Braille Monitor                                                 August/September 2007

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2007 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind

RESOLUTION 2007-101
Urging Congress to Restore Full Funding to NLS

WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) has provided reading materials for the blind for over seventy-five years, largely through the use of record discs and cassette tapes, which assure access by the blind to these materials without providing the ability to copy and distribute books in violation of copyright law; and

WHEREAS, cassette tapes and players have become obsolete, leading the NLS to engage in a long-running consumer outreach and research initiative that will result in a transition from analog to digital Talking Books, creating new flash memory cartridges and players; and

WHEREAS, the chairman and ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee sought a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative organ of Congress, which was conducted and resulted in the release of a report that inaccurately suggested that the NLS could effect a less expensive conversion to digital media using off-the-shelf technology; and

WHEREAS, the suggestions made in the GAO report are neither feasible nor legal, since they do not take into account the varying physical and technological needs of the NLS user population and, more important, do not adequately provide for the copyright protection which the U. S. Copyright Act and the law authorizing the creation of the Talking Book program require; and

WHEREAS, the NLS seeks $19.1 million for fiscal year 2008 and a similar amount for the subsequent three fiscal years to support the critical transition from analog to digital players and cartridges, which will assure that eligible blind people receive these new machines and players, but for FY 2008 the House of Representatives has agreed to $12.5 million only, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has included only that amount; and

WHEREAS, the Senate can and certainly should seek the entire $19.1 million amount, which would result in different appropriation amounts approved by the Senate and House of Representatives, thereby requiring the matter to be reconsidered in a House-Senate conference committee: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this third day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Senate to fund the NLS fiscal 2008 request for the full $19.1 million to support the creation and distribution of digital books and players; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the House of Representatives to recede to a $19.1 million request for the transition from antiquated cassette tape technology to the flash memory format designed by NLS with considerable consumer input from blind patrons; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to fully fund the entire project to convert to new digital players and flash memory cartridges to insure that patrons are not forced to wait for, or perhaps never to receive, the reading materials which are so important to blind Americans.

RESOLUTION 2007-01
Regarding the NFB Role in the Education of Blind Students

WHEREAS, the current educational system is grossly under-serving an alarming majority of blind students throughout the country, leaving them ill-prepared for real-world challenges and crippling them from pursuing their dreams; and

WHEREAS, the failure of the educational establishment to address the true needs of blind students is evidenced by both the national crisis in Braille literacy and the staggering 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people; and

WHEREAS, without being taught proper blindness skills during a student’s early education, he or she will face additional challenges in acquiring the skills necessary to succeed in future educational, employment, and social endeavors; and

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is the leading force in the field of blindness, possessing the collective experience of thousands of blind people, an accumulated body of knowledge about blindness education, and an unwavering will to improve educational opportunities for all blind students: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization adopt policies to establish partnerships with educational institutions, governmental agencies, or other entities that are conducting research on effective educational models for blind students in such institutions as charter schools, public and private educational settings, or any other nonresidential or residential programs of an innovative, cutting-edge nature, provided that satisfactory arrangements can be made, and that this policy shall include, at the discretion of the president, investing our money, personnel, time, energy, and imagination, consistent with our organizational goal of enhancing the educational experience of all blind students in America.

RESOLUTION 2007-02
Regarding the Status and Future of the Randolph-Sheppard Program
for Blind Entrepreneurs

WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard program is the nation's only program to assist persons with disabilities in becoming entrepreneurs and business owners and has facilitated development of tens of thousands of successful small businesses owned and operated by blind entrepreneurs; and

WHEREAS, policy questions regarding relative priority of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act have largely been settled by the courts; and

WHEREAS, Congress, acting under the mistaken impression that serious policy questions regarding application of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act persist, mandated in the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2005 the creation of a Joint Committee of the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, and the Committee for Purchase from People who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, to make recommendations for resolving conflict between the programs in military food service contracts; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education was charged by Congress to represent the interests of blind entrepreneurs in the deliberations of the Joint Committee; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education was the only member of the Joint Committee to develop its position and negotiate with other Joint Committee members in complete isolation from its stakeholders; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education shut out its own internal program experts in the negotiations over the Joint Committee’s recommendations and left representation on the Joint Committee of Randolph-Sheppard and blind entrepreneurs to officials with little understanding of or appreciation for the intended and unintended consequences of the policy decisions under discussion; and

