The Braille Monitor                                                                                                     February 2005

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California Legislation and Accessibility Issues

by Nancy Burns

From the Editor: Nancy Burns is president of the NFB of California. Here she reports on the affiliate's recent legislative activity. Some of the things they have accomplished would be useful projects for other states. This is what she says:

Federationist Racquel Decipeda uses the new talking ticket-vending machine.
Federationist Racquel Decipeda uses the new talking ticket-vending machine..

For the past several years the NFB of California has had a successful legislative agenda. Both Braille literacy issues and nonvisual access to technology legislation have passed. AB-2525 was signed by Governor Davis in 2002. This legislation mandated nonvisual access to voting machines. Assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson, from Santa Barbara, authored this bill. Members of the Santa Barbara South Coast chapter visited her district office and were influential in her decision to author this legislation. AB-467 was authored by assembly member John Dutra, who has been a supporter of NFB of California legislation in the past. This bill provided nonvisual access to ticket-vending machines for public transportation and was signed into law in 2003.

On February 14, 2004, Federationists, community leaders, and Ryan Spencer, principal consultant from Dutra's office, gathered at a Burbank Metrolink station to acknowledge installation of audible ticket-vending machines. Don Burns, NFB of California legislative representative, presented Ryan Spencer with a certificate of appreciation to be given to assembly member Dutra. Federationists used the ticket-vending machines, and one member assisted a sighted couple to purchase tickets.

Don Burns presents a certificate of appreciation to Ryan Spencer, principal consultant from Assembly member John Dutra's office.   Federationist Joy Stigile and NFB-C President Nancy Burns look on.
Don Burns presents a certificate of appreciation to Ryan Spencer, principal consultant from Assembly member John Dutra's office. Federationist Joy Stigile and NFB-C President Nancy Burns look on.

The legislation which created the most controversy and opposition in the governor's office was AB-2312. It provided nonvisual access to point-of-sale machines and was authored by our friend John Dutra. Over a year ago the NFB of California office began receiving calls from Federationists throughout the state complaining that point-of-sale (POS) machines were now using touch-screen systems and were no longer accessible. As a result of these concerns, we passed a point-of-sale resolution during our 2003 convention. It urged the NFB of California to seek legislation to provide access to POS terminals. This resolution resulted in AB-2312, which created an incredible amount of controversy and opposition. Retailers, grocers, and the hotel industry insisted that changing these point-of-sale machines would be too expensive.

I requested that a flood of emails and letters, both print and Braille, be sent to the governor once the legislation had reached his desk. Our troops responded, and apparently the governor's office was deluged with emails and letters in support of this legislation.

Once our bill reached the governor's desk, there were three possible courses of action. The governor could veto it, and we were concerned this might happen. He could do nothing, and it would automatically become law at the end of September. We thought this was likely to be the only possibility for enactment. The third option, of course, was for the governor to sign the bill. On Friday, September 24, Don Burns received a call from Ryan Spencer advising him that Governor Schwarzenegger had just signed AB-2312. The NFB of California office quickly spread the word and celebrated another victory.

Ryan Spencer worked long and hard on this piece of legislation. He became the liaison between the governor and the NFB of California office. The opposition met with the governor's aide almost daily. And Mr. Spencer met with the same aide to counter the opposition and to restate the NFB of California's position. During the 2004 NFB of California convention Mr. Spencer was presented with a resolution of appreciation that recognized and commended him for the professional manner in which he worked with the NFB and for bringing this legislation to a successful conclusion, resulting in new laws benefiting the blind and visually impaired. Mr. Spencer played a critical role in these negotiations.

The NFB of California has long been concerned about the quality of education received by blind and visually impaired students. Because of these concerns this organization has sponsored Braille literacy legislation. Our first effort to mandate Braille instruction was vetoed by Governor Davis in 2000. Since Federationists don't give up and go away, we returned to the legislature and were successful in getting AB-306 signed by the governor in 2001. This Braille literacy bill, authored by assembly member Dario Frommer, mandated Braille instruction for functionally blind students. This was followed by AB-2326, establishing a task force given the mission to create Braille reading standards, since none existed. Three Federationists served on this task force and worked on what proved to be a formidable assignment. These Braille-reading standards were carefully aligned with the print-reading standards for sighted students in public schools. These standards can be accessed at the California Department of Education Web site at <www.cde.ca.gov>.

We hope other affiliates will be successful in creating similar Braille literacy legislation. The state superintendent of public instruction, Jack O'Connell, has acknowledged the task force for this accomplishment and is pleased that the state of California is a leader in the effort to recognize the importance of Braille instruction.

Continuing with our effort to educate the sighted world about the existing crisis in Braille-literacy instruction, our legislative team, Don Burns and his assistant Chad Allen, were successful in bringing about Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 195. This ACR is not a law, but it articulated the joint concerns of the California senate and assembly regarding literacy instruction for blind and visually impaired students. This ACR was beautifully framed and presented to Don Burns during a recent trip to the capitol. It now hangs in the NFB of California office. The coming legislative year will bring new challenges, and we are ready to meet them.

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If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:

"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $__________(or "______ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: ________") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."

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