Braille Monitor                                                 August/September 2007

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Maintaining Independence:
A Report on the 2007 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the Resolutions Committee. She and Marsha Dyer, this year’s Resolutions Committee secretary, worked hard to ensure that the Convention could hear and understand the various resolutions presented to it on Friday afternoon. Here is Sharon’s description of the resolutions considered this year:

Sharon Maneki, chairperson of the Resolutions Committee, and Marsha Dyer, committee secretary, on the platform during the Friday afternoon Convention sessionSince its inception the Federation has always sought ways to enable blind people to foster and maintain our independence. Although this convention was unique because we conducted our first March for Independence, independence is really a basic part of our philosophy. In “The Nature of Independence,” Dr. Jernigan described independence as coming from within: “We are achieving freedom and independence in the only way that really counts: in rising self respect, growing self confidence, and the will and the ability to make choices. Above all, independence means choices, and the power to make those choices stick.”

It is no accident that our resolutions seek actions that will foster and maintain independence. According to long-standing tradition, the Resolutions Committee at national convention meets during the first day of registration. This year the thirty-member committee, which represented people of all ages, walks of life, and sections of the country, met on Sunday, July 1. We discussed, debated, and approved sixteen resolutions that will help blind Americans maintain our independence.

Before a resolution can become the policy of the organization, it must be voted on by the Convention because the Convention is the ultimate authority of the Federation. Resolutions come to the Convention floor in either of two ways: from the Resolutions Committee or from the national board of directors. This year the board passed one resolution. Therefore the Convention considered seventeen resolutions.

On Tuesday, July 3, the Convention adopted Resolution 2007-101, which came from the NFB board of directors. In this resolution we urge Congress to fully fund the Books for the Blind program. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped needs $19.1 million in FY 2008 to begin the conversion to digital Talking Book players. Since this resolution will affect our ability to continue to read books and periodicals, we passed it early in the week so that we could immediately send this important message to Congress.

The Convention adopted sixteen resolutions in total. Although Resolution 2007-15 received a favorable vote from the committee, it failed on the Convention floor. Naysayers should recognize that Federationists are independent thinkers. The Convention is not a rubber stamp for the committee. There was considerable debate on this resolution, which sought greater accountability from vocational rehabilitation agencies. Everyone agreed that these agencies need to improve their performance and should be held more accountable. The resolution proposed that accountability be achieved by creating a new funding formula with bonuses for high-achieving agencies. The resolution failed because a majority believed that it was a good idea in theory but would be difficult to achieve in practice. I am sure that future Conventions will debate evolved versions of this resolution.

One of the greatest barriers to independence and equality for the blind is public attitudes. Full integration of the blind into society is prevented by the myths and misconceptions of the public. Fred Schroeder, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Virginia, proposed Resolution 2007-09 to reduce public misconceptions about blindness. In this resolution we condemn and deplore “the negative, damaging, and distorted description of blindness and blind people contained in the novel Blindness by Jose Saramago.” Plans are underway to make a movie based on this novel. In this resolution we further urge the movie director Fernando Meirelles to abandon this project. We also intend to urge financial backers of the film to withdraw their support because of the serious harm that would result from such a demeaning and degrading portrayal of blind people.

If blind people are to maintain our independence, we must have full opportunities to education and employment. The convention passed four resolutions regarding education and four resolutions regarding employment and training, which means that half of the resolutions dealt with these two important subjects.

Resolution 2007-01 states that the Federation will explore partnerships with educational institutions to develop model education programs for blind students to enhance the quality of education available to blind Americans. The current education system leaves the majority of blind students throughout the country ill prepared to meet the challenges of the real world. Thus more research and new approaches are needed in the education of blind students. This resolution was sponsored by Dr. Joanne Wilson, director of affiliate action for the National Federation of the Blind.

Access to textbooks is a key ingredient in receiving a quality education. Readers should not be surprised that we have a resolution on nonvisual access to textbooks for students in higher education because we have been working on this issue for many years. Steve Decker, who is president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and who won a national scholarship in 2005, sponsored Resolution 2007-03. In this resolution we commend Congressman Raúl Grijalva for his efforts. He plans to introduce legislation to ensure access to textbooks for blind students and faculty in higher education. Because of its critical importance to the blind, we also call upon Congress to take prompt action to pass this legislation with or without the support of the publishing community.

One of the trends in education today requires students to demonstrate capabilities by passing standardized tests. These tests are also used to measure school performance to achieve accountability. The Convention adopted two resolutions dealing with the testing of blind students. Peggy Elliot, second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2007-08. The U. S. Department of Education should enact regulations that incorporate a testing bill of rights for blind Americans. This resolution outlines the numerous problems that blind people face in receiving testing accommodations. The resolution states: “Standardized testing brands blind victims as underachievers when they are merely being scored for taking a high stakes test under adverse and often adversarial circumstances.”

