a remarkable period of growing accord in the field. Together we have beaten back several serious threats to identifiable rehabilitation services for blind consumers. Increasingly specialized VR agencies have been able to turn to consumers for support in their legislatures at budget time, and they have gradually begun to depend on energetic blind people as role models to encourage new customers. In other words, in all sorts of ways we have begun to build bridges across the chasm of distrust created over decades.

       The American Council of the Blind has had remarkably little to do with all this. In some places both organizations have taken a hand in rebuilding understanding or in working together to insure that blind consumers continue to be served. Frequently, however, the pattern has been that the state VR agency has invited both the NFB and ACB to take part in deliberations or an activity but only the NFB has taken leadership or sometimes even showed up. Now the ACB, or its Executive Director Charlie Crawford at any rate, has decided that something had to change. In late April he wrote and circulated a remarkable memorandum to ACB affiliate presidents and vocational rehabilitation agency directors. A week later NFB Director of Governmental Affairs James Gashel wrote a memo to President Maurer commenting on the Crawford document, and Dr. Maurer then wrote a cover memo and sent it and Mr. Gashel's document to that same group of VR agency directors. Here, beginning with Dr. Maurer's cover memo, are the three documents in the case. Jim Gashel's memo follows Dr. Maurer's, and Charlie Crawford's is third.

MEMORANDUM

Date:   May 7, 2001

From:  Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind

To:      Directors of Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies, General, and

           Directors of State Rehabilitation Agencies for the Blind

Re:      Relationship with rehabilitation programs

Threats to Harmony in the Blindness Field

       At a recent meeting of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB), I commented that the growing partnership between state vocational rehabilitation agencies and the organized blind was providing greater opportunities to blind people than had previously existed. I also mentioned that a small number of people were attempting to destroy the harmony and cooperation that had been developing. I indicated that Charlie Crawford of the American Council of the Blind would no doubt expand on this theme.

      Shortly after the NCSAB meeting, Charlie did indeed express his viewpoint in a memorandum sent to rehabilitation officials entitled "Concerns Received Relative to State Agency Practices." James Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs, has summarized comments regarding this memorandum in a May 7 memorandum of his own entitled "Troubling Times" (a copy of which is attached).

       Mr. Crawford's memorandum purports to urge that state agency officials seek even-handed fairness in dealing with consumer organizations, but the purpose of the memorandum is not even-handedness. Mr. Crawford pretends to seek equality of treatment, but his purpose is to prevent collaboration or partnership between rehabilitation agencies and the National Federation of the Blind. However, his effort to divide rehabilitation programs from the Federation will cause serious harm to services for blind people and have dire consequences for agencies and consumers alike.

      The National Federation of the Blind has fought for programs to serve blind individuals with resources and flexibility not available to state agencies. In fact, the partnership between the organized blind and public rehabilitation agencies has been positive and effective. We want this partnership to continue. If it does not, agencies which serve the interests of the blind are the most likely to be damaged. This has happened before.

       For these reasons I am distributing Mr. Gashel's memorandum to you. We value the partnership that is developing between the organized blind and agencies for the blind, and we deplore anything that will damage collaboration in the future.

            That was the cover memo. Now here is Mr. Gashel's comment:

Memorandum

DATE:        May 7, 2001

FROM:       James Gashel

TO:             Dr. Maurer

RE:             Troubling times

       As you know, a memorandum from Charlie Crawford to "State rehabilitation agency heads and ACB affiliate presidents" has been widely distributed on the Internet under the subject: "Re: Concerns received relative to state agency practices." Ordinarily I would not be moved to comment on such a writing, but this one appears to be part of a pattern which we are compelled to consider.

James Gashel
James Gashel

       To begin with, I suppose there is not much point in mentioning the overall tone of Charlie's memo, which amounts to a petulant lecture aimed at the agencies. Perhaps a few state directors will obediently fall into line with Charlie's unsupported demands--some might say, "Charlie's law"--but the ones I talked to are either insulted by Charlie's arrogance or amused by his pompous puffery. As one of them put it, "That's Charlie." He was one of the state directors, so they have observed his character and behavior. Even so, I suspect that many were still surprised to receive such a document full of thinly veiled threats with so little in reality to back them up.

