Like Pinocchio, the National
Accreditation Council began life as a puppet. Unlike NAC, however, Pinocchio eventually
became an independent, living being. You will remember that Pinocchio's nose grew longer
each time he told a lie. Here Peggy Elliott points out a related phenomenon which occurs
whenever NAC makes its claims of excellence and usefulness.
(Photo adapted from an illustration by Richard Floethe)
How NAC Has Learned to Help the Blind
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: For a number of years now NFB Second Vice President Peggy Elliott has been reporting periodically on the slow but steady decline of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). Ruth Westman, Executive Director of NAC for several years, recently retired. Gerald Mundy came out of retirement after years as the director of the Clovernook Center in Cincinnati to take on the leadership of NAC, which means that its address has moved from New York City to Ohionot an acquisition to make Ohioans proud. The 1997 year-end report from NAC is in, and the trends are happily, but not surprisingly, still the same. Here is Peggy's report:
Ah, Pinocchio! You have had a long run as the only person in history or story whose appearance is affected by what you say. Every time you lie, your nose gets longer. Well, move over, Pinocchio. Your legend is about to be replaced by a piece of real history. Tell me, Pinocchio, have you ever heard of NAC?
You say you haven't? And I notice that your nose did not lengthen even one centimeter when you said that. You're one of a growing number of living, breathing souls who have never heard of NAC. In fact, the NAC-free environment is expanding all the time. So let me clue you in. NAC is the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Yes, I know, it's a botherationally long name. That's why everyone forced to speak of it calls it NAC.
NAC was founded in 1966 with great fanfare and grandiose claims that it would soon set the standards for the entire blindness field, accredit all the worthy agencies, be the recognized symbol for excellence in the field. For a time NAC grew. Then, my dear Pinocchio, things changed.
You see, NAC forgot the National Federation of the Blind. Or, more precisely, NAC was founded by people who feared and distrusted the growing power of the organized blind movement.
Their intention in establishing NAC was to insure that the consumer voice would never be effective in shaping agency policy in the blindness field. But NAC's founders misjudged one little thing: the determination of blind people to be free and to have a say in how that freedom was defined. NAC and its backers thought it should do all the defining.
Then, my dear Pinocchio, a funny thing happened. Well, given your own nasal circumstances, you might not consider it particularly funny. But it happened, nevertheless. Agencies started withdrawing from NAC and working with Federationists to make positive change. More and more it became obvious to the blindness community that NAC-accredited agencies were not interested in positive change, in working cooperatively with blind people. As a result NAC standards are now widely viewed as irrelevant. Its old-boy-network method of re-accreditation has become a joke. No one has ever heard of a NAC agency's losing its accreditation because of failure to meet standards. In fact, numerous agencies over the years stopped paying their annual dues, and NAC kept them on its list of accredited members, hoping they would return to the fold.
Here's where you come in, Pinocchio. NAC bragged in its early years, as it worked at spreading itself across the face of work with the blind, that its professionalism was unequaled and its power unstoppable. Its rhetoric has not changed as views about it have altered. NAC still proclaims its virtue, its rectitude, its value for all blind people. But take heed, Pinocchio. Every time such proclamations are made, NAC's list of accredited agencies gets shorter. Beware, Pinocchio. Your legendary nose and your reputation have now been overshadowed by real-world events.
The face of the blindness field has indeed changed in the past thirty-some years. But the change has not been wrought by NAC. With each passing year, NAC's list gets shorter, and the influence of the National Federation of the Blind gets wider and deeper. You see, Pinocchio, the thing NAC was most afraid of is the thing that has happened. Blind people themselves are now decision-makers, the ones in charge, participants seated at the table. The more this happens, the shorter NAC's list grows. Move over, Pinocchio. The increasing length of your nose is no longer the story. Speak up, NAC. Every time you brag, your list gets shorter. NAC, we can't hear you! Speak up, NAC! It helps all blind people to be free.
