Braille Monitor                                                August/September 2013

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Perseverance, Progress, and Possibilities: The 2013 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is the longtime chair of the Resolutions Committee, and her annual performance leaves no doubt why. Here, introducing and explaining the twenty-four resolutions presented to the 2013 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, is Sharon’s article.

Since our national convention was held in Orlando, Florida, a place that revolves around Walt Disney Enterprises, a comparison of Walt Disney's philosophy and NFB philosophy as represented by its resolutions is in order. Some lessons from Disney movies are: don't be afraid to take a stand; dream big and have goals; work hard and always persevere no matter the challenge. In the 1994 film, The Lion King, a young lion named Simba is blamed for his father's death and leaves his homeland. Simba eventually agrees to fight for his kingdom, taking a stand for what he believes. Simba battles Scar, his evil uncle, and learns his father's death was Scar's fault, not his own. Simba prevails and takes his father's place as rightful king of his homeland. The 2009 movie, The Princess and the Frog, is also a good illustration of these lessons. A young girl named Tiana loves to cook and dreams of owning and operating her own restaurant. Although there are many twists and turns in the plot, Tiana fulfills her dreams through hard work and perseverance.

Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind represent our dreams and goals for blind people and our willingness to take a stand. Resolutions also demonstrate our perseverance and hard work. Let us examine the twenty-three resolutions passed by the Convention to see how they illustrate our dreams and the possibilities for blind people and our perseverance and progress in reaching our goals.

Unlike Disney movies, there is nothing magical about the creation and passage of NFB resolutions. Resolutions are created by careful thought about how to solve problems or expand opportunities. Debate is one of the highlights of the resolutions process. During the Resolutions Committee meeting on July 2, debate was lively and intense. Marsha Dyer, committee secretary, and I were kept on our toes, reading and rereading parts of resolutions so that the committee could determine precisely what the resolution stated or should state. As committee chairman I welcome committee discussion because it is most important to make sure that policy statements of the Federation are clear. Debate continued on the afternoon of July 5, as the Convention considered each resolution. The voice votes were so close that we needed to have two roll call votes to determine the outcome. In one of these roll call votes the Convention defeated Resolution 2013-03. The Transportation Security Administration operates a Preü program that allows qualified pre-screened airline travelers, who are considered to be a low security risk, to move through security check points more easily. In this resolution we urge the Transportation Security Administration to expand its criteria to permit qualified deaf-blind travelers to be accepted into this program. While the Convention was sympathetic to the added communication barriers that deaf-blind people face, the majority felt that deaf-blind people should use existing channels to gain acceptance into the program. Janice Toothman, secretary of the Deaf-Blind Division, sponsored this resolution.

Disney artists pride themselves on their animation skills and their ability to create just the right image. In the National Federation of the Blind, we strive to create a positive image that emphasizes the capabilities of blind people. With so many forms of communication and social media, this is a daunting task. Resolution 2013-22, regarding the portrayal of blindness, illustrates this point. The website claims to bring together professionals to offer "expert" advice. However, as explained in the resolution, demonstrates "its archaic and negative attitudes about blindness by featuring articles with titles such as `How to Feed a Visually Impaired Person' and `How to Set a Table for Blind People.'" Doris Willoughby was the primary sponsor of this resolution. In 1990 Doris received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. She is a renowned author of such classics as the Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students.

Of the twenty-three resolutions passed by the Convention, Resolution 2013-23 is the best example of dreaming of possibilities for blind people. The NFB negotiators for the Marrakesh Treaty, Fred Schroeder, who also serves as first vice president of the NFB and president of the NFB of Virginia, and Scott LaBarre, who serves as president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and as president of the Colorado affiliate, proposed this resolution. The resolution reads in part: "We salute the international community of nations, the World Blind Union, and intellectual property rights holders for coming together and securing an international treaty that will dramatically open the flow of information to the world's blind."

The National Federation of the Blind began working on this issue with the World Blind Union in 2008. We passed two earlier resolutions, one in 2010 and the other in 2011. This demonstrates our perseverance and hard work. Our dream of the possibility that the worldwide book famine faced by blind people could be reduced through the cross-border exchange of accessible texts is now a reality.

