by Sharon Maneki
Sheryl Pickering reads a resolution during the Resolutions Committee meeting Thursday, July 1. Left to right at the head table are Peggy Elliott, Dr. Maurer, Sharon Maneki, Sheryl Pickering, and Jim Gashel.
By long-standing tradition the NFB Resolutions Committee meets on the first day of convention registration. This year the committee met on July 1. Since the committee is charged with the responsibility of determining which resolutions will be brought to the convention floor for consideration, the committee always has a large membership, representing all segments of our diverse Federation family. There were forty-two members of the committee this year. When Mrs. Walhof took on duties involving our capital campaign, President Maurer appointed me to chair this important committee. The experience was both challenging and fun.
This year we had tremendous participation in the resolutions process. Resolutions were sponsored by students, division presidents, and leaders in many state affiliates. During its meeting the committee thoroughly discussed and debated the issues raised in the resolutions. The final session of the convention is traditionally reserved for discussion and voting on resolutions because these documents will become the policies of our organization. One resolution, 99-10 concerning non-valid standardized test scores, was debated for an entire hour during this convention session. Twenty-one people debated the pros and cons of this resolution. Ultimately the Convention voted to defeat 99-10. I feel confident that this subject will be back for discussion in another resolution next year.
The committee considered nineteen resolutions. While some of the subjects were familiar: Social Security Disability, rehabilitation, education, and access to technology--they encouraged the organization to try new approaches to solve longstanding problems.
Resolution 99-03, sponsored by Priscilla McKinley, a graduate student and leader in the NFB of Iowa, calls upon the 106th Congress to pass S 285 and HR 1601, which would allow blind recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance to earn the same amount of income as seniors receiving the Social Security retirement benefit because this is the best way to promote work opportunities for the blind.
This year we passed six resolutions concerning rehabilitation. Resolution 99-02, sponsored by Edward Bell, who just graduated from college and is teaching at the Louisiana Center for the Blind summer program, reaffirms our commitment to maintain separate agencies for the blind by ensuring that all states follow the regulations in the Workforce Investment Act to maintain identifiable services for the blind.
Two resolutions concerned the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Resolution 99-05, sponsored by Kristen Cox, a recent addition to the National Center Staff in the Governmental Affairs Department, demands that the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled remove any services provided through vending facilities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act from their procurement list and end its current practice of trying to destroy the Randolph-Sheppard program. Resolution 99-06, sponsored by James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, concerns vending facilities.
Resolution 99-07, sponsored by Noel Nightingale, a newly elected member of the NFB Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Washington, calls upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to issue a policy directive to states to include the clear messages that barriers to informed choice such as erroneous calculations of costs are unacceptable and that states are required to provide information to consumers about alternative providers of rehabilitation services.
Resolution 99-08, sponsored by Lynn Mattioli, First Vice President of the NFB of Maryland, urges state rehabilitation agencies to provide competent computer training with provisions to continue training to keep up with changing technology for blind clients. The resolution also stresses the need to provide appropriate hardware and software so that the client can maintain skills between the time of training and the time of actual employment.
Resolution 99-09, sponsored by Christine Hall, President of the National Organization of the Senior Blind, urges Congress and the Administration to amend the Older Americans Act to include enabling legislation for programming and funding in increased amounts for rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals.
Three resolutions concerned education issues. Resolution 99-10, sponsored by Michael Bailiff, a tax attorney and frequent contributor of articles to the Braille Monitor, calls upon Congress to pass legislation requiring institutions who use standardized tests as part of their admission procedures to provide an alternative mechanism that does not rely on the use of non-validated test scores. This resolution was defeated by the convention. We have been wrestling for more than twenty years with the problem of testing authorities' insisting that tests taken by applicants who receive reasonable accommodations are not valid. I am sure that we will see future resolutions on this subject.
Resolution 99-16, sponsored by Shawn Mayo, President of the National Association of Blind Students, petitions the U. S. Department of Justice to create a rule to change the definition of a qualified reader to allow the blind the option to choose their own readers and the right to decide whether they will bring a personal reader to a test site.
Resolution 99-12, sponsored by Pam Dubel, the Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, calls upon the U. S. Department of Education to reconsider and revise its interpretation of the Braille services provision included in the 1997 amendments to IDEA. The proper interpretation of this law should require the school to provide Braille instruction to a student while waiting for a dispute among members of the IEP team to be resolved.
The convention passed three resolutions concerning access to print information. Resolution 99-01, sponsored by Brian Miller, a graduate student and leader in the NFB of Iowa, urges cooperation between the publishing industry and the Library of Congress to make digital editions of published texts widely available to the blind. The resolution also declares our firm intent to promote legislation that will bring about universal access to the printed word for the blind of this nation.
