Braille Monitor                                                August/September 2012

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Convention Resolutions
Leaving No Blind Person Behind

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is the longtime chair of the resolutions committee, and her annual performance leaves no doubt as to why. Here, introducing and explaining the twenty-six resolutions presented to the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, is Sharon’s article.

Sharon Maneki and Marsha DyerDuring the resolutions committee meeting on July 1, 2012, Alex Castillo used the term “leaving no blind person behind” as he urged the committee to support a resolution. I believe that leaving no blind person behind is a good general description of the thrust of the twenty-four resolutions passed by the Convention this year.

In 2001 Congress passed an act to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice so that no child is left behind. The sentiment of this reform legislation was to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity for quality education from the public school systems. The twenty-four resolutions passed by the Convention outline our current goals and policies to ensure that no blind person is left behind in employment opportunities, quality education, participation in the benefits of health care, and access to information.

I was privileged to chair the resolutions committee again this year and was delighted to work with the charming and capable Marsha Dyer, who served as secretary to the committee. We followed many of the time-honored traditions of the resolutions process such as having a large committee--thirty-four members--with broad representation from all of the states. Many of the resolutions’ proponents had firsthand experience with the issues outlined in their resolutions. The meeting was particularly stimulating because of their poignant arguments.

The resolutions committee and the process of defining our policies always include elements of surprise. The committee considered and sent twenty-six resolutions to the Convention. On July 4 the Convention, which is the supreme authority of the Federation, passed twenty-four resolutions and defeated two of them. Resolution 2012-10 was about accessibility ratings and a refund policy on the applications Apple sells. The resolution was sponsored by Romeo Edmead, a member of the board of directors of the New York affiliate, a National Scholarship winner in 2001, and a 2012 NFB Fellow. The Convention voted this resolution down because, while many applications are not accessible, many are, and we did not choose to criticize Apple at this time.

The Convention defeated resolution 2012-08 because it violated Federation philosophy by promoting the medical model of blindness. Almost 50 years ago, in a speech entitled “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic,” Dr. Kenneth Jernigan explained that “philosophy bakes no bread, but without a philosophy no bread is baked.” Many medical professionals believe that blindness is a kind of dying. As Dr. Jernigan put it, “Blindness is merely a characteristic.” This resolution would have clarified that blindness technology and equipment such as a white cane should be covered by Medicare Part B, which covers the cost of medical equipment. Amy Buresh, a member of the national board of directors and president of the NFB of Nebraska, sponsored this resolution.

Because of its dynamic philosophy throughout its seventy-two years of existence, the National Federation of the Blind has been able to make progress in ensuring that no blind person is left behind. In a speech entitled “Blindness: Concepts and Misconceptions,” delivered in 1965 in Washington, D. C., Dr. Jernigan described our philosophy this way: “When an individual becomes blind, he faces two major problems: first, he must learn the skills and techniques which will enable him to carry on as a normal, productive citizen in the community; and, second, he must become aware of and learn to cope with public attitudes and misconceptions about blindness.…” Dr. Jernigan continued: “The first of these problems is far easier to solve than the second. For it is no longer theory but established fact that, with proper training and opportunity, the average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business and do it as well as his sighted neighbor.… In other words, the real problem of blindness is not the blindness itself--not the acquisition of skills or techniques or competence. The real problem is the lack of understanding and the misconceptions which exist.”

Because of myths and misconceptions held by child welfare workers, judges, and other court officials, blind parents, guardians, and caregivers face discrimination in adoption, custody, visitation, care, placement, and other related procedures. To combat these problems, Marsha Drenth, vice president of the Pennsylvania parents of blind children and secretary of the Keystone Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, introduced resolution 2012-11. Marsha’s argument for the resolution was passionate because she has three children and has faced devastating custody problems. In this resolution we strongly urge every state legislature to protect blind parents and caregivers from discrimination, by enacting model legislation proposed by the National Federation of the Blind. We also call upon bar associations, the National Association of Social Workers, and other child welfare organizations and their local chapters to develop educational programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind to inform personnel who make child-placement and care decisions about the capabilities of blind parents, caregivers, and guardians.

