The Braille Monitor                                                                                       February 2003

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A Threat or a Promise?

by Marc Maurer

Marc Maurer
Marc Maurer

Until recently the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC) has had as its president Mr. Steven Obremski. Mr. Obremski's term as president came to an end at the NAC board meeting which occurred in December of 2002. That was the board meeting which had been planned to coincide with the meeting called by NAC to bring together supporters of the NAC system. This meeting (denominated by NAC as a "summit") appears to have failed in its objectives. NAC had sunk into obscurity, and the NAC summit was called for the purpose of improving its image and enhancing its influence.

The National Federation of the Blind had earlier been invited to assist NAC in improving its political and economic fortunes, but NAC persisted in the behaviors which have come to be associated with NAC--namely offering the blind tokenism while continuing accreditation of programs which provide doubtful services. In the process of offering agencies accredited status, NAC has sometimes condoned or ignored unethical practices and has almost universally refused to consider in any meaningful sense the views of the blind.

With this as background, the National Federation of the Blind decided to conduct an informational picket of the NAC so-called summit and board meeting. This took place in Tampa, Florida, on December 13 and 14, 2002. A report of the picket appears elsewhere in this issue.

On December 20, 2002, a letter from Mr. Obremski arrived at the National Center for the Blind. It accuses the National Federation of the Blind of criminal behavior. This accusation is like so much else associated with NAC: the facts described to back up the charge do not justify the high-flown accusatory language. I responded to Mr. Obremski immediately. Of course I was not there, and I had no opportunity to observe what occurred. We have only Mr. Obremski's characterization of the incident about which he has complained. We do not even know that the person about whom the complaint has been made was a member of the National Federation of the Blind. However, even if the facts are as characterized by Mr. Obremski, his accusation is unjustified. Here is the correspondence:

National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired

Lakewood, Ohio

December 16, 2002

Marc Maurer, President

National Federation of the Blind

Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Mr. Maurer:

I am writing to make you aware of some behaviors of NFB members at the Crowne Plaza Hotel during the NAC Summit on Accreditation held December 13 and 14, 2002.

Most concerning was a threat that I received on the morning of Sunday, December 15th. After entering an elevator with either two or three other people (I am not sure because of my blindness), a person said, "You're with NAC aren't you?" I responded affirmatively. The person then said, "Well, if you continue what you're doing, we're going to come looking for you and you'll be sorry." I asked if we could talk about this, but the elevator stopped on a floor and they left. This was very frightening to me, to say the least.

This behavior is criminal in nature and has no place in the interactions between NAC and NFB. I cannot help but hold you responsible for this because you have created an atmosphere of mindless hatred that encourages people to act in an antisocial way.

In addition, I heard many comments from Summit attendees regarding the protesters' lack of knowledge of NAC, and the lack of knowledge of why "NAC was bad." Remarks included the fact that some people were at the protest because they were told to do so, while others said they were there only because the NFB paid their expenses to attend.

I am sorry that you choose to continue your distrust of NAC and refuse to work with NAC and other members of the field of blindness to develop a mutually acceptable system of standards and accreditation. However, personal threats are not necessary to express one's opinion and have no place in the expression of views in regards to a concept or entity such as NAC. If you choose to protest future meetings of NAC, please convey this to your protesters.

I hope that in the future there can be cordial ways to resolve our differences for the betterment of the field of blindness.

Sincerely,

Steven Obremski

President

cc: J. Doug Armstrong, Esq.

December 20, 2002

Mr. Steven Obremski

President

National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired

Dear Mr. Obremski:

I have your letter dated December 16, 2002, postmarked December 18, 2002. It has just this moment arrived. Your letter is filled with charges which are unsubstantiated. It is more of the same old NAC tactics, and it does not do you well.

For example, you say that I have created an atmosphere of hatred. This is an absolute lie. I have reacted to what you have been doing--nothing more, nothing less. I have exposed shabby behavior of NAC-accredited agencies and poor performance of NAC. You are the one who brought the subject of hatred into our exchange of correspondence--not I.

You tell me that you were threatened. You say that somebody in an elevator indicated that, if you continue what you're doing, we're going to come looking for you, and you'll be sorry. You characterize this as a threat. As the old saying sometimes has it, it may be more of a promise. We said in 1972 that we would track down NAC and expose its shabby and unethical behavior for what it is. Perhaps your companion in the elevator was reiterating a commitment made thirty years ago.

You say that the conversation you had in an elevator was frightening to you. Your words are meant to suggest that there was something evil in intent implied by the statements of the person who confronted you. In fact, you say that these words are criminal. Such hyperbole is foolishness. You want to convey the notion that there might have been a violent intent. There is not, and you should know that there is not. In all of the history of NAC there has never been violence on the part of the National Federation of the Blind. There have been violence and threatening language and behavior by NAC officials. One NAC official was arrested for assault on one of the members of the National Federation of the Blind. Study your history. The facts will reveal whether NAC has threatened or intimidated.

I will end this letter in the way that you began yours. I want to tell you of some of the behavior of NAC representatives toward the blind of this country. I hold you personally responsible for it. Did you know that NAC-accredited schools have permitted abuse of blind children? Are you aware of the rest of the history? The blind will not tolerate what NAC has been doing.