Resolution 99-14, sponsored by Connie Leblond, President of the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs, calls upon the Small Business Administration, its state partners, the American Banking Association, and other economic development centers to adopt a proactive approach by planning ahead for the provision of materials in Braille. The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs will supply the names and locations of Braille transcription services to these entities.
Resolution 99-15, sponsored by Alpidio Rolon, President of the NFB of Puerto Rico, urges manufacturers of adaptive technology to provide their manuals and instructional materials in Spanish.
The convention passed three resolutions concerning nonvisual access to technology. Resolution 99-17, sponsored by Christopher Danielsen, a leader in the NFB of South Carolina, who chairs its resolutions committee, calls upon the Access Board to adopt a proactive strategy promoting government-wide enforcement of standards to insure ready, unimpeded access by blind citizens and employees to information controlled and managed by the federal government. The resolution also calls on all departments and agencies in the federal government to adopt and implement procurement procedures that comply with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998.
Resolution 99-18, sponsored by Gary Wunder, a member of the national Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Missouri, calls upon manufacturers of automated teller machines and the banking industry to incorporate speech output and universal discernible tactile keypads in their machines so that they are useable by the blind without the need for sighted assistance.
Resolution 99-19, sponsored by Nathanael Wales, an engineering student and leader in the NFB of California, insists that blind persons have access to all new electronic voting machines and interfaces. The resolution also affirms the blind person's right to use another individual to assist with voting if he or she wishes to use that method of voting.
Resolution 99-04, sponsored by Dr. Abraham Nemeth, a noted blind mathematician and author of the Nemeth Braille code, calls upon the Federation to reject the Unified Braille Code. The committee rejected this resolution, so it did not reach the convention floor.
Resolution 99-11, sponsored by Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, reaffirms this organization's position that audible traffic signals should be pedestrian-activated and should be considered on a case-by-case basis with input from consumer organizations, particularly the National Federation of the Blind. The resolution also states that highway officials should not assume that the provision of federal funds for audible traffic signals means that such signals are automatically necessary.
Resolution 99-13, sponsored by James Gashel, takes Western Michigan University to task for creating a certification program for mobility instructors without bothering to seek any input from blind consumers.
The texts of the resolutions passed at the 1999 convention follow.
WHEREAS, our American political, economic, educational, and social systems are rooted in timely access to published information, but timely access is exactly what the blind are consistently denied by the fact of not being able to read printed communications without assistance or technology to provide access; and
WHEREAS, timely access is crucial for the blind to be competitive, well-informed, engaged citizens; and
WHEREAS, the barriers to access resulting from exclusive use of print media need not exist in the future as advances in communications and publishing occur, particularly involving the use of digital text; and
WHEREAS, advancements in publishing technology are being planned and carried out largely without regard to access by the blind, resulting in the use of methods such as the "portable document format" which, although relying upon electronic communications technologies, is still not accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) was established as a part of the Library of Congress in 1931 to provide blind persons with reading matter in Braille and audio recordings and could now extend its scope of service to include development and administration of standards for the preparation of digital text in formats suited to non-visual access; and
WHEREAS, achieving universal access to the printed word by the blind will require a Congressional enactment to compel production and provision to a central authority such as NLS of books in compliance with a universal standard along with safeguards that the central authority will allow the newly-available information to be used only by eligible blind persons and agencies providing them material in specialized formats: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization insist upon the prompt development and implementation of standards for non-visual access with the goal of cooperation between the publishing industry and the Library of Congress in order to make digital editions of published text widely available to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization declare its firm intent to seek appropriate legislation in the Congress to implement standards and procedures that will bring about universal access to the printed word for this country's blind citizens.
WHEREAS, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), enacted August 7, 1998, directs all state vocational rehabilitation agencies to make plans to coordinate their programs with generic job-training and employment services programs while maintaining identifiable services for the blind and disabled; and
WHEREAS, maintaining a strong link between service delivery agencies for the blind and general employment and training agencies can promote integration of the blind into the workplace; and
WHEREAS, long experience has shown that specialized training in the skills and confidence needed by the blind is essential for blind persons to succeed in competitive employment; and
WHEREAS, long, sad experience has also shown that specialized blindness training cannot and will not occur in generic job training programs that try to be all things to all people; and
WHEREAS, after passage of WIA, several states (such as Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Minnesota) have misapplied its fundamental concepts by attempting to consolidate rather than coordinate programs, proposing various approaches to submerge services for the blind into larger agencies such as general vocational rehabilitation or human services agencies; and
WHEREAS, history has amply demonstrated that absorption of specialized blindness training into larger bureaucratic structures will result in poor and inadequate training to prepare blind people to enter the workforce; and
WHEREAS, federal regulations set forth to implement WIA specify that programs such as those which serve the blind are authorized to continue their operations without threat of merger with larger programs because of WIA; and
WHEREAS, in order to address the 70 percent unemployment rate among blind persons of working age and to avoid that unemployment rate's rising even higher, the boundaries and lines of authority between blindness rehabilitation services and one-stop job training centers defined in WIA must be understood and emphasized by maintaining an identifiable service-delivery system designed to provide blind people with the specialized, blindness-related services that generic job training agencies are not set up to provide: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that we call upon all states to implement WIA in a way that maintains separate identifiable services for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its determination to prevent adoption of legislation in the states which would result in a one-size-fits-all, one-stop shopping approach instead of providing essential, specialized services, since the failure to do so will ultimately bring to a halt the current progress toward full and equal integration of the blind into the workforce.
