Braille Monitor                                                    August/September 2009

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A Call to Collective Action

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon Maneki speaks into a mic with resolutions committee secretary Marsha Dyer beside her.From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the NFB’s resolutions committee. Each year she reports on the resolutions passed by the Convention. Here is her 2009 report:

What will the National Federation of the Blind do between the 2009 and 2010 conventions? It is not possible to predict every activity that Federation members will engage in during the coming year. One thing, however, that is certain is that the organization will focus much of its attention on the subjects in the eleven resolutions that the Convention adopted this year. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation, and its resolutions are our policy statements. Resolutions are also a call to collective action by the members.

Most resolutions urge or call upon an entity to take action or follow a certain approach. Resolutions may also urge entities to cease certain activities. However, the success of a resolution depends on the dialog and persuasion that we engage in to convince the entity to follow our recommendations. A resolution is more than a good idea that has been written down. It is a call to collective action.

By coincidence the meeting of the resolutions committee at this convention fell on the Fourth of July. Conducting this committee meeting on Independence Day was most appropriate because like our resolutions the Declaration of Independence was both a policy statement and a call to collective action for the former British colonists. Just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence were the leaders of the country, the members of the resolutions committee represent the leadership of the Federation. The members of the 2009 resolutions committee were Pam Allen, James Antonacci, Jennelle Bichler, Charles S. Brown, Ron Brown, Patti Chang, Parnell Diggs, Michael Freeman, Ron Gardner, Sam Gleese, Allen Harris, Cathy Jackson, Carl Jacobsen, Scott Labarre, Anil Lewis, Barbara Loos, Gary Mackenstadt, Sharon Maneki, Shawn Mayo, James Omvig, Barbara Pierce, Bennett Prows, Joe Ruffalo, Joyce Scanlan, Susie Stanzel, Selena Sundling-Crawford, David Ticchi, Ramona Walhof, Kevan Worley, and Gary Wunder. I was privileged to serve as chairman. Once again Marsha Dyer ably functioned as secretary to the committee.

Under our new convention schedule, resolutions came to the floor earlier than usual. Instead of their being presented to the Convention on the last day, this year the Convention considered resolutions on the day before the banquet. This change allowed greater participation by the members because in the past some people had to leave on the last day before adjournment.

This year’s resolutions can be divided into two broad categories. Some resolutions were a call to collective action to protect and enhance literacy and access to information for the blind. The second category was a call to collective action that will guide the Obama administration and Congress as they develop their direction for the country. Here is a summary of these calls to collective action.

As Monitor readers know, we have been focusing intently on Braille literacy this year because of the opportunities to educate the public presented by the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille. Therefore the first resolution that we considered dealt with the Braille literacy crisis. One of the most shocking statistics in the resolution was that “only 10 percent of today’s blind students under age twenty-two are being taught to read Braille, resulting in a 45 percent high school graduation rate for blind students.” In resolution 2009-01 we urge others to join with the National Federation of the Blind in ensuring that the number of blind students who are Braille literate and able to read and write Braille competently will double by 2015. We also call upon state legislatures and teacher licensing agencies to incorporate the National Certification in literary Braille into their standards for professionals licensed to teach blind students. Ryan Strunk, a national scholarship winner in 2002 and former president of the National Association of Blind Students, who lives in Texas, proposed this resolution.

Three resolutions covered access to print books. The proponents of two of these resolutions, Katlin Kress and Meleah Jensen, were students. Katlin Kress, a high school senior from Minnesota who spent this summer attending the STEP program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, introduced resolution 2009-04. Meleah Jensen, who won a national scholarship in 2003 and was a tenBroek Fellow in 2005, sponsored resolution 2009-09. Meleah also serves on the board of directors of the Louisiana affiliate and on the board of directors of the NFB Human Services Division.

With the advent of electronic books and electronic reading devices, blind people could have access to over a quarter of a million titles. The Authors Guild and publishers are thwarting our access to these books. In resolution 2009-04 we strongly urge the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to abandon their unreasonable demands on Amazon.com to degrade the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2. Amazon.com should ignore these demands and make the design changes that will make the Kindle 2 a truly accessible electronic-book reader for blind people.

In May 2009 Amazon.com launched its Kindle DX, a digital reader intended for reading college textbooks. The Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind. Amazon.com partnered with six institutions of higher education to conduct a study to determine whether to expand the use of the Kindle DX even though this device is inaccessible to the blind. We condemn and deplore the actions of Amazon.com and the six institutions of higher education and demand that these institutions refuse to deploy the Kindle DX until it is fully accessible to blind students. These demands are part of resolution 2009-09.

