The Braille Monitor                                                                                               March, 2002

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Davy Jones's Locker

by Peggy Elliott

A ship taking on water fast(from: http://www.armed-guard.com/picsbook.htm
A ship taking on water fast][From: http://www.armed-guard.com/picsbook.htm

From the Editor: Periodically Peggy Elliott, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Iowa, reports on the recent fortunes of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and the Visually Impaired (NAC). New personnel have taken over the leadership of NAC (see the August/September 2001 issue of the Braille Monitor for the details). Other than that, not much has happened until recent months. Here is Peggy's report of what is now going on:

Avid readers are familiar with numerous wonderful sea stories, from those about Horatio Hornblower through the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy and Two Years Before the Mast to the modern Patrick O'Brien sea thrillers. Every such reader knows that a central character in each of these books is the ship itself--her layout, rigging, decks, holds, berths, spars, and tiller. Whether the ship is a China clipper or a British sailing ship or an intrepid American vessel rounding the Horn or becalmed in the horse latitudes, that ship is a central character. But there is another character in these books, rarely spoken of but always, always present: Davy Jones. Davy and his locker, graveyard of ships and men on the bottom of the vast and empty sea, are constant companions of those who sail the bounding main.

Another story with which Federationists are all familiar is the story of NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and the Visually Impaired). When NAC comes to mind, one way of thinking about it is to liken NAC to a sailing ship.

The Good Ship NAC was once a proud craft with sails rigged and taut, all decks holystoned and gleaming, all fittings bright and shining as it sailed forth, accrediting agencies port and starboard. As Federationists know, the Good Ship NAC defined its universe of agencies as around 500, and at high tide NAC briefly accredited over 100 of these. But that Good Ship NAC is no more.

As we have followed the adventures of NAC through the years, its sails have ripped away in the tempestuous weather of public opinion, its masts have shuddered and snapped, and its decks have buckled, riddled from within by worms and rot. Many have thought that the ship could not sail another week, let alone another year, but the Good Ship NAC has somehow stayed afloat, moving between minor ports of call and limping from one year's end to the next, barely above the surface. More than one of us has thought that NAC was about to join the brave ships vanquished by Horatio Hornblower and dispatched to Davy Jones's Locker.

The almost-ghostly Good Ship NAC suddenly appeared last summer at the National Federation of the Blind convention, assuring everyone that the ship was still seaworthy and, in fact, about to get a complete overhaul and re-fitting with a new executive director. Most of us shook our heads and muttered about rotten planks and water in the bilges. Then we heard from the high plains of America that NAC was making a serious bid to provide accreditation to the Colorado School for the Blind. Here is the story as told by Diane McGeorge, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado

Early in September members of the NFB of Colorado learned that the Colorado School for the Blind was considering becoming accredited by NAC. We were told that they had received self-study materials, which they were reviewing. After learning this information, NFB members and officers decided it was of the utmost importance that we schedule a meeting with the superintendent, Dr. Marilyn Jaitly, and others of her staff, who were looking at the possibility of accrediting the school for the blind using NAC. We met with her; David Farrell, the principal of the School for the Blind; and Doug Miles, chairman of the school's board of directors. The meeting was cordial, and we outlined our concerns about such an accreditation. We also asked if we might meet with the full board, and that meeting took place one week later. Once again the meeting was cordial.

We were very pleased to receive the following letter announcing their decision. Through cooperation like this we are able to inform potential NAC members about our deep concerns and allow them to make informed, wise decisions. Our relationship with the school here in Colorado has been one of mutual respect and support, and we are confident that it will continue to be so.

Here is the letter mentioned by Diane in its entirety

Colorado Department of Education

Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind

Colorado Springs, Colorado

December 3, 2001

Diane McGeorge, President

National Federation of the Blind of Colorado

Littleton, Colorado

Dear Diane

Although you may have heard, this letter is to formally let you know that we have decided to pursue national accreditation through North Central Association (NCA) and will not pursue accreditation through NAC.

Our main reason for this decision was that we felt that NAC self-study guidelines did not integrate well with the accreditation indicators.