WHEREAS, the blind face an unemployment rate that is in excess of 70 percent; and
WHEREAS, the single factor that contributes more to this unemployment rate than any other is the earnings limit in the Social Security Disability program which terminates eligibility for blind recipients who earn a gross wage of $1,110 per month, often resulting in a substantial loss of real income for beneficiaries who work and earn above the statutory limit; and
WHEREAS, the loss of income caused by working may also be coupled with substantially increased premiums just to maintain health insurance coverage under Medicare or another health insurance program; and
WHEREAS, Congress in 1996 responded to the pleas of seniors who faced a similarly low earnings limit by raising the limit even though most seniors have worked for many years and lose only one dollar for every three dollars earned, unlike blind people, who face an abrupt loss of income due to work; and
WHEREAS, Senator John McCain and Congressman Robert Ehrlich have introduced legislation to restore the policy of an identical earnings threshold for blind people and age-sixty-five retirees; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would provide blind persons with the same exemption of earnings now provided to age-sixty-five retirees as a work incentive; and
WHEREAS, a higher earnings exemption would bring forth a positive response from blind people and bring additional revenues to the Social Security Trust Funds and general revenues as the blind move into the work force in greater numbers than ever before: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the 106th Congress, particularly the members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, to endorse this legislation--S. 285 and HR 1601--and approve its passage, since, as in the case of retirees, this is the best way to promote work opportunities for the blind.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act provides a legally enforceable priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, the Javitts-Wagner-O'Day Act (JWOD) promotes employment in direct-labor jobs for blind and disabled persons by awarding government procurement contracts to qualified non-profit agencies; and
WHEREAS, federal administration of the JWOD Act is vested in an agency known as the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled (the Committee), which publishes a list (referred to as the procurement list) of products and services that federal agencies must buy from eligible JWOD agencies; and
WHEREAS, in publishing the procurement list under the JWOD Act, the Committee has complete discretion in deciding which products and services to include or exclude, but by contrast compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard priority for the blind is not discretionary with any federal agency and is required whenever vending facility services are provided on federal property; and
WHEREAS, despite the unequivocal Congressional priority for the blind to provide vending facility services on federal property, the Committee has placed federal food vending services on the JWOD procurement list; and
WHEREAS, the Committee has persisted in making aggressive assaults upon the Randolph-Sheppard priority for the blind at the behest of NISH (formally known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) and its member agencies such as Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries International, the ARC, Jewish Vocational Services, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, and WORKTECH; and
WHEREAS, NISH and its member agencies can perform their mission of creating job opportunities for severely disabled persons by providing the federal government with all the many other products and services on the JWOD procurement list and do not need to add federal food services in contravention of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to achieve their goals; and
WHEREAS, even without competition from NISH and its large member agencies, the Randolph-Sheppard Program already faces stiff obstacles in establishing large-scale food-service businesses on federal property which comes from wealthy and well-financed commercial food service operators willing to spend millions to acquire the locations accorded to blind vendors by the Randolph-Sheppard priority; and
WHEREAS, the Secretary of Education is charged in the Randolph-Sheppard Act with the responsibility of government-wide leadership to insure compliance with the act by all federal property managers and, in implementation of this duty, has adopted a policy which seeks to uphold the priority for blind vendors, while recognizing that the JWOD priority applies to the procurement of many other products and services that are unrelated to items sold at vending facilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization commend the Secretary of Education for standing tall in support of the independent business opportunities provided to blind persons under and pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the JWOD Committee exercise its discretion and forbearance by removing any services provided through vending facilities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act from the procurement list; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization register its fervent opposition to the efforts being made by NISH and its member agencies to destroy the Randolph-Sheppard Program and call upon these groups to use their creative energies to expand employment opportunities on behalf of persons with disabilities without resorting to a policy of jealous attacks upon opportunities already provided to the blind by law.