WHEREAS, Department of Education officials have stated publicly that it is their job to “administer” but not “advocate for” the Randolph-Sheppard program; and

WHEREAS, the Joint Committee ignored recommendations by the blind community to address any lingering confusion regarding implementation of the law by codifying current law, policy, and court decisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulations; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education failed in its responsibility to blind entrepreneurs by agreeing to multiple recommendations that are contrary to the Randolph-Sheppard Act and, if enacted, would effectively eliminate the Randolph-Sheppard priority; and

WHEREAS, there is no justification in the Randolph-Sheppard Act for applying different criteria to contracting in different federal departments, suggesting that, if enacted, the Joint Committee's policy changes would create competitive disadvantages for blind entrepreneurs in competition for contracts not only with the Department of Defense, but also with the General Services Administration, U. S. Post Office, and other federal agencies which constitute the largest numbers of available contracting opportunities; and

WHEREAS, the threat to the Randolph-Sheppard Act is so serious that all of the diverse organizations representing the blind unite in a heretofore unseen manner to oppose the recommendations of the Joint Committee Report and preserve the Randolph-Sheppard program; and

WHEREAS, Congress has already moved to legislate several of the
Joint Committee's recommendations, while the Department of Education is drafting regulations to implement the others; and

WHEREAS, the recommendations of the Joint Committee Report are fatally flawed, and their implementation would destroy the Randolph-Sheppard program and opportunities for blind entrepreneurs and precipitate widespread challenges and litigation, which will be costly, and time consuming and will not ultimately further the best interests of either persons with disabilities or federal agencies: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge the Department of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, and the United States Congress to reject the recommendations of the Joint Committee and instead reaffirm the priority in federal food service contracting for Randolph-Sheppard; amend the Federal Acquisition Regulations to reflect current policy and court decisions; and take immediate steps to expand opportunities for blind entrepreneurs in public and private sector food service contracting.

RESOLUTION 2007-03
Regarding Access to Higher Education Textbooks

WHEREAS, federal law requires publishers of books used in elementary and high schools to provide standardized electronic files to a national repository for rapid cost-effective conversion into Braille and other formats, but no similar requirement exists for books used by students in higher education; and

WHEREAS, digital technology is rapidly changing the way that materials are published, making provision by publishers of electronic files for use by blind students and faculty easy and inexpensive; and

WHEREAS, blind students devote hours searching for existing accessible versions of the books they need through sources including Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic and Bookshare.org and, when not otherwise available, more hours seeking others to scan and correct the books for their use or scanning the books themselves, all before studying can ever begin; and

WHEREAS, advocates for the blind have sought a national consensus on the best method for providing access to textbooks for blind participants in higher education, but neither individual publishers nor the Association of American Publishers has chosen to join and create such a consensus despite the fact that several states have insisted on passing state legislation, establishing a pattern of differing requirements in different states; and

WHEREAS, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic Congressman from Arizona's 7th congressional district believes the time has come to mandate access for blind students and faculty to textbooks used in higher education and plans to introduce legislation to accomplish this objective: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization commend Congressman Grijalva for his determination to bring digital books to America’s blind students and faculty in higher education; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Association of American Publishers to represent its constituent members assertively by working with us and Congressman Grijalva to craft a positive, mutually agreeable solution that insures access to textbooks for students and faculty in higher education; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Congress to take prompt action to pass Congressman Grijalva’s bill with or without the support of the publishing community because of its critical importance to blind higher education students.

