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The Braille Monitor,  August/September 2001 EditionThis is a line.

The American Council of the Blind Unwilling to Cooperate

From the Editor: Just before recess on Wednesday afternoon, July 4, President Maurer took a few minutes to read a brief statement. Here it is:

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) came into being in 1961. It was formed as a splinter group of the National Federation of the Blind. Federation members decided during the 1961 convention that rules of democracy would be followed in the Federation; that votes of the national organization would be binding on the affiliates, the chapters, and the members; and that those who would not abide by such democratic votes could not continue to be a part of the Federation.

Some people inside the Federation wanted to control the organization, but they did not have the votes. They refused to recognize the will of the majority. When they were expelled from the Federation, they formed the American Council of the Blind. The primary focus of the ACB, from the time of its beginning, has been to attack the National Federation of the Blind. At least on the national level leaders of the ACB have felt bitterness toward the NFB. Their actions have suggested that they believe that they are in constant competition with the NFB, and they look upon progress within the NFB with annoyance because they believe that others will unfavorably compare them with the NFB.

In the beginning the ACB had an apparent purpose. In the late 1950's and early 1960's a combination of some of the more reactionary agencies for the blind was attempting to prevent the National Federation of the Blind from building strength because they did not want to have an organization in existence that could point out their shortcomings. When the National Federation of the Blind complained, for example, that agencies for the blind were threatening blind vendors with the loss of their vending facilities if they participated in the organized blind movement, the ACB said that the agencies weren't really that bad. The ACB became a front for the worst agencies for the blind in the nation. However, the standards for performance by the agencies have improved, and many of them are working closely with the National Federation of the Blind. The agencies rarely need a front today. Consequently the ACB finds itself struggling for a role within the blindness field.

In the mid-1980's and early 1990's Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our long-time leader, began to work with a number of the leaders of the entities dealing with blindness to attempt to form harmonious and cooperative relationships. This effort was very successful, and it continues. The National Federation of the Blind has worked cooperatively during the last year with the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, RFB & D (formerly Recordings for the Blind), the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and a number of others within the United States and beyond our borders. We have been talking about cooperation with other entities such as National Industries for the Blind if the proper conditions can be established.

The American Council of the Blind has not been willing to work with us. Its position has been to attack us. It divides its pronouncements between the "official, public" line and its other published remarks. Its "official, public" line is that it has considerable admiration for us and wishes to work with us. However, the true feelings of the ACB are expressed in public statements and documents distributed on the Internet and made in other public places.

The National Federation of the Blind established the NEWSLINEŽ for the Blind Network in 1994. We are now working to expand this service to reach every single blind person in the United States. Some four dozen newspapers will become available to every blind person with a touch-tone telephone totally free of charge. To redesign and deploy the system, we received a four-million-dollar federal appropriation, which the ACB tried to prevent. When they discovered to their annoyance that they had not done so, they lied about it--calling it "federal funding for [a] Jernigan memorial parking garage."

In case the reference is unclear, ACB members and leaders mischaracterized the appropriation. It is for NEWSLINE for the Blind. They said it was to fund the construction of the tenBroek Library at the National Center for the Blind, which is the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. They have knowingly and deliberately mischaracterized this structure as a parking garage.

During the 2001 legislative season in Maryland the National Federation of the Blind asked for an appropriation from the state to fund construction of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The 2001 request was for one million dollars with the understanding that there would be additional requests for the 2002 and 2003 budget years--two million dollars in 2002 and three million dollars in 2003. Leaders of the ACB of Maryland appeared at the legislative hearing to oppose the request. When I, outside of the legislative process, asked the president of the ACB whether it was the policy of the ACB to oppose funding of NFB programs, he said that the ACB would not oppose our fund raising unless we asked for funds from public sources. Once again the efforts of the ACB to prevent an appropriation for our programs failed. ACB members and leaders responded with diatribes against me, against the NFB, and against the memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

The ACB has supported mandatory descriptive video of television programming. Although we believe access to information is essential, and although we believe descriptive video is a good idea for entertainment, we oppose requiring it by law, believing that for purposes of entertainment it should be offered as a service if we can persuade people to do it. We expressed this opinion in federal court, and the ACB described our behavior as "treasonous, contemptuous, and irresponsible," saying "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." After calling us such names, the ACB urges the membership of the NFB to rise up and clean house. Since the writing and circulation of this document and a press release attacking the NFB the ACB has made a number of other direct and indirect attacks upon the Federation.

In the vituperative writings about the NFB by ACB members and leaders, many references are made to the life and work of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was first elected President of the Federation in 1968 and served as the principal leader of the organized blind movement during much of the rest of his life. The attacks compare Dr. Jernigan to Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler. In other words, they are reckless, irresponsible, and deliberately provocative with no thought for courtesy or civility.

It is clear that the ACB hopes to increase its stature by becoming regarded as a suitable opponent for the NFB. It wants to start a war. However, it is not in the interest of the National Federation of the Blind to fight. We have not forgotten how to do it, and if the ACB becomes effective at hurting the interests of the blind, we will be forced to engage in combat. However, unseemly behavior and childish name-calling, though obnoxious and annoying, are not worthy of a major response. They will, of course, make it very difficult for interaction and cooperation to exist with the ACB.

The ACB has been cranky and cantankerous with the NFB for a long time, and its current habit of name-calling is not substantially different from its previous behavior. However, its deliberate attacks against programs and funding of the NFB, such as NEWSLINE and the Research Institute, are a departure and may demand a response. It would be unfortunate to permit unprincipled behavior by the ACB to cause such disharmony that the cooperation we have worked to achieve ceases to exist. If there is not respect among us all, that harmony will diminish and disappear. It is axiomatic that, to gain respect, one must be willing to give it. The ACB has demonstrated that it is not willing.

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