Several Federationists felt compelled to write resolutions about Dining in the Dark activities and events. These activities are a modern example of the public misconceptions that Dr. Jernigan was addressing in his 1965 speech that I quoted above. Jim Gashel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, and Kevan Worley, a longtime leader in the Federation, came up with the final draft of the resolution that the committee and Convention passed. In resolution 2012-04 we condemn and deplore the use of Dining in the Dark when it is conducted in a way that diminishes the innate normality and equal status of the blind in society.

The Convention passed four resolutions dealing with employment issues. Public attitudes still limit our employment opportunities. Our long battle to eliminate the practice by certain employers of paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage is not only an example of how blind people are left behind but also an illustration of the negative attitudes that are the real problem of blindness. Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications for the Federation, proposed resolution 2012-01. The resolution reads in part: “The truth is that segregated subminimum-wage work environments are not transitional job-training service providers for workers with disabilities, as shown by data from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that less than 5 percent of workers with disabilities transition into mainstream employment; moreover, research conducted by Dr. Robert Cimera of Kent State University shows that work habits learned in a segregated work environment must be unlearned in order for workers with disabilities to become competitively employed.” In this resolution we also call upon the Education and Workforce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to conduct an immediate hearing on H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, in order to separate myth from reality and to learn the truth about the employment capacity of people with disabilities.

It was most appropriate that two successful entrepreneurs proposed resolution 2012-26. The proponents were Nicky Gacos, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, and Kevan Worley, executive director of the National Association of Blind Merchants. The Javits-Wagner-O’Day act should include provisions for people with disabilities to take part in all aspects of business, including owning a business and executing contracts awarded under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act. We urge the U. S. Congress to make these changes to the Act quickly.

County and municipal governments are enhancing their services to residents through technology. These governments are creating multi-channel contact centers to give citizens direct access by 311 direct telephone support through live agents or by interactive voice-response systems or using the web. Some of the software-development companies that design multi-channel contact center technologies have nonvisual access features, but even these features are optional. Some governments, such as Montgomery County, Maryland, refuse to implement the nonvisual access features. To address this problem, Yasmin Reyazuddin, a leader in the Maryland affiliate who has firsthand experience with this problem, introduced Resolution 2012-07. In it we demand that all software development companies enhance employment opportunities for the blind by immediately discontinuing the practice of designing nonvisual access as an optional feature.

Isaiah Wilcox, a 2012 NFB Fellow, treasurer of the Georgia affiliate, and a 2008 national scholarship winner, sponsored Resolution 2012-09. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is currently revising the nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. In 2012-09 we call upon OFCCP to take swift action to implement these new regulations.

The Convention passed five resolutions to ensure that blind students at all levels of education are not left behind. Holly Miller, a member of the board of directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, wanted to make sure that no other parent or student has to go through the struggle for Braille instruction that she and her son Hank endured. In Resolution 2012-03, which she sponsored, the National Federation of the Blind calls upon U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to take immediate action to ensure that blind students are taught the skills of literacy.

Braille is crucial for education and for full participation in community life. In Resolution 2012-13 we call upon the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) to adopt the symbols and rules of the Unified English Braille system as the standard for general purpose, nontechnical materials. The National Federation of the Blind also expresses its strong support for the continued use of the current Nemeth Braille Code as the standard for the teaching and production of mathematical materials. Jennifer Dunnam, president of the NFB of Minnesota and the Federation’s representative on the BANA board, sponsored this resolution. As Jennifer explained, this resolution is necessary to reduce conflicts and ambiguities in the current Braille system.

Pearson is the largest publishing company in the world for textbooks and courseware designed for use in institutions of higher education. Jessica Beecham, the proponent of Resolution 2012-16, expressed her deep frustration with the lack of access to Pearson products. Part of the resolution she sponsored says that the National Federation of the Blind “condemns Pearson and deplores its discrimination against blind students and its lack of transparency in refusing to release its accessibility statement and to educate the public on the purported accessibility features of its products.” Jessica Beecham was a national scholarship winner in 2011 and currently serves as the chapter and community development coordinator for the NFB of Colorado.

