Braille Monitor                                                     October 2007

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The Justice of Access

by Daniel Goldstein

From the Editor: Dan Goldstein is a partner in the law firm of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, LLP. He is tough, smart, and tenacious when it comes to fighting for the rights of blind people. He has been associated with the NFB for a number of years now, and he often comes to our conventions eager to identify folks who can help with one lawsuit or another. This year he actually addressed the convention on Thursday morning, July 5. This is what he said:

Daniel GoldsteinMy good friends and fellow Federationists, it’s a great pleasure to talk to you this morning. I want you to imagine for a minute that a new product is announced today. Well, actually, that doesn’t take any imagination at all. Probably a new product has been announced today, or later today. They come along now more than one a day. So let me try this again. Imagine that this product will change the lives of everyday Americans. Well, you see, that’s not very hard to imagine either. We’ve got personal computers, cell phones, ATMs, the Internet, all these things that have happened in our lifetime that have indeed changed our lives. Maybe this one is a little tougher: imagine that the product that will change the lives of everyday Americans is visually based but was also designed in such a way that it is accessible to all everyday Americans, including the blind, on the very day that the product goes to market. [applause]

That’s a little harder to imagine, but I want to stretch your imaginations a little bit further, and I want you to imagine a day when each and every new product is accessible from the first day that it is sold. I imagine that will happen, because the NFB will make it happen, because it is just and right. Now there are lots of different pieces to that puzzle. There are pieces like you heard yesterday from GW Micro, and I was struck to hear one of the speakers say that Window-Eyes could use Vista on the very day it was introduced to the public. And it comes from other sources like what we heard from Chris Stephen today and from Dr. Raman. It was extraordinary to hear, although it was certainly put in very understated terms, Dr. Raman. It was extraordinary to hear that as of two days ago hundreds of thousands of public domain books are accessible online for the very first time.

But there is another piece to the puzzle, one that I have been involved in, and I want to tell you what I know about that part. About nine years ago, in the waning years of the last century, Dr. Maurer called me into his office. “See here,” he said. “There are too many products out there that are useful that the blind can’t use. Some of the products we used to be able to use, but now the controls are digital, and we can’t use those anymore, either. We’re going backwards. The people inventing these products could make them accessible to the blind, but they aren’t thinking about us, and then later it’s too expensive to change the product and make it accessible.”

“That’s terrible,” I said.

“Go fix it,” Dr. Maurer said.

“Today?” I asked.

“Well, get started today. What you need to do is go sue some of these folks with inaccessible technology, and, if they’re big companies and if you’re noisy about it, then other folks will sit up and take notice, and soon enough they’ll start making things accessible on their own, and you can close your office and go fishing.”

“Why don’t we start off small until we get the hang of it?” I said.

There was a pause, and then Dr. Maurer said, “Good idea. Go sue America Online, and get them to make AOL accessible.”

“That’s small?” I said.

“Well I was going to say Microsoft, but you asked me to start off small.”

So I walked out of Dr. Maurer’s office, and I was thinking, my firm is ten lawyers. I don’t have a six-hundred-lawyer law firm, and AOL can buy all the six-hundred-lawyer law firms it wants. How on earth am I going to sue AOL and win? Of course I was asking the wrong question. How was the NFB going to sue America Online? And that isn’t much of a question; there is power in the Federation. There is power in the blind united in a just cause. I mean, when you think about it, you almost have to feel sorry for AOL going up against the NFB. AOL never had a chance.

Now why do I say, it’s the power of the blind acting together? I’m going to give you two examples. Long before we started doing technology-access cases, Dr. Maurer called me one day and told me about a blind grandmother in Dothan, Alabama. The State had taken away custody of her grandchildren because the State said a single blind woman couldn’t be a competent custodian. I flew down to Dothan with Chris Cox, Anil Lewis, and Mike Jones. The State of Alabama’s lawyers backpedaled faster than circus performers. I would be a proud fool to tell you I won that case. It was the presence of competent blind parents to show the lie in what Alabama was saying that won that case. It was the power of the blind united in a just cause that made it possible for Chris, Anil, and Mike to be there in the first place.

Two days ago I talked with a mother of a blind ninth grader who was denied adequate Braille training. Dr. Maurer mentioned this young lady in his presidential report. The school district had hired high-priced lawyers, and the mother told me she thought it was the school district’s intention to out-spend her so she would have to give up. But she had the NFB. She has the power of the blind united in a just cause, so she has more resources than that school district can imagine.

And the same has been true of our access cases. The list of victories that the NFB has had against giant companies has gotten long, and each year you hear about them in the presidential report. Voice-guided ATM agreements with Diebold; Chevy Chase Bank; First National Bank; and now, as we’ll talk about in a minute, Cardtronics. Accessible voting machines in Volusia County, Florida, and Maryland. I’m not going to repeat all of them because you’ve heard them, and I want to talk to you about what the future holds.