RESOLUTION 2007- 04
Regarding Development of an Accessible Insulin Pump

WHEREAS, many diabetics find that using an insulin pump results in superior control of diabetes, thus assisting them to remain healthy and to reduce their risk of diabetic complications; and

WHEREAS, currently available insulin pumps lack accessibility features for the blind; and

WHEREAS, notwithstanding this lack of accessibility, many blind diabetics successfully use insulin pumps although they may require sighted assistance to use the advanced features of such pumps; and

WHEREAS, new insulin pumps are constantly being introduced, employing increasingly complicated and sophisticated functions, including complex programs to administer bolus insulin doses, functions to predict correct insulin dosages based upon carbohydrate intake, and the like, yet the blind are unable to use these advanced functions independently; and

WHEREAS, miniaturization of electronics and advances in synthesized and digitized speech technology may make it possible to produce an insulin pump with all functions accessible by the blind using speech; and

WHEREAS, many insulin pumps can communicate with personal computers using programs that can change pump settings, display pump performance parameters, etc., yet such programs are not accessible to screen-reading software for the blind; and

WHEREAS, making such programs accessible using screen-reading software would provide another method to make insulin pumps accessible by the blind: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon manufacturers of insulin pumps to make these pumps accessible by the blind; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind stand ready to work with insulin pump manufacturers to achieve this goal.

RESOLUTION 2007-05
Regarding the Age for Transition Services Eligibility

WHEREAS, blind children are often the only blind individual in their families and in their schools; and

WHEREAS, this isolation is often enhanced by loving families and hard-working professionals who assure the child that he or she is better than other blind people while at the same time seeking to provide what the child needs without having any idea of the vast experiential knowledge and the positive can-do spirit of blindness that we in the Federation have developed over nearly seventy years; and

WHEREAS, the Federation has demonstrated that residential immersion experiences focusing on a positive philosophy of blindness provide the greatest chance for blind individuals to become confident, capable, independent adults, an approach that is validated daily in the lives of thousands of blind Americans who have benefited from the three Federation training centers or from graduates of those centers; and

WHEREAS, the vocational rehabilitation services to blind teens who are moving toward adulthood are called “transition services” because these services help the teen transition to adulthood and, when done correctly, ready the teen for successfully taking on the challenge of being a productive, tax-paying citizen; and

WHEREAS, funds from the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) rather than funds from educational sources are best suited to support this comprehensive approach to blindness training, but many adult rehabilitation agencies far too often postpone commencement of such services to blind teens still in school as long as they can, although the rehabilitation act expressly provides for transition services, and there is no minimum age for these services; and

WHEREAS, the Workforce Investment Act that includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) awaits, as it has now for several years, congressional reauthorization, giving a perfect opportunity for Congress to make changes, especially when members of Congress have expressed interest in enhancing the involvement of state rehabilitation agencies in transition services: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress during its reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act to establish age fourteen as the appropriate age for commencement of transition services to blind teens.

RESOLUTION 2007-06
Regarding Disability Services from Verizon Land-Line Telephone Company

WHEREAS, Verizon Communications, one of the nation's largest tele-communication service providers, has a department dedicated to serving the needs of disabled customers, a practice other regional or national land-line telephone service providers may also follow; and

WHEREAS, one blindness-related service is the ability of a customer to request an exemption of the fee-for-call to obtain telephone numbers through Verizon directory assistance services in order to make telephone numbers available to blind customers on an equal basis with the sighted public who receive print telephone listings via their phone books without charge; and

WHEREAS, blind customers who have requested this fee exemption and then subsequently contact Verizon for non-disability-related service issues such as a bill dispute, a change of services, or a response to special offers are now automatically sent to the disability services department when the account telephone number reviewed by the Verizon representative indicates the caller has a disability through an account notation of the fee exemption; and

WHEREAS, this segregation of services not only constitutes a violation of the customer's privacy, but may lead to a degradation of the equality of service provision and identifies all blind customers choosing the exemption as a special class of individuals who always require special treatment, whether it is applicable or not; and

WHEREAS, under the Americans with Disabilities Act blind people have the right to accept or reject accommodations; and

WHEREAS, we the blind cannot and must not permit this pretense, separate-but-equal treatment to push us into an exceptional class of telephone users and must maintain the right to select the blindness-related services that we do or do not want: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization demand that Verizon stop this inappropriate and illegal treatment of blind customers by putting an immediate end to the policy of referring all blind customers with this exemption who are requesting non-disability-related information or services to the disability services department; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Verizon Communications to refrain from implementing any policies affecting the blind without discussing them with the National Federation of the Blind, the nation's experts on blindness-related needs.