I appreciate your continued interest and support in those matters that concern the future of CSDB. Have a wonderful and restful holiday season.

Sincerely,

Marilyn Jaitly, Ph.D., Superintendent

Colorado Department of Education

Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind

NAC now accredits only eleven of the seventy-one schools for the blind in the entire country, and the last new accreditation of a school was in 1990. True to its current decrepit condition, the Good Ship NAC still has no port of call in Colorado, one of the thirty states that can boast a NAC-free environment.

Since the Monitor last looked in on the Good Ship NAC in late 1999, when NAC had forty-six accredited agencies in the U.S., high seas have buffeted her leaky hull, and fierce winds have rolled her almost onto her beam ends. In those two years four more agencies (in Georgia, Iowa, New York, and Tennessee) have severed their association with NAC by failing to re-accredit, while three small agencies (in Florida, Missouri, and Ohio), which can only be described as risk-takers, have climbed aboard the old tub. The Good Ship NAC now has forty-five accredited agencies, a net loss of one since 1999. Thirty states are now entirely NAC-free, and thirteen more have only one NAC agency apiece within their borders. This leaves thirty-two agencies concentrated in nine states.

So let us shift our attention to a southeastern seaboard state to see if the Good Ship NAC is faring any better there. For years it has been apparent that a significant percentage of the agencies accredited by NAC were located in one state, Florida. The number has remained at about 25 percent of the total, which would prove, if one were to believe NAC's propaganda, that Florida's blind are the best served in the country. Blind Florida residents have steadily disputed this contention, so skeptics have sought an explanation for this phenomenon other than quality of service.

We have now uncovered that explanation. Florida's agency serving the blind has had a long practice of contracting with numerous small city-or regional-based agencies to provide services. Until recently, although there was no requirement under Florida law, the agency mandated, as a part of the individual contracting process with agencies, that the agency be accredited. Again, no requirement for NAC specifically, but using NAC services gradually became a widely held inclination among Florida agency personnel as its accreditation became hallowed by history and practice until it felt like a requirement, and directors of the contracting agencies using NAC in Florida explained their accrediting choice to themselves and their constituencies as a requirement. In point of fact, CARF accreditation would always have been accepted, even in the old days under the technical requirement for some sort of accreditation. In reality, although everyone believed and told each other that NAC was required, it was never true.

Florida is now changing its contracting process and is developing state-based standards to govern this procedure. It appears that the state agency has finally noticed that NAC is an outside agency, and one applying standards not particularly relevant to the provision of services in limited geographical areas within Florida. The state agency is designing and planning to implement its own guidelines for the agencies with which it contracts. Apparently in order to clarify all this history and intention, the director of the agency for the blind last year wrote the following letter:

Florida Department of Education

Division of Blind Services

May 30, 2001

Mr. Allen Bornstein

CVI Board President

Ormond Beach, Florida

Dear Mr. Bornstein

At this time the Division of Blind Services does not require accreditation in order to contract to provide services. While we recognize the value of accreditation as a general concept, we have not adopted any procedures for evaluating those offering accreditation. In other words, we cannot say with any degree of certainty that accreditation by any particular agency means anything in terms of assuring good services.

We are working on developing our own internal ability to review and evaluate services provided by contractors. Therefore, while we do not require accreditation, we are not advising or urging that you seek or not seek accreditation on your own. Such a decision is a management decision to be made by your board.

Very truly,

S. Craig Kiser

Director

There you have the gentle, temperate language of the state agency director politely exploding the myth that NAC is required or provably useful in Florida. It would appear that the Good Ship NAC will soon find even its small ports of call in Florida unwelcoming.

Many a good ship has struggled valiantly, only to find its ultimate resting place on the bottom of the sea. When its power of locomotion, its superstructure, its very ribs and keel are destroyed by the work of worms or time or weather or other superior force, that ship sinks to the bottom and lies there for all eternity. The Good Ship NAC has now made an unsuccessful bid for a berth in Colorado and is about to lose its vaunted place in Florida. We can only hope that soon the Good Ship NAC will quietly sink into the deep and join its fellows in Davy Jones's Locker. Farewell, good ship.

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