WHEREAS, the most fundamental and overarching requirement of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is the priority granted to blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property; and
WHEREAS, regulations prescribed to implement the Act define the phrase "satisfactory site," for the purpose of reserving space for vending facilities in the acquisition and alteration of federal property; and
WHEREAS, the regulations, but not the law, provide an exemption from the satisfactory-site requirements when fewer than one hundred federal employees are on duty during normal working hours, or, in the case of buildings with less than fifteen thousand square feet where services are provided to the public; and
WHEREAS, this exemption from the satisfactory-site requirements is being interpreted by some agencies (most notably the United States Postal Service) as an exemption from the rest of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and especially from the priority-for-the-blind provisions of the Act; and
WHEREAS, these same agencies often provide for vending facility services by contracting with commercial firms rather than abiding by the blind vendor priority to meet the needs of their employees and the public, a practice which flagrantly violates the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the satisfactory-site exemption, which applies to buildings of low population and small size, is not an exemption from the Randolph-Sheppard Act altogether, and should not be interpreted as such: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization seek the cooperation of all federal property managing agencies in applying the blind priority provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to all buildings and facilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education is hereby requested to issue an interpretive-guidance memorandum to all federal agencies and state licensing agencies to clarify the coverage of the Randolph-Sheppard Act in regard to all federal property, regardless of building population or size.
WHEREAS, in the Rehabilitation Act, Congress explicitly recognized that disability generally and blindness specifically are natural parts of the human experience and in no way diminish the right of individuals to live independently, enjoy self-determination, make choices, contribute to society, pursue meaningful careers, and enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society; and
WHEREAS, in the light of years of experience in which rehabilitation professionals pretended partnership but exercised absolute control over all rehabilitation decisions by forcing clients to accept whatever the professional decided, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act in 1992 to provide that consumers of rehabilitation services have the right to informed choice throughout the rehabilitation process, including the right to make meaningful and informed choices about vocational goals, the means of achieving those goals, and the service providers to be used in reaching those goals; and
WHEREAS, through the informed-choice provisions Congress specifically intended to empower consumers in the rehabilitation process, resulting in consumers' self-sufficiency instead of dependency; and
WHEREAS, in addition to the increase in successful rehabilitations, a secondary benefit of the implementation of informed choice is the creation of a powerful incentive for service-providers to improve services by responding to consumers' demands; and
WHEREAS, historically, state-operated adjustment and training programs for the blind have not emphasized positive expectations for the capabilities of blind people and have largely provided ineffective adjustment and training as a result; and
WHEREAS, in response to blind consumers' demands for better training, alternative private nonprofit adjustment and training centers for the blind have been established which emphasize positive attitudes and graduate hundreds of clients who go on to complete their rehabilitation by finding competitive employment; and
WHEREAS, many state rehabilitation agencies thwart the informed choice of blind consumers by refusing to send them to alternative adjustment and training programs which they wrongly claim are more costly or by agreeing to pay per month only the equivalent of the agency's artificially reduced cost; and
WHEREAS, many state rehabilitation agencies significantly understate the actual cost to them of their adjustment and training programs by deliberately excluding the cost of administration and other overhead from their calculations of comparative costs and also by assuming that they will serve inflated numbers of clients, thus spreading the cost per student over a higher number and artificially reducing their per-student cost; and
WHEREAS, even where no financial barriers are erected to the selection of alternative services, many state rehabilitation agencies do not provide adequate information about the availability of alternatives to state-operated adjustment and training programs; and
WHEREAS, these barriers erected by many state rehabilitation agencies to the selection of alternative services deprive consumers of the opportunity to make a truly informed choice: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education to issue a policy directive providing appropriate guidelines to states for implementing the informed-choice requirements of the Rehabilitation Act as they relate to the provision of pre-vocational adjustment and training programs, including adjustment and training programs for blind persons, and to include in such guidelines the clear messages that barriers to informed choice based on erroneous calculations of costs are not acceptable and that failure to provide consumers with accurate and complete information about alternative providers of rehabilitation services is likewise not acceptable.
WHEREAS, approximately 70 percent of blind people are unemployed; and
WHEREAS, today the majority of jobs require or assume some degree of computer literacy or technology training; and
WHEREAS, timely, effective, and meaningful computer and adaptive-equipment training for blind persons is crucial for securing and maintaining employment; and
WHEREAS, too often blind people receive initial computer or technology training but have no provision in their plan for rehabilitation or means to keep their skills up to date once the training is complete, thus perpetuating their state of computer illiteracy in relation to the jobs for which they are competing; and
WHEREAS, those providing computer and adaptive-technology training are often not competent users of either the technology or the blindness-specific adaptations themselves: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon state rehabilitation agencies and other facilities with whom they contract for training to make timely, effective, and meaningful computer and technology training a priority when plans for rehabilitation are written and implemented, including provisions for subsequent client training as technology changes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon agencies that provide funding and training to state rehabilitation clients to provide access to both hardware and software to trainees and those already trained, continuously from the time the individual begins training until he or she is successfully employed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that training be provided by individuals who are competent in using all the relevant technology themselves and that compensation for persons hired to do the training be adequate to attract skilled people.