RESOLUTION 2007-07
Regarding Elimination of Barriers Created by Online Security Measures

WHEREAS, an ever-increasing number of financial transactions are taking place online, including bill paying, stock trading, account management, and the purchase of almost every imaginable kind of merchandise; and

WHEREAS, the vast sums of money now moving over the Internet tempt the unscrupulous to develop schemes and scams to steal this money as Internet users are painfully aware from the all too familiar emails pretending to be from various banks and institutions, which are not actually sent by them; and

WHEREAS, online merchants, financial institutions, and others recognize the growth potential of the Web, but also realize that this growth will be thwarted if individuals are concerned about the security of their transactions; and

WHEREAS, for security reasons banks are rapidly adopting systems using the method known as “visual CAPTCHA” because so far it cannot be circumvented by computerized means, but requires a human to enter numbers displayed on a screen; and

WHEREAS, visual CAPTCHA is impossible for blind people to use, and online entities are developing yet other systems, also impossible for blind people to use, such as credit and debit cards whose security numbers change visibly in accordance with a particular pattern; and

WHEREAS, all these security systems to eliminate fraud may also eliminate blind people from engaging in financial transactions online; and

WHEREAS, security systems that prevent fraud and do not prevent blind users are achievable and should be mandated by our country’s laws requiring access for the disabled: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon online merchants to find solutions that enhance security but do not block the access of blind users to these extremely important online services; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization seek congressional or regulatory solutions to this access barrier if online merchants choose to protect security only by closing out blind Americans.

RESOLUTION 2007-08
Regarding Accommodations for High Stakes Testing

WHEREAS, Americans encounter high-stakes testing in at least four pivotal contexts: gateway testing, which determines admission to undergraduate and graduate school; K-12 standardized-progress testing, which assesses both schools and individual performance and, among other results, determines high school graduation in some states; mastery-of-skills testing, used most often to ascertain a student’s mastery of a subject for correct placement in or satisfaction of college course requirements; and licensure testing, through which numerous professions grant or withhold permission to practice a profession; and

WHEREAS, all four types of tests are standardized and administered under rigid security and advance or admit successful test takers to a desired and desirable result; and

WHEREAS, blind citizens of all ages share the dread and the hope of their sighted counterparts when approaching any high-stakes test, but blind citizens carry an extra and onerous burden because our methods of reading and writing do not fit into the definitions of standardization and the parameters of security of the high-stakes testing industry; and

WHEREAS, each blind citizen who approaches one of these test contexts does his or her best with inadequate tools, manages some solution, and moves on, leaving the context unchanged for the next blind victim since the testing context itself is rigidly individualized and demands that each participant enter and leave alone; and

WHEREAS, standardized test providers and administrators range from large private companies to state governments to professional associations to combinations of any two or three, rendering the solution of one person’s testing difficulties irrelevant to a different person struggling at the same time in the same city with a different set of owners, providers, and administrators; and

WHEREAS, a partial list of these difficulties includes no access to practice materials and tests in alternative media; unnecessarily complex and burdensome procedures for testing in an alternative medium, which often results in postponing a key testing event to the disadvantage of the blind person; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to allow testing in a medium commonly used by blind people; refusal of test owners and/or administrators to design computer testing to include blind test takers; demands by test owners and/or administrators for administration in outmoded alternative media; and refusal of test owners and/or administrators to recognize that not all human readers are good readers and that meeting and pretraining a human reader is an appropriate accommodation; and

WHEREAS, these broad failures and the many quirky variations upon them experienced by an ever-growing line of blind test victims are almost impossible for a single test taker to combat and overcome due to the complexity of ownership and responsibility, the time-sensitive nature of most high-stakes testing, and the smokescreen raised by all too many test owners and administrators that accommodations for the blind will, they say, breach test security or invalidate standardization; and

WHEREAS, the result for blind people of this sprawling high-stakes testing mess is that high-stakes testing of the blind tests the stamina, perseverance, determination, and creativity of every blind test taker before the testing day is ever reached and then all too often tests his or her ability to train a human reader under stressful conditions or to use an unfamiliar reading medium under stress rather than the purported purpose of the test itself, leading to scores often wildly at odds with the student’s potential or the professional’s routine performance, an outcome that allows standardized testing to brand blind victims as underachievers when they are merely being scored for taking a high-stakes test under adverse and often adversarial circumstances; and

