[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]

Not with a Bang, But a Giggle:
NAC Takes Leave of the Century

by Peggy Elliott

From the Editor: For some years now, NFB Second Vice President Peggy Elliott has provided occasional reports on the slow demise of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). There hasn't been much movement to report for a while, so we haven't had an update for a couple of years. But we thought that, since the decade is about to end, it is worth cataloging NAC's activities during the nineties, such as they have been. This is what Peggy says:

You know how there are some subjects that just make you giggle? Well NAC is one of those subjects for me. Not the least of the causes for chuckling is that most people in the blindness field today don't even remember what NAC is or why its name should cause such merriment.

Photo of Peggy Elliott (21581 bytes)
Peggy Elliott

NAC, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, wasn't always quite such a laughing matter. When NAC was founded over thirty years ago, the Federation itself was barely twenty-five years old and still working to spread throughout the country. The agency powers in control at that time could see what was coming. They had, according to them, been appointed—even if only by themselves—to decide what was best for the blind. That's why they were agency powers. The blind were, puzzlingly to these powers, organizing among ourselves. Worse, from their point of view, we were deciding for ourselves what we thought was best for the blind, and our decisions often included criticism of existing agency practices. After all, who likes to be criticized?

So the agency network decided to do something about it. At that time it was pretty much all men at the top, so the old boy network swung into action and created a captive accrediting agency. The basic concept was: I'll accredit you, you'll accredit me, and we'll jointly tell the public what great guys we are. That'll keep the public adulation and funding for helping the unfortunate blind flowing our way and fend off the pesky Federation blind movement.

It was a great idea, and it might have worked except for the pesky Federation. The in-group named itself the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, not only a mouthful of a name but a protective one. Who could be against national or accreditation or serving the blind? To top off its opening move, NAC invited Dr. Jernigan, the Federation president, to sit on its board. He debated the point and decided to try, in order to see if anything positive could be salvaged from this obvious attack upon self-organization by the blind. The board turned out to be packed with old boys from the network, interspersed with the occasional do-gooder friend of a network member. Dr. Jernigan resigned in the face of such a stacked deck, and Federationists began picketing NAC meetings, chanting and singing our determination to make our own decisions for ourselves. Most of the songs and chants were wry, taunting, scornful of the old boys and their desire to clutch power for power's sake.

In the beginning NAC claimed that it was going to set standards for, as it put the matter, the "universe" of 500 agencies for the blind. In reality NAC standards were largely drawn from existing safety codes such as fire and building codes, adorned with the occasional paragraph from a management text and garnished with condescending attitudes toward the blind. I remember NAC had a standard for a while that required the agency to have a place to hang canes when blind people came in the front door, making the assumption that the canes were so useless that, once inside a building, they needed to be efficiently gotten out of the way. The blind jeered and told legislators across the country who funded NAC-accredited public agencies about the waste of money for such farcical accreditation.

NAC hit its high point in 1986 when the list of accredited agencies reached 104. As you will see from the maps that appear with this article, NAC's course has been downhill ever since.

An amusing pastime for Federationists during these past thirty years of NAC's existence has been to try to come up with a single reason to explain why on earth any agency would want NAC accreditation. For much of NAC's life the cost has been higher than the cost for other accrediting bodies, though now it's lower;

NAC's list has always contained agency after agency notorious among the blind people it claims to serve for ineffective and patronizing service; NAC has never found an applicant for accreditation unworthy, raising the question (and a giggle) about the purpose of such a low standard; and no self-respecting agency can associate with NAC while keeping a straight face and cordial relations with the blind community it serves. To want NAC accreditation is at the same time a rejection of the opinions of the blind community. So why would any agency seek expensive, meaningless, insulting, offensive accreditation?

If anyone finds out, please let me know. The only answer I know of is the wish to remain in some desiccated old boy network, and that makes me laugh. Who on earth would want to be a part of that? But there are apparently a few folks who haven't gotten the word.

What do these people think they're doing by hanging on to empty accreditation and, by golly, paying for it when virtually the whole blindness community thinks it's a joke? Look at the maps. Look at the numbers. Consider whether or not a NAC-accredited agency in your state—if there is one—is better than the rest, which is basically the claim made by NAC. As the ancients asked: cui bono—Who benefits from NAC? It's obviously not the blind, and it's obviously not most agencies.

Here's a summary of the current state of NAC accreditation by category: no vocational rehabilitation agencies are still accredited (unless you count Alabama; see note). Only 18 percent of workshops and 15 percent of schools for the blind retain their association with this national laughingstock of accreditation. Nearly half of the agencies still paying for their association with NAC are not the mainline agencies listed in the three categories above.