WHEREAS, the majority of blind and visually impaired individuals first experience severe vision loss at age fifty-five or older; and
WHEREAS, the population of seniors who are also blind or visually impaired is expected to double by the year 2020; and
WHEREAS, Congress currently recognizes the need for rehabilitation services for older blind Americans in Title VII, Chapter 2 of the Rehabilitation Act although the current funding level is only $11.2 million for services throughout the entire country; and
WHEREAS, No reliable statistics exist on the exact number of seniors who are blind although the figure is generally agreed to be in excess of one million and growing, making it clear that $11.2 million is only a tiny drop in this huge bucket of need; and
WHEREAS, more and more seniors every year become dependent on expensive nursing home care due to sight loss, a situation that could be remedied in most cases by simple rehabilitation training as soon as the need arises in the effective skills of daily living used routinely by hundreds of thousands of blind men and women throughout our country but unknown to a person just losing vision who believes that lack of sight means dependence upon others; and
WHEREAS, the Older Americans Act does not currently provide for the rehabilitation services desperately needed by many seniors experiencing sight loss, but rather provides services such as congregate dining, Meals on Wheels, transportation, and recreation to all seniors; and
WHEREAS, rehabilitation training is essential to allow blind and visually impaired seniors to continue living in their homes and to remain independent and contributing members of their communities; and
WHEREAS, a substantial increase in funding for Title VII, Chapter 2 services is desperately needed at this time in order to assure that a service-delivery system for older blind individuals will be maintained within each state; and
WHEREAS, an amendment to the Older Americans Act to provide rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals would provide an additional source of funding for rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, funding could and should be provided to train personnel employed by rehabilitation agencies, senior programs, and other social service providers in cost-effective ways to assist blind seniors in making the adjustment to poor vision and blindness; and
WHEREAS, the need is so gigantic and will increase so rapidly that only a series of planned, substantial increases in funding to both these programs can even begin to address existing and future problems: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge Congress and the Administration to adopt a series of planned increases in funding levels for Title VII, Chapter 2, to begin bringing rehabilitation services for older blind Americans closer to the point where the need of this growing population is better addressed and met; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress and the Administration to amend the Older Americans Act to include enabling legislation for programming and also funding in increasing increments for rehabilitation services for older blind and visually impaired individuals to add more ways of reaching and teaching the members of this able and woefully under-served population.
WHEREAS, the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (T 21) authorizes matching federal funds for the installation of audible traffic signals throughout America; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is on record opposing the wholesale installation of these signals, as most recently set forth in Resolution 92-06; and
WHEREAS, good independent travel training enables the vast majority of blind people to negotiate safely and competently virtually all traffic intersections, a fact that would make wholesale installation of audible traffic signals a wasteful, unnecessary expenditure of scarce public funds; and
WHEREAS, massive deployment of audible signals will only create an unwise reliance on electronic devices by blind persons who must rely upon their own senses and skills for their own safety; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals can in fact make intersections more dangerous by masking the sound of traffic, which blind people rely upon to determine traffic patterns; and
WHEREAS, activation of the visual walk sign should not also be the means of activating an audible traffic signal since the interconnection of the two would make use of audible signals mandatory for everyone whenever the walk sign button is pressed; and
WHEREAS, audible traffic signals may in rare cases be helpful to some blind people at complicated intersections with confusing road patterns; and
WHEREAS, the only practical and effective audible signals are those which are pedestrian-activated and do not interfere with the sound of traffic; and
WHEREAS, pedestrian-activated audible traffic signals are the only kind of signal that should ever be installed to assist blind persons and should never be installed at the demand of one or a small number of blind persons but rather only after giving blind members of the community and organizations representing the blind a full opportunity to participate in the decision-making process; and
WHEREAS, many members of the sighted public mistakenly believe that all blind people must depend on other persons or electronic devices to cross streets safely and therefore believe they are helping the blind by putting audible traffic signals in the community: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization reaffirm its opposition to the wholesale installation of audible traffic signals by state and local governments; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon any governmental or other entity considering the installation of audible signals to consult extensively with elected representatives of local organizations of the blind, and particularly with the National Federation of the Blind, before any decision regarding audible traffic signals is made.