WHEREAS, modern methods of production of materials, including tests, in alternative media have long since eliminated any rationale for the lack of high-stakes tests in the medium to which a blind test taker is accustomed; and

WHEREAS, most testing unfairness victimizing blind students could be eliminated by the careful crafting of requirements governing the use of high-stakes testing in educational contexts by the U. S. Department of Education (DOE), which could by regulation adopt a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind in cooperation with high-stakes testers and the National Federation of the Blind which would mandate the use of modern production methods for practice and test materials, the elimination of unnecessary delays in achieving routine accommodations for blind citizens, and the abandonment of prejudices concerning alternative media along with requiring test authors to test subjects or mastery rather than the ability to see or to train a reader; and

WHEREAS, the U. S. Department of Education has regulatory authority that reaches from K-12 through graduate schools and is also concerned with licensure testing for teachers, meaning that its regulations would cover most high-stakes testing, and the areas not specifically covered by DOE regulations would soon be positively affected by a resolution of this problem with which all test owners and administrators ineffectually wrestle: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization forcefully draw to the attention of the U. S. Department of Education the urgent need for a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind and the Department of Education’s responsibility and opportunity to solve the high-stakes testing challenge so frightening and yet so important to America’s blind citizens in a way very different from the testing difficulties of other citizens; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization use all persuasive and legal means at its disposal to bring about a regulation which can be known as and which can function in reality as a Testing Bill of Rights for the Blind.

RESOLUTION 2007-09
Regarding a Screenplay Called Blindness

WHEREAS, the book entitled Blindness, by Jose Saramago, has now been adapted as a screenplay to be directed by Fernando Meirelles, the filming beginning this summer with an anticipated release of next spring; and

WHEREAS, the plot of the book perpetuates society’s fears and misconceptions of blindness in the worst possible manner: the premise of the novel is that an epidemic of blindness is sweeping through a city; the blindness is extremely contagious, though it is unclear exactly how it is transmitted; the people simply, very suddenly, become blind; the blindness is described as a white "sea of milk" known by some as "the white evil" the blind are placed in an abandoned medical facility gated and guarded by armed military personnel to limit their contact with the populace; and

WHEREAS, the book depicts blindness as tragic and hopeless: “If I have to stay like this, I'd rather be dead”; and

WHEREAS, the story involves explicit images of those confined losing all civility—stealing from one another; relieving themselves in hallways and other public areas; using extortion to secure food and sex; committing adultery and murder; and engaging in repeated gang rapes, all of which is graphically detailed; and

WHEREAS, the characters are further dehumanized by not having any names and are repeatedly alluded to as like animals: “It was too funny for words, some of the blind internees advancing on all fours, their faces practically touching the ground as if they were pigs”; and

WHEREAS, Saramago’s book includes countless stereotypes about blindness such as: “They had not been without their sight long enough for their sense of hearing to have become keener than normal”; and

WHEREAS, the only person who does not become blind is the caretaker for a small group of people who are described as better off than the others since they have someone with sight to fend for them; and

WHEREAS, numerous passages discuss the presence and smell of human waste, furthering the degradation of the blind characters—“It was not just the fetid smell that came from the lavatories in gusts that made you want to throw up, it was also the accumulated body odor of two hundred and fifty people whose bodies were steeped in their own sweat, who were neither able nor knew how to wash themselves, who wore clothes that got filthier by the day, who slept in beds where they had frequently defecated”; and

WHEREAS, reviews of the book confirm the destructive consequence of this unfortunate work with comments such as: “The novel Blindness really illustrates the difference between sighted and non-sighted,” and “Hard to know what to make of it. Are we better off learning to live with our blindness or glorying in what little we can see?”; and

WHEREAS, the presumed primacy of sight is further emphasized by comments of reviewers: “The doctor's wife somehow remains sighted, and she is able to give this small group the advantages that allow it to survive when others could not,” and “She alone seems to understand the true scope of what is happening in the story, and she alone sees the full scale of the horror that occurs”: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the negative, damaging, distorted description of blindness and blind people contained in the novel, Blindness by Jose Saramago, for playing on society’s fears and deepening prejudice against the blind, leading to lost opportunities in employment and social acceptance; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Fernando Meirelles, director of the screen adaptation of Blindness to abandon filming in order to limit the damage this misguided novel has already caused; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization use every means at its disposal to bring to the attention of the film’s financial supporters the serious harm that would result from demeaning and degrading blind people in such an irresponsible manner and urge them to withdraw their support of the project.