Notes on NAC: In its thirty-two years of existence, 132 agencies have at one time or another been associated with NAC. Today only fifty-three, 40 percent of the total, remain associated; seventy-nine have dropped NAC. Today only one state vocational rehabilitation agency is accredited by NAC, the one in Florida. The other twelve which were once accredited have now dropped NAC as irrelevant to their mission while the other state agencies never bothered to accredit in the first place. Today eleven schools for the blind are accredited though there are more than seventy in our country. Nineteen others were once accredited and have now dropped NAC. Today sixteen workshops for the blind are accredited by NAC though there are eighty workshops in the country. Twenty-four workshops were once accredited and have now dropped NAC. Of the three mainline types of agencies serving the blind in our country (state vocational rehabilitation agencies, schools, and workshops), NAC has a tiny minority of each on its approved list. Of the rest, a majority of each type never accredited at all, and most of the minority which sought NAC accreditation at one time have now dropped it.
The remainder of NAC's accredited members are smaller agencies, serving cities or regions of a state. This group of smaller agencies is now almost a majority of the entire list of NAC members. NAC's accreditation fees and annual dues are much higher than those charged by other accrediting bodies, so the adherence of these smaller agencies has always been something of a mystery when tight budgets and tough fund-raising are considered. The picture becomes a little clearer when one notes that the states of Florida and Ohio condition or seem to condition many grants and contracts on NAC accreditation. Questioning members of the blind community in these two states does not, however, yield a picture of perfect service and contented blind customers. We can only hope that NAC will make more claims of fine service in these two states so that its list will grow even shorter.
In calendar 1997 NAC lost six more agencies from its accredited list and added no new ones. We can all hope that NAC continues to laud itself and that 1998 will bring about even more departures from the NAC list. In 1990 NAC had ninety-eight accredited agencies with which to begin the decade. In the eight years since then nine agencies, swimming determinedly against the current, have joined NAC for the first time, an average of about one a year, though four of these are located in Florida and Ohio, where misguided rules encourage accreditation, and one of the nine has already dropped back off the NAC rolls again. Starting with ninety-eight and adding nine yields a total number of adherents any time in this decade of 107. But fifty-four agencies associated with NAC at some time during the decade have now dropped that association, leaving a remnant of fifty-three now approved by NAC. I wish that someone could tell me what these fifty-three agencies think they are getting in exchange for their annual NAC dues beyond ridicule and disrupted relations with the blind community in their states.
Finally we should note that half the states are now a NAC-free environment and that seventeen more have only one accredited agency within their borders. Florida has almost one quarter of all the accredited agencies, and six states (Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Illinois) are home to more than half the accredited agencies still clinging to NAC. Check with blind friends in these states to determine the quality of services as compared to national trends. You'll find the picture unflattering to NAC and its talk about quality service. Speak up, NAC. We can't hear you. And move over, Pinocchio. It's likely that 1998 will be another shortening year for NAC.
States That Can Boast a NAC-Free Environment:
District of Columbia
States That Have Only One NAC-Accredited Agency:
NAC-Accredited Organizations: (States listed alphabetically)
Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind
The Foundation for Blind Children
Lions World Services for the Blind
The Center for the Partially Sighted
Sacramento Society for the Blind
Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.
Conklin Center for Multihandicapped Blind
Division of Blind Services, Florida Department of Labor and
The Florida School for the Blind
Independence for the Blind, Inc.
The Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, Inc.
Lighthouse of Broward County, Inc.
Mana-Sota Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.
The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind
Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.
Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind
Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida, Inc.
Blind and Low Vision Services of North Georgia Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.
Georgia Academy for the Blind
Savannah Association for the Blind, Inc.
The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation
Philip J. Rock Center and School
Indiana School for the Blind
Genesis Vision Rehabilitation Institute
Maine Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The Maryland School for the Blind
Upshaw Institute for the Blind
Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The Visually Impaired Center, Inc.
The Lighthouse, Duluth, for the Blind, Inc.
Alphapointe Association for the Blind
New Hampshire Association for the Blind
Association for the Visually Impaired, Inc.
Blind Association of Western New York
The New York Institute for Special Education
North Dakota School for the Blind
Cincinnati Association for the Blind
The Clovernook CenterOpportunities for the Blind
The Sight Center, Toledo Vision Center of Central Ohio, Inc.
Parkview School (Oklahoma School for the Blind)
Pittsburgh Blind Association and Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind
(both were individually accredited, but after consolidation are seeking accreditation under the name of Pittsburgh Vision Services.)
Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired
South Dakota School for the Visually Handicapped
The Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc.
Ed Lindsey Industries for the Blind, Inc.
Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, Inc.
Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.
Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind
The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.
United States Map