Braille Monitor                                                                                                 August/September 2004

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 Advancing Civil Rights for the Blind: A Report of

the 2004 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon Maneki reads over a resolution in Braille during the meeting of the Resolutions Committee.
Sharon Maneki reads over a resolution in Braille during the meeting of the Resolutions Committee.
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the National Federation of the Blind Resolutions Committee. Hereis her summary of the 2004 resolutions:

During the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Atlanta, the nation also celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Johnson signed this landmark legislation on July 2, 1964. The Federation has been the leading civil rights organization for the blind.  It was most appropriate for our convention to take place during an overall celebration of civil rights.

This year the Convention considered and passed fifteen resolutions. As the reader will observe from the descriptions of this year’s resolutions, our commitment to civil rights for the blind has not wavered. The Convention passed resolutions on such rights as voting, education, employment, and access to information and technology.

The Help America Vote Act is the first federal law in history to recognize the right of the blind to vote privately and independently by requiring nonvisual access through the use of electronic voting machines. In Resolution 2004-01, we call upon Congress and state and local government election officials to uphold this law and to implement voter-verified paper trails only if such a system includes nonvisual means of voting verification. Dan Burke, first vice president of the Montana affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored this resolution.

The Convention passed three resolutions concerning education. The first covers primary and secondary education. Tai Tomasi, a board member of the National Association of Blind Students, president of the Utah Association of Blind Students, and a 2004 tenBroek Fellow, sponsored Resolution 2004-02. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact the Senate version of the provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 because it will make instructional materials available to blind and print-disabled students at the same time they are available to other students. Blind students will be able to obtain an equal, appropriate education only when they have access to textbooks and other learning materials at the same time as sighted students.

Resolutions 2004-03 and 2004-10 concern higher education. Jim Marks, a longtime leader in the NFB affiliate in Montana, proposed Resolution 2004-03. In this resolution we affirm the right of blind students to direct their own reader service. Current regulations need to be changed because they do not distinguish between using a reader for personal services and using a reader for study. Many colleges deny students reader services because they falsely accuse the student of using the service for personal benefit rather than for study. The Federation does not object to the prohibition against using readers for nonacademic purposes.

Blind students, however, not the institution, should have control over accommodations that they may need in college. Resolution 2004-10 outlines our arguments for this position. Darrel Kirby, president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and winner of this year’s $12,000 Jernigan Scholarship, was the proponent of this resolution.

The Randolph-Sheppard program, the most effective employment program for blind people, was the subject of Resolutions 2004-06 and 2004-11. Carl Jacobsen, newly elected national board member and president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, proposed Resolution 2004-06, in which we declare our unwavering commitment to preserve and strengthen opportunities for blind people to provide troop dining services at military installations throughout the United States. In Resolution 2004-11 we call upon the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to eliminate understaffing in the Randolph-Sheppard Program, which is part of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Bob Ray, president of the merchants division, National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, sponsored this resolution.

The Convention passed another resolution concerning employment. In Resolution 2004-14 we urge Congress to bring the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act into the twenty-first century. The resolution proposes five areas of reform to improve employment opportunities for blind people in the sheltered workshop system. Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, sponsored this resolution.

Most years the Convention passes resolutions about Social Security. This year was no exception. Jim McCarthy, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored two resolutions about Social Security, 2004-08 and 2004-15. Both resolutions call the Social Security Administration to task for its poor practices in handling benefit questions. Blind people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are frequently placed in limbo, where they receive no benefits as they wait for Social Security to determine if they are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) only or for both SSDI and SSI. We call for an end to this practice in Resolution 2004-08.

The Social Security Administration wastes taxpayer dollars because of its incorrect determinations of eligibility for benefits to self-employed individuals. Many blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard Program who remain eligible for their Social Security disability benefits are forced to appeal because the Social Security Administration fails to apply its own rules correctly. Resolution 2004-15 calls for better training for Social Security employees so that the law is correctly enforced.

The Convention passed four resolutions on access to various types of information. Gary Wunder, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Missouri, sponsored resolution 2004-04, concerning access to controls on appliances. In this resolution we urge the United States Department of Commerce to convene a conference as the first step in an ongoing dialogue between the National Federation of the Blind and the home appliance and consumer electronics industry to work together to make products accessible to blind consumers.

Resolution 2004-05 covers access, not only to home appliances, but also to other electronic devices used for work and life activities. This resolution states that the National Federation of the Blind should seek federal legislation to mandate equal and total access to modern electronic devices for the blind if voluntary efforts fail. Mickey Fixsen, treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, sponsored this resolution.

Michael Gosse, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2004-07. The 24/7 Reference is an innovative reference service offered throughout the U.S. in partnership with many public libraries to provide real-time Internet access to a librarian. Unfortunately this service is not accessible to the blind. In Resolution 2004-07 we call upon the Office of Library Services to ensure that this valuable service is as useful for the blind as it is for the sighted.

Access to the multiple listing service used by real estate brokers is the subject of Resolution 2004-09. Blind people who wish to be employed in the real estate field should have the opportunity to use the same tools as our sighted peers. We recommend that the National Association of Realtors encourage its members to purchase only accessible multiple listings services. Paul Kay, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia, sponsored this resolution. Rodney Barker, a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, introduced Resolution 2004-12. In this resolution we commend Congressmen Michael Castle and Bob Ney for soliciting recommendations from the National Federation of the Blind for nonvisual identification of dollar coins.

Air travel to Britain with guide dogs was the subject of resolution 2004-13, introduced by Peter Donahue, an active member of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. In this resolution we commend the British Parliament for changing its rabies law to permit the transportation of guide dog teams to England in the passenger cabin. We also call upon major airlines operating routes to England from the United States to comply with this new legislation so that blind people can travel with their guide dogs in the passenger cabin.

This information is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should examine the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete text of all resolutions approved by the Convention follows.

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