Note: Alabama is the special case just mentioned. When we started keeping track of these statistics, Alabama was listed as a single entity which encompassed both the school and the V.R. agency. Thinking that it was not appropriate to have a two-for-one in the count, we chose to count the accreditation as a school one. We could have chosen to go the other way and count it as V.R.; that's just the way the flip of the coin landed. So aside from Alabama, there are now no other statewide agencies providing V.R. services on NAC's list of accredited agencies. I still think it's a giggle that NAC is willing to accredit two separate functions with one accreditation. But I mention this merely as a matter of disclosure.

At the beginning of the decade ninety-seven agencies were members of NAC, willing to pay for NAC accreditation. As of June, 1999, that number has dwindled to forty-six. Following is the list of those forty-six agencies organized alphabetically by state, a chart recording that decade-long slide, and two NAC maps. The first shows NAC's penetration of the country in 1991; the second reflects NAC's sharply reduced impact today.

The NAC Roll Call of Shame

ALABAMA

Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

ARIZONA

Foundation for Blind Children

ARKANSAS

Lions World Services for the Blind

FLORIDA

Conklin Center for Multihandicapped Blind

Florida School for the Deaf and 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.

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind

Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.

Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind

Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida, Inc.

GEORGIA

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.

ILLINOIS

Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation

INDIANA

Indiana School for the Blind

IOWA

                        Genesis Vision Rehabilitation Institute (Genesis Medical Center)

KANSAS

Envision

MAINE

Maine Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

MARYLAND

Maryland School for the Blind

MICHIGAN

Upshaw Institute for the Blind

Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Visually Impaired Center, Inc.

MISSOURI

Alphapointe Association for the Blind

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire Association for the Blind

NEW YORK

Association for the Visually Impaired, Inc.

Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted M.D Center for the Visually Impaired      (formerly Blind Association of Western New York)

New York Institute for Special Education

NORTH DAKOTA

North Dakota School for the Blind

OHIO

Cincinnati Association for the Blind

Clovernook Center for the Blind

Sight Center of Toledo

Vision Center of Central Ohio Inc.

OKLAHOMA

Parkview School (Oklahoma School for the Blind)

PENNSYLVANIA

Pittsburgh Vision Services

Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired

SOUTH DAKOTA

South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

TENNESSEE

                        Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc. (Senior Services)

Ed Lindsey Industries for the Blind, Inc.

Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, Inc.

UTAH

Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

WASHINGTON

Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

Summary of Data for Chart of NAC's Additions and Losses This Decade:

Year 1990, 97 accredited agencies

Year 1991, added 5, lost 7, Net Loss of 2, Total Left: 95

Year 1992, added 0, lost 15, Net Loss of 15, Total Left: 80

Year 1993, added 2, lost 8, Net Loss of 6, Total Left: 74

Year 1994, added 2, lost 7, Net Loss of 5, Total Left: 69

Year 1995, added 0, lost 7, Net Loss of 7, Total Left: 62

Year 1996, added 1, lost 4, Net Loss of 3, Total Left: 59

Year 1997, added 0, lost 6, Net Loss of 6, Total Left: 53

Year 1998-present, added 0, lost 7, Net Loss of 7, Total Left: 46

Total, added 10, lost 61, Net Loss of 51

Photo of map (12614 bytes)

Photo of map (19173 bytes)

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: This NAC map shows the states that had more than one NAC-accredited agency in 1991 as dark. They are AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, IL, LA, ME, MI, MS, NY, OH, OK, PA, TN, TX, WA, and WI. The states with only one NAC-accredited agency as of 1991 have cross-hatching. They are AL, HI, IA, IN, KS, MD, MA, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NM, ND, SD, UT, and WV. The states with no NAC-accredited agencies in 1991 are white. They are Ak, CO, CT, DE, DC, ID, KY, MT, NE, NV, NC, OR, RI, SC, VT, VI, and WY.]

Photo of map (19439 bytes)

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: This map shows the following states with more than one NAC-accredited agency as of 1999. They are dark in color: FL, GA, IL, MI, NY, OH, PA, and TN. The states with just one NAC-accredited agency this year are cross-hatched. They are AL, AZ, AR, IN, IA, KS, ME, MD, MO, NH, ND, OK, SD, UT, and WA. The states boasting a NAC-free environment this year are white. They are AL, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, KY, LA, MA, MN, MS, MT, NE, NV, NJ, NM, NC, OR, PR, RI, SC, TX, VT, VA, WV, and WY.]