Braille Monitor                                                 August/September 2011

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The 2011 Resolutions:
A Declaration of Independence for the Blind

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon Maneki (left) and Marsha Dyer reading a resolution on the platformFrom the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the NFB’s resolutions committee. Each year she explains and categorizes the resolutions for us. This is what she says this year:

The U. S. celebrates the Fourth of July each year because the Declaration of Independence represents the willingness of the colonies to take a stand and sever their ties with England. Although the U.S. did not achieve this goal until the British were defeated at Yorktown in 1881, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence because it articulates our stance or position.

Does the National Federation of the Blind have a declaration of independence? In a speech entitled “Within the Grace of God,” Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation of the Blind, described the aim of the Federation as follows:

“We do not want compassion, we want understanding; we do not want tolerance, we want acceptance; we do not want charity, we want opportunity; we do not want dependency, we want independence.”

Dr. tenBroek’s words demonstrate that independence is a longstanding goal of the Federation. Our resolutions are a declaration of how to achieve that independence. Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind can be compared to the Declaration of Independence by the colonies because these resolutions elaborate a stand on issues that affect the independence of the blind. While the U.S. has only one Declaration of Independence, the National Federation of the Blind has many.

This year the thirty-five-member resolutions committee met on the Fourth of July to debate eighteen resolutions. I was honored to chair the committee again this year. Marsha Dyer served as committee secretary. As usual she did an excellent job. The committee brought all eighteen resolutions to the Convention for its consideration. After a lively debate the Convention, the supreme authority of the Federation, defeated resolution 2011-04. This resolution took Apple to task for giving its prestigious awards to industry developers even when their products were not accessible to the blind. While the majority agreed with the principles of the resolution, they felt that the language which condemned and deplored Apple was too harsh in light of the company’s other accessibility accomplishments. Now let us examine the 2011 declaration of independence by the organized blind movement as outlined in the seventeen resolutions passed by the Convention.

There are numerous descriptions and definitions of independence. Voltaire, the famous French philosopher who wrote during the Enlightenment, stated: “Injustice in the end produces independence.” This is an apt description of resolutions 2011-17 and 2011-09.  Paying disabled Americans subminimum wages is definitely an injustice. When this practice is eliminated, disabled workers will gain greater independence.

Congress is currently considering reauthorization of The Workforce Investment Act, which also contains provisions reauthorizing vocational rehabilitation services. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is proposing a new section, 511, providing for the payment of a subminimum wage. In Resolution 2011-17 this organization calls on members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to remove Section 511 of the proposed Rehabilitation Act. Anil Lewis, the director of strategic communication for the National Federation of the Blind and one of its longtime leaders, sponsored this resolution. As Lewis explained, placing subminimum wage provisions in the Rehabilitation Act will lead to less rehabilitation and less meaningful employment for disabled Americans.

Conchita Hernandez, a 2010 national scholarship winner who is also an active member of the Spanish translation committee and chairs the salsa dance event at convention, introduced resolution 2011-09. Investigations conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office informed Congress that the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, is incapable of enforcing compliance with existing subminimum wage provisions.  Therefore Congress should replace the current law, which exploits disabled workers, with a Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. As stated in resolution 2011-09, “This organization condemns and deplores every entity that continues to exploit people with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages.”

Edward Gibbon, an English historian who wroteThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described independence as “the first of earthly blessings.” Education is often the first step to independence. Gibbon’s description of independence fits well with the four resolutions about education passed by the Convention. 

Eric Guillory, the director of youth services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the newly elected president of the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education, a division of the NFB, proposed resolution 2011-07. The U.S. Department of Education nullified the presumption of Braille stated in the 1997 Amendments to IDEA by considering Braille a special education service. In this resolution we urge the Department of Education “to correct its regulations and specify Braille as the presumed reading medium for blind students.”

The U.S. Department of Education also developed poor regulations concerning orientation and mobility services for blind students. In resolution 2011-18, we “call upon the secretary of education to take immediate and affirmative action to clarify and reinforce the spirit and the intent of IDEA” as it applies to these services. Denise Mackenstadt, a longtime Federation leader and an education expert who received the NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award in 2001, sponsored this resolution.

Candace Chapman, president of the Mississippi Association of Blind Students, proposed resolution 2011-11.  The purpose of the new Common Core State Standards being developed by a number of states is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn so that teachers and parents know what steps must be taken to ensure that students learn effectively. In this resolution we commend the developers of these standards for including strong language that sets high standards for blind students and requires schools to use accessible technology.

On May 26, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education in a Frequently Asked Questions document emphasized that programs for students in grades K-12 are required to procure and use accessible education technology. In resolution 2011-15 we commend the Department of Education for this action and urge all schools to follow these new guidelines rigorously. Isaiah Wilcox, treasurer of the Georgia affiliate and a scholarship winner in 2008, sponsored this resolution.

Since the convention took place in Orlando, Florida, it is appropriate for this article to include a description of independence by Walt Disney. Walt Disney stated, “To me Mickey Mouse is a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end.” Two means that lead to independence are employment and accessibility. The Convention passed four resolutions regarding employment and seven resolutions regarding accessibility.