      As to substance, Charlie's statements about balance are really disingenuous--that is, the only balance with nothing is nothing. I say this because I am unaware of any programs to help blind people that the ACB makes available through collaboration with state agencies or otherwise. However, according to Charlie's law, agencies should refuse to participate in programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind unless participation is also offered in comparable programs of the ACB. The implication is that collaboration with the NFB when the ACB has no program is a violation of Charlie's law.

       To tell it like it is, Charlie's law is just a way for the ACB to claim that it really has positive programs. In fact, collaboration by the ACB in joint efforts of the NFB and state agencies lends legitimacy to the ACB as though it were more than just a silent partner. It doesn't seem to matter if the collaboration is forced and the ACB contributes little or nothing to the effort.

      This would be fancy footwork indeed if Charlie could convince the agency directors that his law is valid. Besides, by asserting Charlie's law, there appears to be no downside for the ACB since, either it is asked to join in the collaboration, contributing nothing, or the NFB will be stopped in its tracks. This is the unspoken part of Charlie's law, and the blind of the state lose out because of it.

      Consider the example of Missouri, where the state officials have become so gun-shy that really no collaboration or joint programming is carried on between the state and either the ACB or the NFB. This is the inevitable result of Charlie's law. In fact the situation that now exists in Missouri is the outcome of a protest initiated by the Missouri Council of the Blind to insist that Charlie's law be followed. They complained that the state agency was sending students to NFB-sponsored seminars and providing clients with copies of NFB literature. The ACB had no seminars and very little literature.

       The agency considered the NFB seminars and literature to be of value. However, the ACB's insistence upon Charlie's law stopped everything. This occurred because the ACB had nothing comparable to the NFB, so the balance of nothing is nothing. Incidentally, the agency officials did ask if the NFB would still make the literature available but just remove any identifying information. This is their notion of abiding by Charlie's law--removing the NFB's name and identity from its own programs and literature.

      In point of fact, there is absolutely no legal authority for Charlie's law. That is, the Rehabilitation Act does not include anything like the equal time requirements that at least used to apply to radio and television broadcasts. This conclusion is certainly the result of the Missouri litigation and reflects the current posture toward organizations which the Missouri agency has adopted.

      If you think about it more than just a little bit, Charlie's law would lead rehabilitation agencies into virtual gridlock. Why should the principle of balance apply only to services offered by consumer groups and not to all services? For example, if someone receives training with a cane, shouldn't the guide dog schools also have a shot at promoting their method of independent travel with the student, as well? This would be the consequence of Charlie's law.

      Beyond this I am seriously troubled by the direction of the ACB's recent conduct as represented by Charlie's memorandum. Here is what I mean. Last year, when the NFB was asking the Congress for funds to expand the NEWSLINEŽ service for nationwide distribution, leaders of the ACB were attempting to block the appropriation and thought they had done so. Now, with the award of $4 million for NEWSLINEŽ, every blind person in the United States will have timely daily access to newspapers for the first time ever. However, if the ACB had succeeded in blocking the appropriation, this service would not be possible.

      Once again the blind would have been the losers because of Charlie's law and the ACB's lack of a program--not to mention their openly expressed hatred of the NFB. This combination of jealousy and hate was also shown in the ACB's bitter opposition to our request for funds from the state of Maryland to support the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind (NRTIB). Although the appropriation of $1 million was granted, the ACB has vowed to do everything possible to block the funds promised by the Governor of Maryland for future years.

       Now comes Charlie's lecture to the agencies delivered in the wake of these attacks and recent defeats suffered by the ACB. I suppose the kindest thing you could say is that Charlie has a need to convince his members that he is really on the ball and at least trying to do something to respond to the NFB's record of success.

      It would be one thing if the ACB were putting its energy and money into programs like NEWSLINEŽ for the Blind, America's Jobline, Job Opportunities for the Blind, technology training, evaluation and development, litigation to protect our civil rights, training for parents of blind children, advocacy in Social Security cases, promoting model laws for Braille and technology access, operation of model training centers, public education campaigns, and distributing aids and appliances; but there is nothing except jealousy that the NFB is doing all these things and more.