RESOLUTION 2007-10
Regarding the Medicare Waiting Period

WHEREAS, blind people may become eligible to receive Social Security disability if certain non-disability-entitlement conditions are also met; and

WHEREAS, these individuals must wait for two years after the first month of entitlement to cash benefits to receive Medicare; and

WHEREAS, they often need medications or costly, protracted medical treatments involving the reason for their loss of sight that can cause missed work or loss of a job and mounting debt; and

WHEREAS, without affordable medical care the conditions may unnecessarily worsen, further disconnecting the individual from the workforce; and

WHEREAS, other insurance alternatives such as COBRA or Medicaid may be either prohibitively expensive or not available; and,

WHEREAS, having affordable health insurance would help newly blinded individuals to take the extended time necessary to acquire comprehensive adjustment to blindness training, enabling them to return to the workforce with the blindness skills and confidence they need to succeed; and

WHEREAS, Congress alone has the power to reverse the decision made long ago to establish the twenty-four-month qualifying period for Medicare and instead make Medicare available when applicants are first entitled to disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization lend its powerful voice to those who call on Congress to make Medicare entitlement begin at the same time as Social Security disability benefit entitlement, thus permitting blind people and people with other disabilities to access essential health care when they most need it--at the time when their disabling conditions cause them to stop or reduce work.

RESOLUTION 2007-11
Regarding Access to Blood Glucose Meters

WHEREAS, diabetics need to measure the level of glucose in their blood accurately in order to control their diabetes and to reduce the risk of diabetic complications; and

WHEREAS, tens of thousands of diabetics need nonvisual access to blood glucose meters because diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults of working age in the United States with thousands losing their vision each year; and

WHEREAS, the need for nonvisual access is even greater because many blind and visually impaired senior citizens become diabetic and many diabetic senior citizens lose vision, either temporarily, or permanently, from causes other than diabetes; and

WHEREAS, the ultimate solution to this impediment to independent self-care is to create affordable, accessible meters by adding speech technology and accessibility features to all new blood glucose meters developed for sale in the United States; and

WHEREAS, diabetics with vision have access to a dizzying array of state-of-the-art glucose-testing technology with advanced features such as shorter test times, smaller blood sampling requirements, and portable size; and some such as products in the Prodigy line made by Diagnostic Devices, including the Basic and the AutoCode, are even making use of voice technology to speak the blood glucose level immediately following a test, but are nevertheless not truly accessible to blind diabetics; and

WHEREAS, Roche Diagnostics, the leading provider of accessible diabetes-testing technology available to blind and visually impaired diabetics in the United States for nearly a decade, recently took a disrespectful and cavalier approach to the needs of their loyal blind customers by discontinuing their decade-old VoiceMate system before introducing another accessible alternative; and

WHEREAS, in contrast, Diagnostic Devices, Inc., maker of the Prodigy line, took a more positive approach by seeking guidance from blind diabetics in the National Federation of the Blind in the development of an even more accessible meter called the ProdigyVoice; and

WHEREAS, BBI Health Care, distributors of the SensoCard Plus, a talking meter popular with blind diabetics in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe, where it has been available for years, has recently applied to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to market the SensoCard Plus in the United States: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization applaud and commend the developers of the ProdigyVoice for their exemplary commitment to making affordable and accessible blood glucose meters, their willingness to seek input from blind consumers, and their success in integrating this advice to create a glucose meter that blind people can use independently; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, consistent with best practices and safety standards, this organization urge the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval of the SensoCard Plus for marketing in the United States, in addition to any other blood glucose meters that enhance blind users’ access; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization establish nonvisual accessibility certification standards for diabetes technology to promote the development of truly accessible products.