Since its inception the National Federation of the Blind has been making the dream of independence a reality for blind people. We persist in our dreams and find new expressions of them each year. Among the resolutions passed this year, Resolution 2013-13 is the best example of our quest for independence. Service Support Providers enable deaf-blind people to participate in all aspects of community life by facilitating communication and by providing environmental and situational information. Only half of the states have some type of Service Support Provider program. In this resolution we strongly urge the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Congress to immediately take all necessary steps to establish a national Service Support Provider program so that deaf-blind people can maintain independence. Janice Toothman, a member of the board of directors of the Sligo Creek chapter of the Maryland affiliate, proposed this resolution on behalf of the Deaf-Blind Division.

Taking a stand is nothing new in Disney movies and certainly is nothing new for the NFB. A new problem that came to our attention this year was addressed in Resolution 2013-01, proposed by Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans and first vice president of the Florida affiliate. Veterans who have a 100 percent service-connected disability are not allowed to participate in the Space Available program because they did not have enough time in the military to reach retiree status. Congressman Bilirakis of Florida introduced H.R. 164, and Senator Tester of Montana introduced S. 346 to correct this exclusionary policy. The language of H.R. 164 was included in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. In Resolution 2013-01 we call upon both houses of Congress to work diligently in conference committee in order to pass the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act with the language from Congressman Bilirakis and Senator Tester's bills.

Newcomers to the Federation may be surprised at some of our resolutions. Who would expect that the NFB must protect the rights of blind parents to raise their own children? Who would expect that agencies that exist to serve blind and other people with disabilities must be called to task because of their detrimental actions? Several of our resolutions describe these insidious types of discrimination.

Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, and Melissa Riccobono, president of the Maryland affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2013-09. Their sponsorship was most appropriate given that they have three children. Despite many years of education and advocacy and the passage of state laws that make it illegal for courts to consider disability in custody and adoption cases, children are still being unjustly removed from their parents' custody, and potential parents are being refused the right to adopt children solely because they are blind. In this resolution we "call upon members of the United States Congress and federal agencies to work closely with the National Federation of the Blind to take immediate and appropriate action to secure through legislation and regulation the right of blind Americans to be parents."

Actions at Guide Dogs for the Blind caused the Convention to pass Resolution 2013-24. In it we "call upon the corporate board of Guide Dogs for the Blind to require that a minimum of 51 percent of its directors be consumers and immediately establish stronger linkage between Guide Dogs for the Blind consumers and the corporate board." Michael Hingson, first vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and a longtime leader in the Federation, proposed this resolution.

One of the most egregious practices by some agencies who serve people with disabilities is continuing to pay disabled workers subminimum wages. In Resolution 2013-02 we "condemn and deplore the actions of all employers that take advantage of the unfair, discriminatory, immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act." Michelle McManus, president of the Happy Valley chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, introduced this resolution. Michelle also worked to make sure that her Congressman cosponsored H.R. 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013.

Although we have a long way to go to achieve victory in eliminating payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities, we are making progress. Anil Lewis, director of advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2013-15. In this resolution we commend the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO for adopting a strong resolution supporting the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.

Given our commitment to access to employment, access to education, and access to information, it is no surprise that these subjects frequently appear in NFB resolutions. Resolution 2013-20 will help to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities. Kevan Worley, executive director of the National Association of Blind Merchants, was the main sponsor of this resolution. In it we urge Congress to pass legislation that creates an entrepreneurial component to the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act.

The Convention passed six resolutions concerning access to education. Two of these deal specifically with Braille instruction, while the remaining resolutions deal with access to educational technologies.

Resolutions 2013-05 and 2013-18 cover Braille instruction. Sandy Halverson, president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and a leader in the NFB of Virginia, introduced 2013-05, regarding literary Braille certification for professionals working with the blind. "We urge the US Department of Education, all state departments of education, all school districts, and all public and private agencies that work with the blind to adopt the National Certification in Literary Braille test as the gold standard for all those who are hired to teach Braille reading and writing, in order to provide equality, consistency, and protection to all consumers, assuring that they are receiving training by instructors who have demonstrated a consistent standard of Braille competency."

Richie Flores, an educator who directs Youth Services for the NFB of Texas and was a national scholarship winner in 2004, sponsored Resolution 2013-18. On June 19, 2013, the US Department of Education sent a letter to state education agencies to reinforce the importance of the Braille provisions in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In this resolution we not only commend the US Department of Education for its action to combat the Braille literacy crisis, but also call on the Department to take further steps to provide training and technical assistance to educational entities to ensure quality Braille instruction for all blind and visually impaired students.