       Rather than kowtowing to Charlie's law, the blindness field should stand up and insist that the ACB join the rest of us in promoting harmony and progress. I can remember the days when the agencies had very little respect for the NFB and vice versa. Fortunately, through the efforts of Dr. Jernigan, Bill Gallagher, and many other leaders of state agencies and the NFB, we have learned to work together, even if we don't always agree with each other. The ACB resents this partnership and seeks to destroy it. The recent conduct of the ACB as exemplified by Charlie's lecture has crossed the line to provoke a war. In fact, "war" is the term that Charlie and his friends have begun to use; they have gone so far as saying that they are engaged in a fight to the finish against the NFB. Their thinking is so full of venom that their e-mail messages compare Kenneth Jernigan to Jim Jones and Adolph Hitler, even though Dr. Jernigan died three years ago. The NFB has never sought to destroy the ACB, but a war means that someone will get hurt.

      Charlie's law is a fraud. He doesn't want balance, and he especially doesn't want any form of free-market competition with the NFB. All he really wants to do is to hate the NFB and eventually kill us off. I have plenty of evidence that this is so, and it is also his reason for lecturing the state agencies about relationships with us.

      There you have the NFB documents. Now here is the one that provoked them. As always with ACB documents, we reprint them as we received them--interesting punctuation, spelling, and sentence construction intact.

Memorandum

To:   State rehabilitation agency heads and ACB Affiliate Presidents

From:  Charles Crawford ‑ ACB Executive Director.

Date:   April 29, 2001

Re:   Concerns received relative to state agency practices.

      I am supplying all state directors and ACB Affiliate Presidents with this memorandum to afford you with an opportunity to know about and remedy any applicable concerns with regard to appropriate balancing of consumer relations to avoid difficulties which may arise from any omissions from addressing the concerns listed below.

       The general issue here is that we at the American Council of the Blind have received a number of concerns expressed by our state and special interest affiliates as to various activities within state agencies that may well conflict with our 13 principles of consumer cooperation, which we will add as a courtesy at the end of this message. As you know, ACB has distributed these principles on more than one occasion over the past few years and we use them as a means of measuring the extent to which we find an agency consumer friendly and within the appropriate boundaries of public responsibility. We ask that you review the following concerns to determine if they are occurring in your agency and to take the necessary action to remedy them if they are applicable. We are sending these in an attempt to afford agencies with an opportunity to resolve issues before they become more problematic and generate a need for our intervention at a state administrative level. We are hopeful that you will find this communication to be a positive way to avoid difficulties and improve balanced consumer cooperation.

            * Web site issues.

      ACB has learned that at least one if not more Web sites of state agencies are not providing balanced links to ACB and our local affiliate sites. This of curse prejudices visitors by only giving them information and links to another consumer group and their publications. While it is not the intent of ACB or our affiliates to suppress access to other organizational entities, we do expect equal access to our information. Hence links on state Web sites that point to one consumer organizational site or its publications or affiliates must also point to our Web site (WWW.ACB.org) and to our equivalent publications such as the Braille Forum and our affiliates.

            * Literature distribution issues.

      We have heard that at least one state agency has distributed information about another consumer organization within a discrete service application without due diligence to insure that information about ACB was equally available. This creates the appearance of endorsement and fails to provide consumers with information concerning all groups and therefore is unacceptable.

      The remedy for this is to insure that applications for services or programming relate only to the service or program and not gratuitously include advertising for a particular group of consumers. It is acceptable that a service, program or event sponsored by a particular group may clearly state such sponsorship, however information about the group or applications for membership are not appropriate to the purpose of the service information. In short; literature associated with a particular service cannot be used as a means of promoting an organization without the appearance of endorsement by a public entity.

            * Training methodology issues.

