Braille Monitor                                                                                                        May 2004

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AIDB Board Votes to De-NAC

by J. Michael Jones

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

From the Editor: Michael Jones is president of the NFB of Alabama and for fourteen years was an employee of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB). At AIDB he served as an instructor/counselor and as an administrator. He resigned in late 2002 to complete his doctorate in vocational rehabilitation and work as a graduate teaching assistant for Auburn University. He is currently writing his dissertation on employment outcomes for persons who are blind and have accessed the public vocational rehabilitation program. He reports in the following brief article about recent positive events at AIDB:

The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness or Visual Impairment (NAC) has been reviled for decades by people knowledgeable about the blindness field as an embarrassment to accreditation bodies in America. I had read the literature casting doubt on NAC's competence in evaluating agencies, but I was never able to appreciate fully the truth of this criticism of the NAC evaluation process until I experienced it firsthand as a participant in a program review by a NAC survey team.

The program areas that I was evaluated on while working as an administrator for the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) were reviewed by a NAC team member who reported to me that he was a criminal psychologist who had briefly worked in the vision field some thirty years before. I repeatedly inquired if I should present documents to substantiate what I was reporting orally. I was assured by the NAC reviewer that documentation was not necessary. I spent the bulk of my program review answering questions about how the field of vision had changed over the last thirty years and not on evaluating AIDB's programs.

However, one need not draw on my observations alone to illustrate NAC's incompetence. Consider that in the same review year, 1998, while the NAC team was on the scene conducting its accreditation review, a worker at AIDB was using student records for illegal purposes. This is how the Associated Press recently reported the conclusion of that episode:

Alabama News
Woman Sentenced in Tax Scheme That Used IDs Stolen from Blind

The Associated Press
February 25, 2004

A woman convicted in a $700,000 tax scheme that used identification stolen from blind students at a Talladega school has been sentenced to one to two years in prison. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that former Talladega resident Roshanda Johnson, thirty-three, now living in Plano, Texas, was sentenced on charges of conspiracy to submit false tax claims and identity fraud. U.S. District Judge Inge P. Johnson sentenced Johnson on Tuesday to one to two years, followed by three years of court supervision.

Convicted November 4, Johnson was accused of stealing the Social Security numbers, birthdates, and other information of children attending the Helen Keller School in Talladega and providing it to an income tax return preparer in a false dependent tax scheme. Johnson worked part-time at the school in 1997-98.

NAC might reasonably be asked, don't its teams evaluate for general safe records storage and retrieval processes as a part of the review of agencies? Fortunately the NAC review team that visited AIDB in 1998 will be the last one to extend its probe into Alabama. In 1998 the NFB of Alabama passed a resolution at its state convention urging that AIDB discontinue its affiliation with NAC. AIDB's NAC accreditation was to be up for review in 2003.

For decades the AIDB had continued to pay for NAC accreditation until its new president, Dr. Terry Graham, and its reorganized board of trustees, led by longtime NFB member Mrs. Melissa Williamson, listened to blind people and rejected any further affiliation with NAC accreditation. This move is symbolic and is a signal that services for the blind in Alabama may be moving to a more competent level.

Here is Dr. Graham's letter rejecting NAC accreditation in Alabama:

October 9, 2003

Mr. Steven K. Hegedeos,
Executive Director
National Accreditation Council
Lakewood, Ohio

Dear Mr. Hegedeos:

At the September 30 meeting of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Board of Trustees, the Board voted to discontinue our relationship with the National Accreditation Council. AIDB is the nation's most comprehensive education and service program for children and adults who are deaf and blind, and our diverse array of services literally spans a lifetime from infants and toddlers to senior citizens. Regular examination and review of our programs will continue to be a priority for us, but we have chosen to pursue other options for accreditation at this time.

I thank you and your organization for past support of AIDB and for your efforts on behalf of persons who are blind and visually impaired. On behalf of our board of trustees I wish you and NAC the very best in future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Terry Graham

That was Dr. Graham's letter to NAC. We of the NFB of Alabama are proud to announce that with this decision Alabama can now boast a NAC-free environment. We are also pleased, but not surprised, to report that with NAC accreditation a matter of history the AIDB board has taken other courageous and overdue actions in recent months.

On February 18, 2004, the Talladega Daily Home reported that following a recommendation by the AIDB president and after learning that the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation would no longer share in funding obsolete training programs, the AIDB board of trustees voted to end seven training programs at the E.H. Gentry Technical School. The programs have not shown good results in job placements for graduates seeking employment in these areas. Twelve faithful employees will lose their jobs, which is certainly regrettable, but AIDB now recognizes its greater responsibility to do what it can to help its consumers, students, and workers to work and earn competitively in the twenty-first century.

Also according to the Talladega Daily Home of February 19, the board voted unanimously to raise the hourly pay rate for Alabama Industries for the Blind production workers from $5.98 to $6.28 an hour, the first such actual pay increase in almost fifteen years. Within a few months incentive increases will also begin for workers whose hard work and productivity merit them. Cost-of-living increases have occasionally occurred through the years, but this straight-up pay hike marks a significant shift and was an important decision for the board of trustees to make. Perhaps two such difficult and courageous actions at this time are simply accidental, but I suspect that they are connected in some way with AIDB's decision to step away from NAC. Whatever the case may be, the NFB of Alabama is pleased to give credit to the institute and its board for positive decisions and courageous actions.

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