Harriet Go, a tenBroek fellow who won national scholarships in 2012 and 2003 and who is the secretary of both the Pennsylvania affiliate and the National Organization of Blind Educators, proposed Resolution 2012-22. In 2008 the U.S. Congress created the Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (the AIM Commission). In part the resolution calls upon the members of the U.S. Congress to act upon the report of the AIM Commission by immediately authorizing the U.S. Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in post-secondary academic institutions.

Readers of the Braille Monitor are familiar with the Law School Admission Council’s practice of denying accommodations to applicants with disabilities who wish to take the Law School Admissions Test. Renowned civil rights lawyer and president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the NFB of Colorado Scott LaBarre sponsored Resolution 2012-25: “We applaud and commend the American Bar Association for sending a strong and clear message to the Law School Admissions Council that it must stop its discrimination against test applicants with disabilities.”

Access to healthcare is a politically charged topic for all Americans. It was most appropriate for the Convention to pass four resolutions addressing the unique barriers to accessible healthcare that blind people face. These resolutions are important goals in our quest to leave no blind person behind. Debbie Wunder, who wears many leadership hats in the NFB of Missouri including president of the Diabetes Action Network and chairman of the special projects and outreach committee, introduced Resolution 2012-21. A recipient wishing coverage under Part B of Medicare who has previously opted out is assessed a monthly penalty in addition to the premium for this service, unless the recipient can show coverage by an employer-based group health plan for the time in which he or she was eligible for this coverage. The resolution stated that: “This organization call upon Congress to amend the Social Security Act by removing the requirement to show proof of coverage by an employer-based group health plan and replacing it with a requirement to show insurance comparable to Medicare Part B coverage.”

The quality of healthcare has been improving dramatically through the use of new technologies. In the remaining three healthcare resolutions we demand nonvisual access to these new technologies. Urgent care facilities are replacing the receptionist and paper-and-pen check-in systems with touchscreen tablet computers. In Resolution 2012-17 we urge medical facilities to procure and deploy only accessible tablets so that blind patients can check in independently and have the same level of privacy as their sighted peers. Thera Morning, a leader in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored this resolution.

Mike Freeman, president of the Diabetes Action Network and the NFB of Washington as well as a national board member, and Tom Ley, former president of the Diabetes Action Network, introduced Resolution 2012-05. Since both these men have diabetes and Tom’s son is also a diabetic, access to the artificial pancreas could dramatically improve their quality of life. The artificial pancreas currently being developed incorporates an insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, and smart controller to measure blood sugar automatically, then determine and deliver the right amount of insulin or glucose at the right time. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. Yet the federal government and healthcare advocacy organizations make little effort to encourage the manufacture of nonvisual accessible diabetes management technologies. The resolution demands that “this organization strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration to approve an artificial pancreas only when it is fully accessible to blind and low-vision diabetics.”

Mary Jo Hartle, a new parent and a longtime leader in the Federation from first Utah and now Maryland who was a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2002 and 2004, proposed Resolution 2012-24. “Despite the availability of access technology that allows electronic and digital at-home medical equipment to provide audio output to users, infant apnea monitors, home dialysis equipment, electronic thermometers, and many other forms of at-home medical equipment remain largely or completely inaccessible to the blind.” In Resolution 2012-24 this organization demands that manufacturers of at-home medical equipment make their products accessible to blind users so that the civil right of access to this equipment is preserved.

The Convention passed nine resolutions about access to information. Two cover instructions to the federal government concerning access, two of them deal with access to library information, and the remaining five address access to specific products. Alex Castillo, an NFB 2012 Fellow and the immediate past president of the New York Association of Blind Students, who is currently living and working in Nebraska, introduced Resolution 2012-02. “The United States Department of State has announced its intention to partner with to create a global e-reader program known as the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative.… This organization demands that the United States Department of State refuse to procure any e-reading technology that is inaccessible and that it uphold its obligations under the law as prescribed in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”

Kyle Shachmut, a 2012 NFB Fellow and a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts affiliate and president of its student division, is also a tenBroek Fellow who won scholarships in 2009 and 2011. Kyle sponsored Resolution 2012-12. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all electronic and information technology that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to disabled Americans. This organization strongly urges the Access Board to continue working diligently to refresh the Section 508 standards and finish this rulemaking swiftly so that the technical standards and accessibility guidelines under the law reflect changes in technology.