Two of the resolutions dealing with employment call for the creation of more opportunities for blind Americans. The other two employment resolutions call for the elimination of barriers to employment. Kevan Worley, who currently serves as treasurer of the National Association of Blind Merchants and as first vice president of the Colorado affiliate, introduced resolution 2011-05. In this resolution we urge Congress to introduce and pass the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for Americans with disabilities

Bill Packee, president of the NFB of Alaska, sponsored resolution 2011-14. In this resolution we commend eBay for creating opportunities for blind entrepreneurs to manage their own online businesses by making its platform accessible to the blind.

Brian Buhrow is a respected computer expert who is a member of the board of directors of the NFB in Computer Science and the Science and Engineering Division. He proposed resolution 2011-06. A recent study found that “over 90 percent of the federal agency home pages tested do not comply with Section 508 accessibility guidelines and likely cannot be used by people who are blind or have other perceptual or motor disabilities.” In this resolution we demand that federal government agencies eliminate these barriers to accessibility by fully complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. More federal jobs would be available to blind people if Section 508 were truly enforced.

One of the greatest barriers to employment is the failure to provide proper accommodations to blind candidates who must take licensing exams, certification exams, or other tests to gain entrance into a particular profession. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is one example of an entity that refused proper accommodations to blind people by not allowing them to use computers with screen-access technology when taking their tests. Tim Elder won national scholarships in 2006 and 2008. He is currently a Disability Rights Fellow at Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Tim proposed resolution 2011-12. In this resolution we explicitly endorse the use of computers with screen-access technology as an accommodation for blind test takers. We also recognize that other technologies, now available or to be invented, may also be appropriate for blind test takers. Testing accommodations must be appropriate to ensure that the examination measures the candidate’s aptitude or achievement rather than his sensory impairment.

Two of the seven resolutions concerning access deal with transportation. The remaining five resolutions are about access to information. It was most appropriate for Mark Riccobono and Kimberly Flores to introduce resolution 2011-01, concerning the Blind Driver Challenge™. Mark Riccobono, the director of the Jernigan Institute, was the first blind person to drive a car independently in public. Kimberly raised over one thousand dollars for the Race for Independence and earned a chance to ride in the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. She is also the president of the NFB of Texas. Kimberly won a national scholarship in 2000.  In this resolution we “call on universities and technology manufacturers to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to implement innovative initiatives like the NFB Blind Driver Challenge” to enhance opportunities for the blind.

Blind air travelers are unable to perform numerous tasks because airlines provide inaccessible equipment. This trend not only affects planning and boarding information, but also denies a variety of inflight services to blind people. Michael Hingson, a frequent traveler who traverses the country to sell knfbReader products and is first vice president of the  National Association of Guide Dog Users, introduced resolution 2011-02.   In this resolution we “strongly urge the United States Congress to amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action, permit compensatory and injunctive relief for violations of the law, and permit courts to award attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties.” These remedies will encourage airlines to eliminate their discriminatory practices.

Blind people are losing independence because it is becoming increasingly difficult to operate basic home appliances such as washers and dryers by nonvisual means. Traditional knobs and buttons are being replaced with touch screens, visual displays, and menus. Sachin Pavithran, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah and a scholarship winner in 2007, sponsored resolution 2011-08. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact the Home Appliance Accessibility Act to preserve the independence of blind consumers.

Resolutions 2011-03 and 2011-10 urge Apple and Google to continue to work with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure the accessibility of their products and associated applications. Both companies have made important strides toward accessibility, but they need to do more. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science and treasurer of the Iowa affiliate, and Michael Hingson introduced 2011-03.  This resolution states that Apple must “create and enforce a set of requirements for accessibility that will, at a minimum, compel application developers to label buttons, menus, icons, selection lists, check boxes, and other controls so that VoiceOver users can identify and operate them.”

Everette Bacon, president of the Salt Lake City Chapter and a member of the board of directors of the Utah affiliate, proposed resolution 2011-10. The resolution states that “this organization reaffirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility in all of its services and avoid the future release of services that are inaccessible to its blind users.”

Reading is definitely a means to independence. The last two resolutions for discussion in this article will lead to greater reading opportunities for the blind. Noel Nightingale, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a longtime leader in the Washington State affiliate, introduced 2011-13. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped maintains the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) Website. In this resolution we “urge NLS to enhance BARD by including such features as adding a link to the site on the NLS homepage for more convenient patron access; making obvious the has-had function, which allows patrons to refer to materials they have previously downloaded; and adding a reserve list function that allows patrons to tag books for later download.”

In resolution 2011-16 we urge the U.S. government to continue its leadership in creating an international treaty on copyright law for the print-disabled that will permit “the production of published works in accessible formats and allow for cross-border sharing” of these materials. The Federation has been working on this issue for many years. Scott LaBarre and Dr. Fred Schroeder represented the Federation at the June 15 to 24, 2011, meeting of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. They were the sponsors of this resolution. Fred is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the Virginia affiliate. Scott is president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the Colorado affiliate. 

This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention follow. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects and our 2011 declaration of independence.

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