The use of graphics is becoming more and more important at all levels of education. Dr. Al Maneki, a longtime leader in the NFB of Maryland and treasurer of the Science and Engineering Division, proposed Resolution 2013-08. Now that more tools are available to create tactile graphics, students at all levels of education should be instructed in their use. This resolution encourages the development of tactile fluency skills, not only for students in educational institutions, but also for students in rehabilitation training centers.

The Convention passed three resolutions concerning education technology. In Resolution 2013-06 we urge Congress to enact legislation that will "put a stop to the separate approach to education that is continually and unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology." Jordan Richardson, president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students, introduced this resolution.

In the remaining two resolutions we commend the good work of some higher education institutions and chastise others for their recalcitrance. Dr. Cary Supalo, who has been an NFB leader in every state where he has lived and who won two national scholarships, one in 1994 and the other in 2001, was the sponsor of Resolution 2013-11, which praises the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This university "delivers classroom content through eText, an accessible and interactive platform of its own making that provides textbooks and other materials to all students in the same manner and at the same time."

Kyle Shachmut, president of the NFB of Massachusetts and winner of national scholarships in 2009 and 2011, introduced Resolution 2013-04. The resolution states in part that all schools must "commit from the top levels of administration to procure, offer, and deploy only accessible educational technology and digital information...."

In February 2013 the National Parent Teacher Association announced that it had selected Amazon as the exclusive sponsor of its Family Reading Experience program. Mary Fernandez, who won a national scholarship in 2010 and has been an NFB leader in New Jersey, Georgia, and now Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2013-17. In this resolution we "condemn and deplore the actions of the National PTA for knowingly encouraging the use of a product that is inaccessible to blind students, ignoring the National Federation of the Blind's admonition that its program is discriminatory, and disregarding the right of blind students to equal access in the classroom."

The Convention passed seven resolutions concerning access to information. The refrain "When will they ever learn?" in the 1960s anti-war folk song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" expresses the sentiment in many of these resolutions. From its first release in 2006, the Sony Reader system has been inaccessible to the blind. In Resolution 2013-19 we "demand that Sony move urgently and decisively to provide access to its e-readers and e-books." Ben Dallin, president of the Nevada Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.

The Convention passed two resolutions about Microsoft. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, proposed Resolution 2013-07. As each new version of Microsoft Office has been released, the number of keystrokes needed to perform some tasks has increased. We express our frustration and disappointment over this trend. The resolution states that "we call upon the Microsoft Corporation to move quickly to develop initiatives, approaches, and strategies that will enable keyboard-only users to use its software with the same productivity and efficiency as traditional mouse users."

The second Microsoft resolution was proposed by Bryce Samuelson, president of the Rochester chapter of the NFB of Minnesota. In Resolution 2013-21 we urge Microsoft "to make accessibility a priority in all aspects of its Windows 8 operating system and all future operating systems."

In Resolution 2013-12 we "urge Apple to expand accessibility fully to its productivity suite, iWork, and specifically to Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, so that blind students and professionals everywhere can make full use of all aspects of the Apple line of products." iWork is used on Mac computers. Everette Bacon, president of the Utah affiliate, sponsored this resolution.

Resolutions about eBooks and eReaders have become expected subjects at NFB conventions. The first resolution about Amazon was passed in 2009. This year, as usual, we have resolutions about Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google. Although the resolutions urge these companies to improve accessibility, they also recognize some progress. This is testimony to the effectiveness of our persistence. Nikki Jackson, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Georgia, introduced Resolution 2013-10. In it we commend Amazon for the improvements that it has made to its Kindle app for iOS. We also urge Amazon to broaden the ways in which blind consumers can access Kindle books.

In Resolution 2013-14, we commend Barnes & Noble for beginning to provide some access to its Nook iOS app and demand that it finish the job by providing full access. We also urge Barnes & Noble to provide access to all of its products. Gabe Cazares, president of the Texas Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.

Dee Jones, president of the Vermont affiliate, introduced Resolution 2013-16. In this resolution we commend Google for making some accessibility improvements. The resolution also resolves that: "this organization affirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility that includes deadlines for accessibility in all of its services and a commitment to avoid the future release of inaccessible services to its blind users."

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 the possibilities that we seek and are the catalyst to make our dreams a reality. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.

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