Very truly yours,

Marc Maurer, President

National Federation of the Blind

Mr. Don Wells was hired by NAC to facilitate its so-called summit. Being hired by NAC apparently, according to Mr. Wells, gave him expertise in relationships within the blindness field. Mr. Wells has written his own letter, which arrived shortly after Christmas. His letter is also accusatory, but the accusations are of a different type. Since Mr. Obremski's letter and Mr. Wells's letter are dated the same day, it is likely that they were both writing for the record. Here is the exchange of correspondence with Mr. Wells.

Don Wells Consulting

Cedar Grove, North Carolina

December 16 2002

Marc Maurer, President

National Federation of the Blind

Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Marc Maurer,

I was hired by NAC as the facilitator for their recent Summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Whereas I direct a statewide Nonprofit Certificate Program for Duke University, I also facilitate various meetings throughout the country each year. This letter is prompted by my observations during the facilitation for NAC in Tampa last week.

The approximately forty persons attending the Summit were from a wide variety of agencies--you no doubt have their names and agencies provided to you by Dr. Harold Snider. (Who, by the way, seemed a very thoughtful and intelligent man. A pity he was only an observer.) In addition to the diversity of agency, there was also a wide diversity of opinions regarding the importance of standards and accreditation for agencies serving the blind and visually impaired as well as the role NAC might play in providing such services.

The quality of the participants' efforts to reach consensus on some rather complex issues during the course of the day was most impressive. Despite the presence of an "observer" from NFB, discussions were candid, insightful, germane to the topic, and bespoke an earnest effort to honor the importance of serving in a field that strives to be responsible to both its clients and the general public by upholding high standards of excellence in their work.

The sessions in the context of the Summit meeting were in stark contrast to the circus NFB orchestrated on the street outside the hotel during the Summit. The slogans displayed (I am sighted) and shouted were, in a word, inane. In the conversations that I had with demonstrators, their knowledge concerning what they were picketing for (or against) was absent and as such, in my opinion, a marked embarrassment to NFB. No one I spoke with (out of about twenty) had more than a two- or three-line response that was, in effect, a paraphrase of the chants uttered when on the picket line. Indeed, a well-dressed man in the lobby asked me who those "yahoos" outside were. I suggested that he ask them.

In my preparation for facilitating the Summit, I read a great deal about the long history of antipathy NFB has for NAC--and undoubtedly vice versa. It seems (as your transcript will reflect) that NAC owns its part in the evolution of this conflict and would like to move on. However, from an outsider's perspective, the continued public warring prompted by NFB appears strikingly sad to me, as well as destructive to the entire field of blindness. In short, NFB's position is intractable and a zero sum game.

I would therefore ask you to please consider the future, search with NAC for ways to cooperate and build in a generative way. We are in a time when examples of leadership that are strident and destructive are abundant, while leaders who build consensus and harmony are rare. Such leaders are sorely needed. I would ask you to consider becoming such a leader.

In this season of peace on earth, I would entreat you and NFB to explore ways in which a consensus might be forged. If you do, there might then be a chance that a level of cooperation and excellence in the field of blindness may be achieved--perhaps even before there is peace in the Middle East.

I do wish you and yours a restful and happy holiday season. We have much to be thankful for.

Sincerely yours,

Donald A. Wells

January 3, 2003

Mr. Donald A. Wells

Don Wells Consulting

Cedar Grove, North Carolina

Dear Mr. Wells:

I have received your letter of December 16, 2002, which was undoubtedly written for the record, and I am responding in the same spirit. However, I shall refrain from the name-calling that you employ in your letter.

You ask me why I am not a peacemaker. What makes you think that I am not? You accuse the National Federation of the Blind of conducting a circus. You say that those who participated in the circus are inane. I shall not use the same terminology in addressing you, but I will observe that you do not know what you are talking about. You tell me that you sought to engage members of the Federation in debate about NAC. You tell me that they responded with brevity. You charge that this means that they do not have an understanding of NAC.

If the conversations occurred as you describe, it is likely that Federation members accepted the reality that the time for debate is before the picket line is established. As NAC had refused to recognize the right of the blind to determine their own destiny, the time for debate had passed. It would be fair to observe that Federation members know more about NAC than you do.

At the meeting you facilitated, the president of NAC, I am told, said that the blind are patients. He is alleged to have offered the opinion that it is inadvisable to turn the hospital over to the patients. [Actually, Mr. Obremski made this comment to a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, and it appeared in the paper's December 14 story.] The blind of America decline this designation. Furthermore, we insist that we will have the right to decide for ourselves what programs of service to the blind will be like. After all, our lives are at stake--our futures are in the balance. To keep us from having a voice except as a matter of tokenism is unconscionable. That is what NAC has attempted to do in the past; that is what it is trying to do now. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

Don't be taken in by the propaganda. Study the facts. Approach the matter with an open mind. Perhaps you will discover that the blind should be labeled with a different word than "inanity."

Very truly yours,

Marc Maurer, President

National Federation of the Blind

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