Janice Jeang, who is first vice president of the Texas Association of Blind Students and who won a national scholarship in 2003, was a summer intern with the Strategic Initiatives Department at the National Center for the Blind. She proposed Resolution 2007-14. Students in grades K-12 are required to take tests periodically under the No Child Left Behind Act. This resolution clearly states that blindness should not be used as a reason to exempt students from this testing. However, in the resolution we call upon Congress “to require creators of assessments under No Child Left Behind to develop all test questions so they can accurately be completed without reliance on vision.”

With a 70 percent rate of unemployment and underemployment among the working-age blind, it is no surprise that the Convention would pass four resolutions to broaden employment opportunities. Employment is critical in maintaining independence.

Sarah Leon, a 2007 national scholarship winner who just graduated from high school and plans to attend Grace University in Indiana, sponsored Resolution 2007-05 regarding eligibility for transition services. Transition services are provided by vocational rehabilitation agencies. These services can include such things as adjustment-to-blindness training or any other service that would help a teenager transition to adulthood and the world of work. Students who receive training early have a better chance for successful employment. In Resolution 2007-05 we call upon Congress to mandate that vocational rehabilitation agencies begin transition services for blind teens at age fourteen.

Many blind Americans have enjoyed successful employment because of the opportunities created under the Randolph-Sheppard program. In the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2005 Congress created a committee to make recommendations for resolving conflicts between the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program and the Randolph-Sheppard program concerning military food service contracts. This committee, known as the Joint Committee, was composed of representatives from the U. S. Department of Defense, the U. S. Department of Education, and the Committee for Purchase from People who are Blind or Severely Disabled. In Resolution 2007-02 we call upon Congress to reject the Joint Committee recommendations and to take immediate steps to expand opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored this resolution.

Sometimes government policies have restricted our independence by creating work disincentives. The Convention adopted two resolutions to eliminate these barriers. Jeff Thompson, treasurer of the Metro Chapter of the Minnesota affiliate and an instructor at BLIND, Inc., one of the three NFB training centers, introduced Resolution 2007-12. Blind people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are discouraged from returning to work because they cannot afford to lose benefits. In this resolution we urge Congress to remove the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries and allow them to keep their benefits.

Terri Uttermohlen, first vice president of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland affiliate, sponsored the second resolution involving a disincentive to work. If a blind person applies for and receives SSDI benefits, he or she must wait two years after the first month of receiving SSDI before being eligible for Medicare benefits. The lack of affordable medical care during this period may cause the disabling condition to worsen, further disconnecting the individual from the workforce. In Resolution 2007-10 we call on Congress to make Medicare entitlement begin at the same time that SSDI benefits start.

Mike Freeman, second vice president of the Diabetes Action Network and president of the Washington affiliate, proposed two resolutions to promote independent self-care for blind diabetics. An insulin pump is an alternative to multiple daily injections of insulin by insulin syringe or an insulin pen and offers better control of diabetes. In Resolution 2007-04 we call on manufacturers of insulin pumps to include nonvisual access features in all models of pumps.

Resolution 2007-11 promotes the development of accessible glucose meters by urging the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of Senso Card Plus, an accessible glucose meter popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe. The resolution also states that this organization will “establish nonvisual accessibility certification standards for diabetes technology to promote the development of truly accessible products.”

Our level of independence increases as we gain greater access to information. The Convention passed three resolutions concerning access to information. Carrie Modesitt, a national scholarship winner in 2006 and vice president of the Missouri Association of Blind Students, was the proponent for Resolution 2007-07. Blind people find it nearly impossible to purchase items online because more and more merchants are using security measures that cannot be read by screen readers. These security measures require the ability to recognize patterns of characters or numbers that change quickly. In this resolution we urge online merchants to find solutions that do not block access to blind users yet still enhance security.

Ryan Strunk, who completed his term as president of the National Association of Blind Students at this convention, sponsored Resolution 2007-13. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) is proposing to require city buses to use automated bus stop announcement systems. In Resolution 2007-13 we heartily endorse this proposal. However, in the resolution we also recommend two important additions to the proposal. First, turning off the automated bus stop announcement system should be defined as a violation of the guidelines. Second, the guidelines should require regular maintenance of the automated bus stop announcement system.

Blind cable television customers pay the same rates for these services as everybody else. Yet we cannot use many of the digitally based interactive services offered by cable companies. Paul Kay, a longtime leader in the D. C. affiliate, and Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2007-16. In this resolution we call upon cable companies to take immediate steps to remove the nonvisual-access barriers to their services.

The last resolution that I will discuss in this article reflects the importance of choice in maintaining independence. As blind people we have the right to choose which accommodations we want and need. Verizon communications has a department to serve the needs of disabled customers. Once a blind customer has received services from the disabilities department, he or she is always automatically referred to this department no matter what services have been requested. For instance, blind customers with bill disputes are referred to the disabilities department, even though the department cannot resolve the dispute. Aloma Bouma, a longtime leader in the Maryland affiliate, introduced Resolution 2007-06. In this resolution we demand that Verizon immediately stop this practice.
This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.

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