WHEREAS, literacy is now viewed as a fundamental right for all Americans in addition to its crucial roles in independence, employment, and citizenship, and literacy for blind and visually impaired persons means the ability to read and to write Braille efficiently; and
WHEREAS, failure to provide Braille instruction on a consistent basis is detrimental to the development of literacy, future academic success, and employment prospects of blind and visually impaired children; and
WHEREAS, statistics from the American Printing House for the Blind indicate that only 10 percent of children who are blind or visually impaired use Braille while in contrast recent research reveals that 80 percent of successful blind/visually impaired adults who are employed use Braille every day; and
WHEREAS, these statistics suggest that America's schools are creating a generation of illiterate, unemployable future blind adults; and
WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require that schools must provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille in the case of each blind and visually impaired child unless the team responsible for choosing special services for the child determines that such instruction or use of Braille is not appropriate for the child; and
WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to IDEA recognize the critical need for Braille services by placing an affirmative obligation on the team responsible under the law for planning special services to provide for Braille, absent a specific determination of the team to the contrary; and
WHEREAS, when disputes arise between the parents and school personnel on the individualized education plan team about Braille services, any of the parties involved may submit the dispute to due process procedures (including a hearing) to achieve a resolution; and
WHEREAS, resolution of these disputes can consume several years, the same critical learning years during which other children are acquiring and perfecting literacy skills; and
WHEREAS, until the dispute is settled, the Braille services must be provided under the law as amended in 1997 since the IEP team has not determined that such services would be inappropriate for the child; and
WHEREAS, the U. S. Department of Education has incorrectly interpreted the 1997 law to permit exclusion of Braille services from the IEP in the event of a dispute, an interpretation which turns the law on its head and essentially nullifies the 1997 amendment: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Department of Education to reconsider and revise its interpretation of the Braille services provision included in the 1997 amendments to IDEA to the end that Braille services will be provided to blind and visually impaired children to the fullest extent prescribed by law.
WHEREAS, efforts to develop certification criteria and procedures in the field of services for the blind have largely failed in the United States because those involved in designing and implementing the programs have not involved elected representatives of the blind in their efforts, the most notable of these failures being NAC--the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped; and
WHEREAS, the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced by Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel; and
WHEREAS, the Western Michigan announcement also indicates that the standards and curriculum will be developed in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies, but says nothing about the involvement of consumer organizations of blind people and their elected representatives; and
WHEREAS, the choice of an alliance with disability service agencies rather than consumers is inexcusable and cannot be attributed to an oversight, since the architects of this latest certification scheme are well informed about the blind consumer movement and have therefore chosen to ignore it; and
WHEREAS, this latest attempt to promote standards and certification in the name of quality service is essentially a self-serving plan to promote the vision of travel instruction according to Western Michigan University and to perpetuate that vision without regard to benefits for blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the Western Michigan standards and certification initiative, while recognizing that the plan itself is an acknowledgement of the other failed efforts in this area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we advise authorities of Western Michigan University and any other potential sources of financial support for this effort that a project such as independent travel standards for the blind must first pass muster with the blind themselves before funds are approved to underwrite the effort.
WHEREAS, entities such as the Small Business Administration, Economic Development Centers, and banking institutions provide cascades of printed information for the aspiring small business owner to use in preparing business plans, seeking financing, and guiding early development of a budding small business; and
WHEREAS, these same sources of information and financing for small businesses are rarely prepared to furnish blind entrepreneurs with Braille copies of their informational brochures, applications, and other materials; and
WHEREAS, aspiring blind entrepreneurs need the same information and need it in Braille for the same reason sighted persons need the information in print--for the opportunity to study and compare and refer again to important sections; and
WHEREAS, most small business development entities do not provide their vital information in Braille and do not know how to respond to requests for Braille when such requests are made; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has consistently supported and encouraged the production of Braille and access to information; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, was established to encourage and assist blind people in seeking self-employment opportunities; and
WHEREAS, in the past ten years numerous for-profit Braille transcription services have been established, often owned and operated by blind entrepreneurs with the skill and sound business sense that could assist in the timely distribution of Braille information; and
WHEREAS, these Braille transcription services work by receiving printed material and turning it into Braille upon order of entities with the need to provide Braille to customers; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs is compiling a list of Braille transcription services throughout the country to be made available to the American Banking Association, the Small Business Administration and its state partners, and any other business development entity that needs to locate a Braille transcription service: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge that the Small Business Administration, the Administration's state partners, the American Banking Association, and other economic development centers work with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs to make available the information about the existence of and the locations of Braille transcription services in order to serve all their blind customers better; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these entities to adopt a proactive approach by planning ahead for the provision of materials in Braille, rather than having to scramble to respond to requests made by blind persons who are seeking to enter the world of competitive business.