The first of the two resolutions concerning access to library information applies to all public libraries, while the second applies only to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. A number of public libraries have started to lend e-books and e-reading devices in an attempt to open their collections to a broader range of patrons. This trend promises to offer blind people unprecedented opportunities for reading books. In Resolution 2012-06 this organization calls upon all public libraries to take immediate action to provide e-books and e-reading devices that are fully accessible to blind people in order to comply with federal law and to ensure that blind patrons have the ability to use these devices and to access the information that they provide. James Brown, a 2012 NFB Fellow and president of the NFB of Tennessee who won a National Scholarship in 2007, sponsored this resolution.

Dan Hicks, president of the NFB of Florida, proposed Resolution 2012-15. “This organization calls upon the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress immediately to modify its standards for Braille and audio production of books and magazines to include portrayals or explanations of all cartoons, caricatures, and drawings included in these publications, including reading all captions, unless they are part of advertisements.”

Resolution 2012-19 is the most unusual of the five access-to-products resolutions in this article because it describes cutting-edge research. In the remaining four the methods to achieve access are known. What is missing is the will to provide nonvisual access. Automobile manufacturers are working to develop driverless vehicles, and many of them have already integrated autonomous components like automatic parallel parking and adaptive cruise control. Nevada and Florida have enacted legislation legalizing the operation of these vehicles on public roads. In Resolution 2012-19 we demand that autonomous vehicle manufacturers include nonvisual interfaces that will allow a blind person to operate the vehicle independently. In this resolution we also encourage other states to follow Nevada and Florida’s lead. Kimie Beverly, a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2003 and 2012 and is secretary of the NFB of Nevada, sponsored this resolution.

The remaining four resolutions were sponsored by ardent, articulate debaters. Corbb O’Connor, a 2012 NFB Fellow and a leader in the Virginia affiliate who also won national scholarships in 2006 and 2009, making him a tenBroek Fellow, introduced resolution 2012-20. Resolution 2012-14 was proposed by Jeannie Massay, a 2012 NFB Fellow, president of the NFB of Oklahoma, and a 2009 national scholarship winner. A webmaster and member of the board of directors of the NFB of Texas, Tom Stivers, introduced resolution 2012-18. Justin Salisbury, immediate past president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students and a 2011 national scholarship winner, sponsored resolution 2012-23. An examination of the resolve sections of each of these resolutions illustrates the deep frustration that blind people feel toward these companies because of their blatant refusal to provide access.

Resolution 2012-20 concerning the Nook concludes in part with a resolve that “this organization urge Barnes & Noble to continue to work assiduously in providing a product line that is accessible to blind users, including an accessible online bookstore.”

The resolve in resolution 2012-14 states that: “This organization condemn and deplore’s repeated discrimination against the blind because it knowingly and purposely developed and launched models of the Kindle that are completely inaccessible despite its awareness of accessibility solutions and its repeatedly stated interest in meeting the needs of blind consumers.”

In Resolution 2012-18 the Convention resolved that, “This organization condemn and deplore Adobe’s complete and utter lack of commitment to accessibility.” (The Adobe suite of products includes Flash, a product for watching videos, animation, and rich Internet content; InDesign, a package for digital publishing; Dreamweaver, a product for creating websites; and Contribute, Premier, Photoshop, Acrobat, and other products used for creating, editing, accessing, and publishing content.)

Finally, resolution 2012-23 resolves that “this organization condemn and deplore Microsoft’s failure to update the Xbox 360 console so that it is accessible to blind users.” “Unlike its predecessor, which was exclusively a gaming console, the Xbox 360 is used for streaming a variety of content onto a television, including trailers, shows, music, and movies, and hosting Microsoft’s Windows Media Center multimedia capabilities and gaming; and is Microsoft’s main channel for reaching individual consumers, meaning that blind users cannot use information that Microsoft distributes over the console.”

This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. These resolutions outline our commitment to make sure that no blind person is left behind. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.

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