RESOLUTION 2007-12
Regarding SSDI Earnings Limits for Blind Beneficiaries

WHEREAS, the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) is our nation’s safety net, designed to catch and support adults who become disabled, but for blind citizens SSDI has turned into a trap that holds blind working-age Americans out of the workforce with a combination of cash benefits and medical coverage worth far more than a beneficiary is allowed to earn before all benefits are abruptly terminated if the beneficiary works and earns more than a prescribed earnings limit; and

WHEREAS, this safety net was intended to catch and does catch an employee losing sight, allowing for time to become accustomed to life as a blind person and to learn how to function capably when blind; and

WHEREAS, at the point when the SSDI recipient is ready and willing to re-enter the workforce, the trap aspect of SSDI emerges, making going to work unaffordable and thus functioning as a work disincentive that many believe is the largest single cause of unemployment in the blind community; and

WHEREAS, the current annualized earnings limit for SSDI beneficiaries of $18,000 is a work disincentive because the blind beneficiary determined to go back to work must risk financial hardships while stepping from SSDI and eventually from Medicare to the amount of annual taxable salary needed to replace SSDI income and Medicare coverage; and

WHEREAS, a single blind person with no dependents receiving $11,700 in annual SSDI benefits must make nearly $20,000 in gross pay to replace the value of SSDI benefits ($2,000 over the current earnings limit), thus creating a disincentive to work, never mind the value of the Medicare coverage that will be lost; and

WHEREAS, a blind beneficiary with two dependents receiving $17,500 in annual SSDI cash benefits must earn a gross income of nearly $32,000 to replace the value of all the SSDI benefits lost by going to work, thus radically restricting the decision to work of parents with dependent children; and

WHEREAS, several years ago Congress dropped earnings limits for our nation’s senior citizens, recognizing the negative impact of an earnings limit, instead creating an incentive for seniors to work if they choose; and

WHEREAS, annually increasing the earnings limit for blind people in graduated steps over five years and eventually linking it to the limit for those of retirement age would create a work incentive for over 100,000 blind beneficiaries and eliminate the current financial penalty now unnecessarily imposed on those wanting and willing to work; and

WHEREAS, an increase in the earnings limit would increase the number of taxpayers and introduce a positive incentive for SSDI beneficiaries to work, thus reducing the shockingly high unemployment rate of 74 percent among America’s blind working-age citizens; and

WHEREAS, an increase in the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries in 2008 to $21,600, in 2009 to $26,400, in 2010 to $30,000, in 2011 to $34,200, and in 2012 to the amount applicable to individuals who attain full retirement age in that year would substantially reduce the work disincentive now posed by SSDI; and

WHEREAS, gradually implementing this work incentive in place of the current work disincentive would encourage and enable beneficiaries to continue working or to re-enter the workforce, would remove the financial risk of going back to work, and would ease the profound restrictions currently limiting the choices blind people can make while supporting themselves and their families: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urgently call upon Congress to enact legislation amending Title II of the Social Security Act by immediately mandating increases in the level of the earnings limit allowed for blind individuals to achieve removal of the negative impact, limited choices, and restrictions that encourage blind people not to work and replacing them with a work incentive to unlock the trap and free America’s blind citizens to work, earn, and pay taxes without financial risk.

RESOLUTION 2007-13
Regarding Automated Bus Stop Announcement Requirements

WHEREAS, on April 11 of this year, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) published in the federal register a proposal to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines to require city buses to have an automated stop announcement so that blind passengers routinely hear information about the bus’s location without having to ask the driver or fellow passengers, information that is found useful by sighted passengers as well; and

WHEREAS, this is a significant improvement over current Department of Transportation regulations that require drivers personally and audibly to call major stops because this requirement is more often than not ignored and because its violation is almost impossible to establish for enforcement purposes; and

WHEREAS, blind bus passengers familiar with automated stop announcement systems uniformly agree that these are a vast improvement over bus drivers calling stops but also report that bus drivers all too often render the system inoperable because they claim the noise is distracting; and

WHEREAS, automated stop announcement systems rely on global positioning technology and other complicated software and hardware that must be regularly maintained to perform properly, so that routine maintenance must be mandated along with the systems themselves to achieve the goal of information for bus passengers: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization heartily endorse the proposal to require automated stop announcement systems on buses used for metropolitan transportation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the Access Board to revise its proposal in two ways: to define as a violation of the guidelines turning off or otherwise rendering useless the automated stop announcement system, and to require regular maintenance of the system in order that blind passengers can rely upon it.