WHEREAS, more and more devices are being adapted to include speech and Braille output for use by the blind, enabling blind people to be more competitive in education, employment, and recreation; and
WHEREAS, a growing number of Hispanics with little or no knowledge of English see assistive technology as a means to further their integration into society; and
WHEREAS, most manuals for adaptive devices for use by the blind have not been made available in Spanish at all; and
WHEREAS, a few companies have already made available Spanish versions of their product manuals, but most of these are poorly translated and badly written; and
WHEREAS, this limits the possibilities for employment and advancement for Hispanic people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon manufacturers of assistive technology equipment for the blind to make available more and better Spanish versions of their product manuals.
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, provides that blind people are entitled to reasonable accommodation in situations covered by the Act; and
WHEREAS, Title II and Title III of the ADA and their implementing regulations do not define "qualified reader"; and
WHEREAS, one cause of trouble for blind persons prior to the ADA has not been resolved by the Act, whose provisions have actually made situations harder for blind persons: the area of readers for standardized tests; and
WHEREAS, prior to the ADA blind people could often negotiate with testing authorities for permission to bring their own personally trained readers to standardized tests, the taking of which was then proctored by the testing authority to preserve test security; and
WHEREAS, since passage of the ADA, every large testing authority in the United States has interpreted the term "qualified reader," a reasonable accommodation for the blind under the ADA, to mean that the testing authority both provides and pays for the reader; and
WHEREAS, there is no national standard for reading to the blind similar to the national standards for interpreting for the deaf and hearing-impaired; and
WHEREAS, this lack of definition of "qualified reader" and the myth that there is such a thing as a set of qualified readers just as there are qualified interpreters for the deaf has led testing authorities and other entities to appoint anyone they choose, while pretending the reader meets some non-existent standard, to serve as a reader for a blind person in the highly charged testing context; and
WHEREAS, each blind person trains his or her readers to suit his or her own personal style since the method of using a human reader is identical in concept to using one's own eyes and brain with the addition of another person to do the seeing and vocalizing; and
WHEREAS, the vast differences among human beings result in different styles by different blind people for this very personal task such as the development of unverbalized instructions and expectations as the team of blind person and human reader work together; and
WHEREAS, imposing an unknown or very new reader on a blind person in the stressful context of standardized testing does not permit the blind person's ability to succeed in the test to be accurately assessed since the blind person is training a reader while taking the test, resulting in a test score that measures the blind person's ability to train a new reader under stress rather than the blind person's ability to pass the test; and
WHEREAS, the blind person is harmed and put at a disadvantage through the failure to have necessary and relevant information communicated when the person serving as a reader has not been trained specifically by that blind individual; and
WHEREAS, blind persons choosing to bring their own readers must (or must be prepared to) pay for the reader's time since the testing authority will (or may wish to) hire a person to proctor the test for security reasons; and
WHEREAS, the two key elements missing in the current definition of "qualified reader" are (1) that the term "qualified reader" means that a blind person must be able to bring his or her own reader, and (2) that the blind person and no one else is the person entitled to decide whether to bring a personal reader or to use one appointed by the testing authority: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization petition the United States Department of Justice to initiate a rule-making procedure to change the definition of "qualified reader" to allow the blind the option to choose their own readers and the right to decide for themselves whether they will bring a personal reader or will accept one appointed by someone else.
WHEREAS, electronic and information technology is increasingly prevalent in the gathering, management, and dissemination of information by departments and agencies of the federal government, but much of this technology is visually oriented and therefore difficult or impossible to access by persons who are blind; and
WHEREAS, as the result of forceful and persistent advocacy by the blind, and particularly by the National Federation of the Blind, the 1998 Amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were designed to strengthen the law to ensure that the blind and other people with disabilities will have access to electronic and information technology; and
WHEREAS, Section 508 now requires that when federal departments or agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic or information technology, they will insure that the technology allows federal employees who are blind to have access to and use of information and data comparable to that provided to sighted federal employees; and
WHEREAS, the statute further requires that blind members of the public seeking information services from a federal department or agency must have access to information or data comparable to that provided to sighted members of the public; and
WHEREAS, all federal departments and agencies are required to be in compliance with the requirements of Section 508 on and after August 7, 2000; and
WHEREAS, in order to promulgate clear, strong, enforceable regulations to be followed by federal agencies and departments in complying with these requirements, the 1998 Amendments to Section 508 directed the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (commonly known as the Access Board) to develop and publish federal standards for accessible electronic and information technology by February 7, 2000, including a definition of "electronic and information technology" and setting forth technical and functional standards to ensure that such technology is accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the Access Board created the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee to develop the required standards and submit its recommendations to the Access Board; and
WHEREAS, the Committee has completed its work and filed its report, which is now pending before the Access Board and awaiting final approval; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind believes that the recommendations of the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee hold great promise for providing access to electronic and information technology by nonvisual means, comparable to access by visual means: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge the Access Board to adopt the proposed standards set forth by the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee and not diminish or weaken in any way these clear, strong, enforceable provisions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Access Board to adopt a proactive strategy in promoting government-wide enforcement of these standards to insure ready, unimpeded access by citizens and employees to the wealth of information controlled and managed by the federal government; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all departments and agencies of the federal government promptly to adopt and implement procurement policies and procedures which assure their full compliance with the law.
