Braille Monitor August/September 2008
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by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the resolutions committee. In the following article she reports on the work of the 2008 committee.
One of the highlights of the 2008 convention was the panel about Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and his impact on the legal system of the United States and the world. More details about the panel will be available in other articles. However, one of the most influential articles written by Dr. tenBroek, “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts,” which was published in the California Law Review in 1966, captures the basic spirit of the Federation. Through our resolutions we are continuing to establish our right to live in the world as independent blind people. The right to live in the world covers all aspects of life, which accounts for the diversity of our resolutions.
In his 1956 speech, “Within the Grace of God,” Dr. tenBroek outlined our rights:
We have the right freely to choose our fields of endeavor, unhindered by arbitrary, artificial, or man-made impediments. All limitations on our opportunity, all restrictions on us based on irrelevant considerations of physical disability are in conflict with our Constitutional right of equality and must be removed. Our access to the mainstreams of community life, the aspirations and achievements of each of us, are to be limited only by the skills, energy, talents, and abilities we individually bring to the opportunities equally open to all Americans.
Access was the theme of the resolutions passed by the Convention this year. Access to the streets, access to employment, and access to information were the major subjects of these resolutions. All of these types of access will help us achieve our right to live in the world.
On June 30 the thirty-member resolutions committee met to consider fifteen resolutions. Once again this year Marsha Dyer, a longtime staff member at the National Center for the Blind, ably served as secretary to the committee. The committee passed thirteen resolutions, which were considered and passed by the Convention on Saturday, July 5, during the business session. Resolution 2008-12 dealt with lack of access to airline kiosks and Websites. It failed because the remedies were too complex if access were not provided. The committee was confused about when existing regulations implementing the Air Carrier Access Act of 1998 will go into effect, bringing the need for new regulations to address access. Resolution 2008-15 also failed. The committee concluded that the problem it addressed should be resolved by the free market. This resolution urged the company Nuance to sell its text-to-speech engine, Eloquence, to other cell phone manufacturers. I am sure that both of these access issues will be back in future resolutions.
One of the greatest current threats to our right to live in the world is the increasing popularity of quiet vehicles. Their growing numbers threaten our access to the streets and may eventually lessen blind people’s participation in all aspects of community life. The Federation has been working on this issue for many years. In Resolution 2008-02 we commend representatives from General Motors, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Society of Automotive Engineers International, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for beginning discussions with us to find the solution to this crisis. We also urge these entities “to take significant demonstrable steps” to solve this ever-growing problem. Debbie Stein, chairperson of the Federation’s committee on automobile and pedestrian safety (CAPS) and first vice president of the Illinois affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
The Convention adopted three resolutions concerning access to employment opportunities. Noel Nightingale, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a longtime leader in the NFB of Washington, proposed Resolution 2008-09. Frequently state vocational rehabilitation agencies try to palm off their responsibility to purchase assistive technology for clients onto the employer. In this resolution we call on state vocational rehabilitation agencies to eliminate debate over who should purchase technology and accept their responsibility to ensure that their clients do not lose job opportunities.
One of the oldest employment programs for the blind, the Randolph-Sheppard Program, was the subject of two resolutions. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, introduced Resolution 2008-04. In this resolution we condemn and deplore the “errant and prejudicial report submitted to Congress by the Department of Defense” on the conflict over military dining facilities between the Randolph-Sheppard and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Programs. We also urge Congress to ignore this report and to develop a lasting solution to this conflict. The conflict over which program has the right to operate military dining facilities has been going on for many years. This resolution is necessary because the Department of Defense released a report, mandated by Congress, on April 15, 2008.
Senator Enzi from Wyoming introduced legislation to solve the military dining facility conflict. Resolution 2008-14 outlines our reasons for opposing S 3112, the JWOD Randolph-Sheppard Modernization Act of 2008. The Enzi bill will weaken the Randolph-Sheppard Program and limit opportunities for blind vendors. Jim McCarthy, a governmental affairs program specialist for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored this resolution.