The third resolution on access to the printed word was resolution 2009-06. Georgia Kitchen, a longtime leader in the NFB of Michigan who is also the Michigan coordinator of NFB-NEWSLINE®, and Larry Povenelli, a longtime leader in the Virginia affiliate who also serves as treasurer of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, introduced this resolution. The Chaffee Amendment of 1996 dramatically improved blind people’s access to the printed word because copyright permission was automatically granted to certain nonprofit entities to reproduce fiction and nonfiction in specialized formats. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact legislation that will allow nonprofit organizations to reproduce previously published music, songbooks, and hymnals as long as these materials are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind people.

Resolution 2009-05 is a call to collective action on cloud computing. Today applications such as Microsoft Word can be found on the desktop of an individual’s computer. Under the cloud computing concept, users will go to another Website to get any application they wish to use. Cloud computing makes it possible to process and store large amounts of data. In this resolution we call upon the computer industry to ensure that the cloud computer environment is fully accessible to blind people using screen-access technology. Gary Wunder, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, president of the NFB of Missouri, and a fellow with a keen interest and expertise in computing, proposed this resolution.

Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science and treasurer of the Iowa affiliate, introduced resolution 2009-11. This resolution is both a call to collective action on access to information and a specific recommendation to the Obama administration. To encourage openness and transparency in government, President Obama has instructed departments and agencies in the federal government to harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online for public access. In this resolution we call upon the president and his administration to ensure that the technology used for the Transparency and Open Government initiative is as accessible to the blind as it is to other members of the general public.

For several months the press has been full of stories concerning the economy and the attempts by Congress and the Obama administration to fix its many problems. Three of our resolutions, 2009-07, 2009-08, and 2009-10 have economic consequences. Resolutions 2009-07 and 2009-08 are a warning against tampering with programs for the blind under the guise of saving money. Resolution 2009-10 deals with employment opportunities for blind people in the federal government.

Karen Anderson, first vice president of the National Association of Blind Students, and president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, who also won a national scholarship in 2007, sponsored resolution 2009-07. In this resolution we reaffirm our commitment to separate services for the blind in rehabilitation programs. We also urge Congress and states with separate agencies to continue this practice. States with general rehabilitation agencies should adopt separate agencies for the blind. This resolution is timely because Congress will soon reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Congress will also soon be reauthorizing surface transportation legislation, making resolution 2009-08 timely. In this resolution we call upon Congress to make no changes that will diminish opportunities that blind vendors have to manage vending machines on the interstate highway system. In the few weeks between the convention and the writing of this article, blind vendors have lost income and some have even lost their jobs because of the closing of some highway vending areas. Joe Shaw, who has been in the Randolph-Sheppard program for ten years and is a leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants and the Tennessee affiliate, sponsored this resolution.

With the introduction of computer-based testing, blind people who wish to take the foreign service examination and other federal government tests have confronted tremendous difficulties in receiving appropriate accommodations for these tests. To address this issue, Carlos Montas, an active member of the Florida affiliate, proposed resolution 2009-10. Carlos will graduate from the Louisiana Center for the Blind rehabilitation program on August 25, 2009.  In this resolution we strongly urge the U. S. Office of Personnel Management and other appropriate federal entities to adopt the policy that blind applicants themselves are best qualified to determine the proper testing accommodations. We also urge the federal government aggressively to recruit and hire qualified blind applicants.

No Child Left Behind is another law scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress in the near future. Part of this legislation requires that student progress in various subjects be measured by standardized tests. Secretary Arne Duncan of the U. S. Department of Education suggests changing the law to require national rather than individual state tests. Denise Mackenstadt, a longtime Federation leader and an education expert who received the NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award in 2001, sponsored resolution 2009-03. In this resolution we urge Congress to include a requirement that all test questions be posed so that they can be correctly completed without reliance on vision.

The last resolution or call to collective action for discussion in this article is resolution 2009-02. In this resolution we continue to urge Congress to pass the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Passage of this legislation is vital because the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the nation’s streets and highways continues to grow. Debbie Kent Stein, chairman of the NFB committee on automobile and pedestrian safety and first vice president of the Illinois affiliate, proposed this resolution. Debbie recently became the editor of Future Reflections, the Federation’s publication for parents and educators of blind children.

This brief summary is merely an introductory discussion 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.

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