WHEREAS, the interaction between customer and bank is increasingly conducted by means of electronic devices rather than by a live bank teller; and
WHEREAS, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) can handle deposits, transfers, and cash withdrawals at lower cost to the bank and can afford to the consumer a greater level of convenience because of its twenty-four-hour availability; and
WHEREAS, in an effort to encourage the increased use of these devices, many banks are now charging customers when those customers use the services of a live teller; and
WHEREAS, Automated Teller Machines communicate with the customer using a screen to display questions, prompts, and other necessary information; and
WHEREAS, these machines are generally not equipped with alternative displays which can be used by people who are blind, though speech technology has been available in many consumer products for more than a decade; and
WHEREAS, more and more ATM's are operated by touching the screen as opposed to using tactilely discernible buttons although a keypad usable by touch can be installed on every model; and
WHEREAS, local banks have argued that no Automated Teller Machines are marketed which are capable of generating speech output, while ATM manufacturers claim that speaking ATM's do not exist because the banking industry has demonstrated no demand for them: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the manufacturers of Automated Teller Machines to incorporate speech output and universal tactilely discernible keypads in their machines so they are usable by the blind without the need for sighted assistance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the banking industry to demand such change in order that it may comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other statutes created to ensure full access to technology by the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization declare its firm and unalterable intent to remedy this situation by legislative or judicial means if cooperation by the manufacturers and the banking industry is not forthcoming.
WHEREAS, the right of all persons to participate fully in society and their communities as equal, independent, first-class citizens as guaranteed by the United States Constitution includes the right to vote, and this right is guaranteed to blind persons just as it is guaranteed to their sighted fellow citizens; and
WHEREAS, the Voting Rights Act of 1982 provides that the use by a blind voter of another individual of the voter's choice as a personal assistant is a right guaranteed by federal law for all federal elections; and
WHEREAS, this method of voting by blind persons remains a viable and fully independent method for voting by the blind which should not be altered or limited by any subsequent enactments intended to broaden voting opportunities for the blind; and
WHEREAS, new electronic technology is transforming the voting process for all voters; and
WHEREAS, access to new electronic interfaces is desirable as an additional option for independent voting by blind persons; and
WHEREAS, truly independent use of electronic voting machines by blind voters can never be achieved by retrofitting existing machines as easily and completely as it can be achieved at the design stage; and
WHEREAS, implementation of any such design requirement by the federal government could be fashioned to apply only to new machines being ordered by a jurisdiction, avoiding the cost and inefficiency of retrofitting and the burden on jurisdictions still using paper or mechanical voting while insuring that, over time and as a part of any jurisdictions' improvements to voting methods, electronic access for the blind will be required; and
WHEREAS, Senate Bill 511 provides for the right of disabled voters to vote in a Federal election independently, where independently is defined to be "without the assistance of another individual"; and
WHEREAS, for blind persons defining independence must continue to include the personal assistant as defined in the Voting Rights Act of 1982 and must also include a provision requiring design of accessible electronic machines whenever jurisdictions purchase new ones; and
WHEREAS, S. 511 contains other positive proposals such as election material in alternative media, although the current wording may be so broad as to require production of materials even though they are not wanted and will not be used; and
WHEREAS, the types of alternative media as well as the exact method of implementing accessible design for new voting machines are matters of such detail and potential costliness if done wrong that they might more wisely be included in the topics to be settled by regulation after broad statutory language sets the framework: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge supporters of S. 511 to assure that the protections for blind voters in the Voting Rights Act of 1982 be re-affirmed and integrated into any future enactment on the subject of voting accessibility for the disabled; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist upon full access to all new electronic voting machines and interfaces used in the voting process, including media and interfaces involving the Internet and electronic kiosks (and in particular, flat-screen kiosks); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, during the consideration of changes in voting methods and the technology to be used in voting by any political jurisdiction, this organization advocate for the use of voting methods and materials which support full participation by the blind in the voting process both with and without assistance as determined by the individual voter.