In today’s society our right to live in the world is dramatically affected by our access to information. The Convention adopted six resolutions concerning access to information. Two of these resolutions addressed issues in the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress program (NLS), three concern access to textbook information, and the remaining resolution is about standards that provide access to information technology.
Jesse Hartle, another governmental affairs specialist with the National Federation of the Blind, proposed Resolution 2008-01. As readers will remember, NLS is converting its Talking Book collection from cassette tape recordings to digital cartridges. For the past two years we have been urging Congress to provide full funding for this program. In Resolution 2008-01 we commend the leaders of the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Appropriations for substantially increasing the appropriation for the Talking Book conversion program to $34.5 million. We also urge the entire Congress to maintain this level of funding in final appropriations legislation.
NLS is conducting a pilot program allowing patrons to download books and magazines using the Internet. Patrons are limited to downloading thirty items in a thirty-day period. Don Morris, a longtime leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants and in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2008-05. In this resolution we call upon NLS to eliminate the restriction on the number of books and magazines that patrons can download when the pilot project ends. NLS hopes to open this program to all of its patrons who have the necessary equipment by the end of 2008.
For the past several years the Convention has adopted resolutions concerning access to textbooks. Another resolution concerning access to instructional materials for higher education students was necessary this year to comment on a proposal in Congress. Congressman Miller from California, chairperson of the House Committee on Education and Labor, included language to study the accessibility problem in HR 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008, which will also reauthorize higher education programs. Domonique Lawless, member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students and president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2008-06. In this resolution we urge Congress to create a commission with significant representation of users of higher education instructional materials and to establish pilot programs to deliver accessible textbooks. These pilots should end when the commission submits its recommendations to Congress.
Bookshare.org received a $32 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the availability of accessible electronic textbooks for K-12 disabled students. Jennifer Dunnam, manager of Braille programs for the NFB Jernigan Institute and president of the Minnesota affiliate, proposed Resolution 2008-03. In this resolution we urge Bookshare.org to have Braille textbook files professionally proofread and corrected before placing them on its Website for use by students. It is especially important for students to have high-quality Braille materials.
Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2008-13. Blind students do not have access to electronic textbook files of mathematics and science material because publishers use images when creating these files. In this resolution we call upon publishers to present mathematical and other technical information in the Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) instead of images. We also urge companies who produce screen-access technology and Braille-translation software to improve their products to provide access to files created in MathML.
Curtis Chong and Jim McCarthy were the authors of Resolution 2008-10. The U.S. Access Board is currently updating the standards and guidelines for section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and section 255 of the Communications Act of 1996. In this resolution we outline principles that the Access Board should incorporate in these revised standards and guidelines. These new standards and guidelines must provide real access to information and communication technology.
We truly are insisting that blind people have the right to live in the world. The last three resolutions that I will discuss in this article illustrate the level of full integration of the blind into society that we seek in the National Federation of the Blind. These resolutions run the gamut, from insulin pens to paper money and movies.
Many diabetics manage their disease by measuring and injecting their own insulin. Insulin pens are a convenient way to administer insulin. Two manufacturers of insulin pens, Eli Lilly and Company and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., include language on their insulin pen packages warning the blind not to use these products without sighted assistance. Ed Bryant, first vice president and longtime leader of the Diabetes Action Network, sponsored Resolution 2008-07. In this resolution we demand that these companies remove the demeaning language about blindness from their products. We also commend Sanofi-aventis, another insulin pen manufacturer, for not issuing such warnings and for recognizing the capabilities of blind diabetics.
As readers know, the National Federation of the Blind opposed federal court involvement in issues regarding changing the country’s paper currency. However, since it appears that the Department of the Treasury will be redesigning currency or creating means of nonvisual identification, the Convention adopted Resolution 2008-08, proposed by Ronza Othman, president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. In this resolution “we insist upon being well represented in any process to change American paper money.”
In Resolution 2008-11 “we encourage the motion picture industry to provide audio description of all new films as they are being produced.” We also encourage movie theaters “to show audio-described films as a matter of general practice.” Richard McGaffin, a member of the board of directors of the Milford Chapter of the NFB of Connecticut, was the sponsor of this resolution.
This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered 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.