       ACB is concerned that publicly sponsored training for blind consumers occurring either directly at an NFB owned and operated rehabilitation center or indirectly provided with the NFB model of training, be either consumer group neutral, or provide equal information on all relevant consumer organizations. In addition, ACB supports the provision of information to consumers in advance of selecting a rehabilitation site or training methodology to insure consumer choice and avoid adverse policies to the understanding of the individual consumer selecting where to receive rehabilitation services.

       In the first example, ACB expects that any information provided consumers during rehabilitation services which amounts to advertising of any kind of any organization, must be balanced with information from consumer organizations with a differing view. This insures that consumers are not unduly influenced or otherwise prejudiced at the expense of public dollars and to the detriment of such consumer's ability to choose affiliation or non‑affiliation with any group.

      The second example relates to consumers being fully informed as to what expectations may be made of them when attending a rehabilitation program. By example, the use of sleep shades or kenneling of guide dogs could constitute a surprise for consumers who choose not to participate within that training methodology. In such circumstances, the rehabilitation program must either share their training requirements before attendance by the consumer or make other arrangements when consumers exercise their rights to alternative training models.

      ACB has provided this information to uphold appropriate balance between the legitimate interests of state agencies and those of organizations of consumers within the context of publicly sponsored services. ACB seeks that no organization have a greater advantage than any other when consumers are afforded with information or opportunities to participate in activities where consumer group advertising occurs. The clear exemption to this rule is where an agency assists a consumer in attending a purely organization oriented function whereupon the agency would further be required to afford the consumer with a right to attend other such sessions of other organizations.

      The intent of this memorandum is to enhance the relationship of consumer organizations and state agencies by insuring that there is a fair and equal opportunity for individual consumers to know about and determine whatever relationship they may wish to pursue with consumer organizations. Only in this way can the integrity of the public interest be maintained while the partnership with consumer organizations can flourish.

 

ACB 13 principles of consumer cooperation.

RESOLUTION 99‑22

     Establishes 13 principles which the American Council of the Blind (ACB) views as essential in order for state agencies for the blind to maintain positive working relationships with consumers and organizations of the blind, and urges ACB affiliates and chapters to work to insure that all state agencies for the blind in United States adhere to these principles.

     RESOLVED by the American Council of the Blind in convention assembled this 7th day of July, 1999 at the Airport Westin Hotel, Los Angeles, California, that this organization adopts the following 13 Principles which it establishes as essential in order for state agencies for the blind to maintain positive working relationships with consumers and consumer organizations of the blind:

            1. The state agency must make its information available to consumers in a medium which can be read and used. Preferably the information should be made available in the media of choice for each consumer.

            2. The agency must hire people who are blind and provide equal opportunity for upward mobility.

            3. All agency computer and other information systems and materials must be accessible to and usable by blind employees and consumers as appropriate to their business needs.

            4. The offices of the state agency must be accessible to consumers both in terms of transportation and the built environment.

            5. The state agency must require its counselors and administrators to engage in good faith negotiations with consumers as to mutual expectations within the context of consumer choice and responsibilities.

            6. The state agency must insure that information about consumer organizations is available in a balanced and non‑prejudicial environment. These materials must be made available in accessible media and with sufficient frequency without favoring one organization over others so as to allow consumers to know about and make their own choices as to what to do with the information.

            7. The state agency must share information on important topics such as budget and program development in sufficient time to allow consumers to properly assess and productively react to it.

            8. The state agency must avoid any actions which would have the effect of chilling the personal decision of employees to join any consumer organizations of their choice and to conduct themselves accordingly outside the framework of agency business.

            9. The agency must conduct its training and its business with other entities involving the views of a balanced spectrum of consumer organizations.

            10. The state agency director and appropriate staff must attend and participate in state meetings of consumer organizations.

            11. The state agency director and appropriate staff must meet with the leadership of consumer organizations on a sufficiently frequent basis to maintain productive dialog and input.

            12. The state agency must support consumer initiatives where it is lawful and without conflict of interest for it to do so.

            13. The state agency must make appropriate changes as a result of consumer input.

            BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge its affiliates and chapters to work to insure that all state agencies for the blind in the United States adhere to these principles.

Adopted.

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