Celebrating Our Milestone Achievements
By Anil Lewis
I made my decision to become a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) after attending an NFB of Georgia meeting and listening to the speaker make an impassioned plea for the membership to do everything possible to ensure that a young blind student receives Braille instruction in his classroom. I soon pledged to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind, and have subsequently shared in many significant milestone achievements as part of the world’s most transformative group of blind people.
Reclaiming my life through the acquisition of the alternative skills of blindness (Braille, cane travel, access technology, and independent living skills) all nested in the NFB philosophy of belief in the true capacity of blind people was a significant personal achievement. Establishing a positive self-concept of myself as a blind person, developing the necessary problem solving skills, and recognizing the need to fight for full participation while accepting full responsibility, allowed me to achieve professional success and serve as an active member of our movement.
I shared in securing several significant achievements as a member of the Georgia affiliate of the NFB. In addition to securing Braille instruction for many more blind students, NFB of Georgia members were able to support the passage of the Audible Universal Information Access services legislation, which funds the NFB-NEWSLINE® in Georgia. We were able to work in concert with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to make Georgia the first state with nonvisually accessible voting machines in every precinct and every election.
The struggle is real, and progress does not come as quickly as we would like. We have overcome many of the barriers of the past that prohibited us from being considered as equals, and if the world was static, we may have achieved the fundamental equality we seek. However, the world continues to evolve, and we must evolve with it. Therefore as the methods of providing education evolve, we will still need to struggle to ensure that blind students receive appropriate Braille instruction, and have access to accessible learning materials. As voting technology evolves, we will still need to struggle to ensure that blind people have the right and ability to cast a private independent ballot. Likewise, as the nature of the jobs and the skills required to perform them evolve, we will still need to struggle to eliminate the barriers that prevent blind people from securing competitive integrated employment.
In fact, this month, we have an opportunity to reach a tremendous milestone in the elimination of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows employers to legally pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. A Proposed Rule by the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, known as the AbilityOne Commission, has recently been posted to the Federal Register instituting a prohibition on the payment of subminimum wages under 14(c) certificates as a qualification for participation as a nonprofit agency under the Javits Wagner O'Day Program (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/10/12/2021-22118/prohibition-on-the-payment-of-subminimum-wages-under-14c-certificates-as-a-qualification-for). Each of us should take time to comment so that we can all celebrate this milestone once it is achieved.
Blind Equality Achievement Month is a time for us to intentionally focus on celebrating our milestone achievements to remain motivated to continue along this sometimes difficult and frustrating path toward full citizenship. As we remain focused on our destination, we should revel in our journey. As we continue to make rational incremental progress toward achieving our goals of equality, opportunity, and security, we will measure our progress by the many milestones along this path to freedom.