The Braille Monitor                                                                                               May, 2002

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The ACB Attacks NFB-NEWSLINEŽ Again

by Marc Maurer

Marc Maurer
Marc Maurer

A number of people have asked me to identify the purposes of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Some have speculated that its primary motivation is to attack the National Federation of the Blind. This would appear to be an oversimplification, but there is a lot of evidence. When the National Federation of the Blind first established the NFB-NEWSLINE service, the ACB attacked it. Now it is happening again.

The National Federation of the Blind started the NFB-NEWSLINE program in 1994. This service distributes newspapers on a daily basis to blind people by touch-tone telephone. At the beginning of the program we decided that we would attempt to provide this service to as many blind people as we could reach at no charge to them. Of course we have over the years of its development spent substantial sums in creating this service. The money had to come from somewhere, and we have been active in pursuing funding for it. On March 1, 2002, we inaugurated the nationwide NFB-NEWSLINE service. NFB-NEWSLINE now distributes fifty newspapers throughout the entire nation to blind people. We have maintained the practice of providing these newspapers at no charge to the recipient. We still have work to do to improve the service further, but NFB-NEWSLINE is quite effective as it now exists. With this one service we are offering more information more quickly to blind people than has ever been available in the past.

We announced the initiation of our nationwide service shortly before it became available. Applications began to pour in. In one week this winter we received over 5,000 requests. Management of so large a volume of applications for NFB-NEWSLINE became troublesome. To make it more efficient for this service to be provided to the end user, we asked that libraries for the blind and other entities dealing with blindness assist by signing people up. We hoped to be able to make this service available through a number of other programs that already have regular contact with blind people. By so doing, we expected to increase the efficiency of getting the service to the people who want it.

We asked rehabilitation counselors to distribute applications for the NFB-NEWSLINE service in the same way that we have asked them to provide blind students with copies of our scholarship applications. One organization that promised to help was the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. NLS said that it would put the application for NFB-NEWSLINE into circulation to patrons of the National Library Service. Inasmuch as the qualification to receive NFB-NEWSLINE is the same as the qualification for receiving library service, a library patron would be qualified to receive the National Federation of the Blind NEWSLINE service.

Now comes an e-mail letter from Chris Gray, President of the American Council of the Blind. Apparently it was distributed to a group of ACB leaders. It seeks to muster support for an attack upon the National Federation of the Blind with a side attack upon the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. What is the reason for this attack? It is that the National Federation of the Blind has been giving away newspaper service to the blind of America.

The ACB President makes it clear that the value of the service (no matter how good) is, in his view, irrelevant. He also charges that there are hidden purposes in the provision of the NFB-NEWSLINE service for the blind. But, let Chris Gray speak for himself. Here is the text of his e-mail:

----- Original Message -----

From: "Chris Gray" chrisg@brightmail.com

To: "ACB Leadership List" leadership@acb.org

Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2002, 1:44 PM

Subject: Re: [leadership] NLS & NFB Form Partnership

Regarding this topic, it's important for us to focus on what issues are relevant to ACB and blind people as a whole. It seems to me that the most relevant issues are as follows:

1) NLS is collaborating with an organization in a manner that is known to create a significant accumulation of capital (cash money) for that organization. Whether directly or indirectly, this partnership can only accrue significant financial benefit to the NFB.

2) NLS is providing potential massive amounts of hard information to a consumer organization with regard to the names and addresses of blind people that are potential members and donors to that single organization.

3) It is well-known that this organization, NFB, routinely uses such information to recruit members and raise additional funds. As a subscriber to NEWSLINE for the Blind in California, I know this to be true on a first-hand basis.

These are the issues of most significance and that ACB needs to consider.

There are many other issues we should not consider in the context of the organization or its position on this matter. I would suggest for your consideration for example that the value of NEWSLINE is an irrelevant issue with regard to whether or not ACB turns its back on the providing of this information by NLS to NFB. Also, whether or not ACB members use NEWSLINE is not a relevant issues [sic] in this specific context. By that argument, NLS ought to distribute the Braille Forum to its readers at no charge, or better yet, it ought to allow us to receive the names and addresses of all potential subscribers.

Chris

This message has come to you from the ACB Leadership list: a special List for the leadership of the American Council of the Blind. Please use discretion when disseminating information from this list.

Such is the e-mail message from the President of the ACB. In recent times (for the past dozen years or perhaps more), there has been a growing spirit of harmony and cooperation in the field of work with the blind. It is desirable that this spirit be maintained and enhanced. The ACB would like to destroy this spirit. During the past year the ACB has tried to persuade the National Federation of the Blind to engage in conflict. However, we believe that strife and confrontation should be permitted to exist only when there is no other alternative. We believe that belligerence for the sake of belligerence is counterproductive and foolish.

It is, perhaps, (in a twisted way) understandable that ACB finds it impossible to break out of its traditional pattern of jealousy and bitterness. It is worth speculating whether the fact that ACB has little or no real experience in creating and conducting major programs makes it particularly difficult for the Council's leaders to understand the concepts involved in cooperative joint agreements or the responsibilities and commitments required to fulfill them. The NFB has engaged in negotiation and joint undertakings in a wide array of innovative programs conducted in collaboration with both public and private entities. Cooperation demands give and take. It also demands recognition that others have contributions to make.

It is ironic that ACB's pathetic wish to exclude the NFB from such activities is based solely on the reality that these programs are designed and implemented by the blind themselves. The ACB does not attack programs designed by the sighted. When NLS makes similar arrangements with others, the ACB has no complaint. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is designated by law to provide as broad an array of reading matter to the blind in accessible formats as can readily be achieved. It has behaved responsibly in its efforts to do precisely that for many decades, and we have cooperated strongly with NLS because of its excellent track record and tremendous pattern of good service.

We support others who want to provide service to the blind, and we ask them to support us. We believe that one of the major problems facing the blind community today is a lack of resources to instigate imaginative programming. Consequently we are working to increase the amount of money committed to ensuring independence for the blind. We believe that any other approach is without merit.

Those in the ACB who want to read the newspaper are welcome to have it. Those who do not want to read the newspaper are welcome to leave it alone, but they should not try to destroy the service for those who want it.

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