RESOLUTION 2007-14
Regarding No Child Left Behind Testing

WHEREAS, the federal legislation known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) revised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and, among other provisions, required periodic testing of K-12 students to assess progress of students and progress of schools as a whole; and

WHEREAS, re-authorization of NCLB is now before Congress, which will undoubtedly make changes throughout existing law; and

WHEREAS, under current NCLB, states have significant flexibility in the development of tests used to measure student progress; and

WHEREAS, a primary goal of NCLB was to improve the educational progress of historically disadvantaged populations, a focus that should include blind students as a population, a goal this organization fully supports because we are acutely aware of the devastating consequences of denying real educational progress in limiting opportunities in adult life; and

WHEREAS, though test administrators and educators give lip service to the requirement that reasonable accommodations be provided to blind students for these assessments, reality in the testing room denies opportunity to blind students since current tests often rely upon purely visual input and output by students for successful completion of all too many test questions such as requiring one to draw a picture or express a point of view based only on a picture--questions to which blind students cannot successfully respond using accommodations; and

WHEREAS, the NFB wholeheartedly supports participation in assessment tests and demands that blind children fully participate in all assessments just as their sighted peers since these tests are intended to measure the progress of the child or the school, but no NCLB requirement exists to assure that test questions can be answered using nonvisual means, leading to exclusion of blind children from some tests and artificially lowered scores on others; and

WHEREAS, unfortunately, some education professionals, in fear that their schools will score poorly on these assessments if they include children with disabilities in the measures, all too often use a provision in NCLB allowing them to sideline some students or weight scores differently, leading to lessened inclusion of blind students and the consequent postponing of discovery that a particular student is not progressing; and

WHEREAS, educators too often excuse the poor performance of blind students as inherent to blindness instead of working to include them in education and personal progress, and the NCLB emphasis on assessments encourages exclusion of scores, creation of tests that discriminate against blind test subjects, and tolerance of low scores rather than creating pressure to teach blind students to excel; and

WHEREAS, when freed from prejudice and educated in the skills of blindness, blind students can and do compete successfully among their sighted peers for top honors and pride of place, but NCLB’s emphasis on testing and allowance of false testing based on vision undermine the opportunity that education should be providing to blind children; Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress to require developers of assessments under NCLB to develop all test questions so they can be accurately completed without reliance on vision; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to make unequivocally clear that blindness cannot be a factor used by educational professionals to provide alternate assessments or alternate measures of their educational progress.

RESOLUTION 2007-15
Regarding a New Funding Formula for Vocational Rehabilitation

This resolution failed to pass.

RESOLUTION 2007-16
Regarding the Inaccessibility of Digital Cable Services

WHEREAS, cable television companies such as Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom, and others are offering a growing number of digitally based and interactive services through their networks such as video on demand; digital video recording and playback; and on-screen, interactive program guides; and

WHEREAS, none of these services can be used without the ability visually to read menus and prompts that are displayed on the television screen, thus rendering them inaccessible to the blind; and

WHEREAS, given that technologies now exist to make computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices fully accessible to the blind, and given that synthesized speech is now available for hand-held devices, this regrettable lack of nonvisual access is difficult to understand, let alone accept; and

WHEREAS, blind cable customers pay as much as everybody else for the cable services they receive, even though some of these services are not fully available to them: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 2007, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon cable companies such as Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom, and others to take immediate steps to remove the nonvisual access barriers they have created for their blind customers through the adoption of digitally based, interactive services; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these same companies to work with the blind themselves, through the National Federation of the Blind, to design, develop, and implement specific solutions that will allow their blind customers to use the same digitally based, interactive services as their sighted peers.

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