Last year in Dallas I got up at the board meeting and at many state caucuses and told you that Cardtronics was raising a question in the courts as to whether blind people would use these ATMs if they were voice guided, and I asked for your help. And did you ever answer the call! We set up a table there in Dallas outside the main hall, three of us, and the line snaked on and on from 8:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night. We never had a moment to get out of our chairs, so many of you came and talked with us. Then you went home and tested those machines and gave us affidavits. Then some of you even became class representatives and had to give depositions. And what was the result of your efforts? Because of what you did, as you heard today, Cardtronics, the largest deployer of ATMs in the world, is here today, our newest friend, with a groundbreaking agreement that will make some 17,000 ATMs accessible by the end of this calendar year and their fleet of 30,000 accessible by 2010. [applause] As Dr. Maurer mentioned in his presidential report, Cardtronics is reimbursing the NFB for attorneys’ fees to the tune of $900,000. I’m going to hazard a wild guess that Dr. Maurer can find a good use for that.

As all of you know, the NFB has sued Target to make Target.com accessible to the blind. And Target said to the judge, “The NFB has to prove that blind people have tried and failed to use our Website.” And we put a call out to you, and you responded in huge numbers with sworn testimony. Then Target said, “Yes, judge, but, okay, they’ve shown that, but they can’t prove that the inaccessibility of the Website has affected the way they shop at the actual Target stores.” And the judge gave us thirty days to submit more affidavits on that point. We put out a call in a hurry, and more than forty of you came forth and gave us affidavits, and then ten of you submitted to questioning under oath to depositions. And Target doesn’t know it yet, but just being one of the largest retailers in the world, just having capitalization in the billions of dollars, just having revenues in the billions of dollars is small potatoes when they are up against the power of blind people united in a just cause.

Dr. Maurer’s vision of nine years ago to sue so that someday we don’t have to sue, so that someday companies will act on their own--that is beginning to come true. Two weeks ago I got an email from an academic named Jonathon Frank. I’d never heard of him. But he sent me a study he had just completed and submitted for publication. And in that study he wanted to see if our lawsuit against Target had affected the behavior of other retailers’ Websites. Had they gotten the message and cleaned up their act on their own? So what he did, he tested the home pages of thirty-one large retailers, both as they existed (because there’s a way to get that on the Internet) in February 2006 before we filed suit, and as they existed last month in June, to see how accessible and how useable these sites were. Before we sued Target, 55 percent of these Website home pages complied with accessibility guidelines. After we sued Target, 73 percent did. [applause] In February 2006 just over half the Websites were useable. Last month three quarters. Now the article went on to identify which sites had changed for the better and which ones for the worse. So to those companies that haven’t gotten better, we know where you are and how to find you.

The change is coming because we are getting the word out to the business community that the blind are here, that we’re not going away, that we won’t be overlooked, and that it’s good business to seek our trade. Blind people can spend money just as well as sighted people.
The blind are entitled to access, and they are entitled to it when the sighted get technology, not ten years later, or five years later, or even six months later. And that day is not yet here, but it’s closer than it was because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
Here are some signs of change on the horizon. Amazon has signed a joint technology agreement with the NFB. By the end of this calendar year it will be more than what you’ve been able to do up to now, which is to put in the name of the CD you already knew you wanted, and search to buy it. You’re going to get to use the whole site like everybody else. And they have pledged not just accessibility, but equivalent usability. It should be as friendly a site to you as it is to the sighted. We didn’t sue Amazon. We didn’t threaten to sue Amazon. Amazon contacted the NFB and said, “We need to talk.”

And Dr. Maurer said, “We sure do.”

You heard this morning from Dr. Raman. We’ve never sued Google. We’ve never threatened Google. It’s not even a good idea to think about suing Google. But we sat down and talked with Google, and we told them that in digitizing the world’s books it was doing something that was not only important for the sighted, but would be revolutionary for the blind, increasing by at least 1000 percent the books that are accessible to the blind today. So we talked about it, and, as Dr. Raman just said, they’re taking step zero on a long journey, but it’s a step in the right direction. I predict to you that, with the power of the NFB, the power of the blind united in a just cause combined with the genius and know-how of Google, many more doors will be opened that have long been closed.

But the battle isn’t over. Much technology is still not blind-friendly. So what does the future hold? Well the tide is changing on Websites, but there’s more to be done. Some job employment Websites are terrible. Maybe you know of one and want to do something about it. Together we can. We can change it and make it accessible. Many Websites associated with education, the ability to talk to fellow students and professors, are inaccessible. Talk to us about that because together we can do something about that. We can change it.
Kiosks--I won’t stand here and tell you that we can do something about kiosks at an airport right away, but kiosks are springing up all over the place elsewhere, and we can do something about that. When we’re done, accessible kiosks will be the default standard; the airlines won’t have any other kind to buy and put in the airports. It may not be easy, but together we can do it. Point-of-sale machines and self-checkout machines--there’s no reason that those can’t be accessible. Together we can do something about it. Together we can change it. Accessible instructions and information for medications so that you know what’s in that pill bottle, when to take it, and what the complications are--it’s time that was accessible, and together we can do something about it. Together we can change it.

Sound, practical answers are there to make the technology used by the sighted accessible to the blind. Ours is a just cause, and together we will be so effective in what we do that the day will come when I will stand up and say, “Imagine that a new product was announced today that will change the lives of everyday Americans, that’s visually based, but was accessible and usable by the blind from the day it was put up for sale.” And you’ll say, “Yeah, big deal. It happens every day.” And Dr. Maurer will hand me a fishing pole. That day will come. [applause] And it will come because of the power and the purpose of the Federation, because of the blind united in a just cause.
That was my speech, but indulge me for one personal statement. I am immensely honored to be part of this fight. I think my wife and children are proud that I’m part of this fight, and I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity. Thank you.

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