Braille Monitor                                              August/September 2014

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Raising Expectations for the Blind through the 2014 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki has a long history as the chairman of the Resolutions Committee, and her knowledge of our positions as stated in resolutions and her mastery of the process of chairing the committee and summarizing what the convention has adopted as policy is unsurpassed. Here is her report of the resolutions considered and passed at the 2014 Convention:

The eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope, who was best known for his satirical verse, had an interesting view about expectations. Although the Bible lists eight beatitudes, Pope said that there should be nine. In a letter dated September 23, 1725, to a prominent English judge, William Fortescue, Pope stated that the ninth beatitude should read as follows: "Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." Today many people still agree with Pope's cynical view. Is this the view of members of the National Federation of the Blind?

As readers of the Braille Monitor will recall, Dr. Newel Perry was the mentor and godfather of the National Federation of the Blind. When asked what his most important work was, Dr. Perry answered, "Oh, my most important work was my dragging the blind out of their sleep, stirring them up, putting some ambition into them, and then helping them." Dr. Newel Perry had expectations of and for the blind.

In his speech entitled "Reflecting the Flame," the immediate past president of the NFB, Marc Maurer, described the Federation story this way: "When the National Federation of the Blind was founded, the prospects for the blind of this country were utterly desolate. There was little education, almost no hope of a job, and virtually no chance for meaningful participation in other activities of life. From such unpromising beginnings almost no one (no one, that is, except the founders of the Federation) believed that a dynamic national movement could arise." Dr. Maurer further explained that the "Federation has changed forever the expectations and aspirations of the blind."

Despite tremendous progress since 1940, we still have unmet dreams. We continue to change and raise our expectations. President Mark Riccobono offered the following speculation about our expectations during the 2011 National Convention. The title of his speech was "The Spirit of the Journey: the Blind Driver Challenge and the Direction of our Movement." He said in part: "We in the NFB have undertaken a journey to expand the boundaries of independence." We used to say that "The average blind person could perform the average job in the average career or calling, assuming that he was not required to drive a vehicle around." Riccobono posed an interesting question and speculated on its answer. "What would happen if we drove beyond the comfortable zone where we believe our independence stopped? If we can begin to demonstrate that the practically impossible might practically be possible, it would shatter our understanding of the destination of independence and expand the limits to a new, undefined place." Because of our rising expectations, what new boundaries of independence are we creating through the 2014 Convention resolutions?

We followed our tried and true process of considering resolutions. As usual the resolutions committee met on the first day of convention registration, which fell on July 2. I was privileged to chair the committee and was ably assisted by Marsha Dyer, who served as secretary. As usual the committee was composed of a large cross-section of Federation leaders.

This year the process was enhanced to permit greater study of the resolutions by both committee members and convention attendees. Before the convention began, the chairman emailed copies of the resolutions to each committee member. Committee members reported that they felt better prepared to debate the merits of each resolution. The committee passed twenty-two resolutions and sent them to the convention for consideration. All of the proposed resolutions were placed on our website so that anyone who wished could read and study each resolution before it came to the convention floor.

The convention passed twenty-one resolutions. Resolution 2014-18, which dealt with network neutrality, was sponsored by Tony Olivero, who wears many hats in the Federation. He is chairman of the National Research and Development Committee and president of the Amateur Radio Division. In Nebraska he is a member of the affiliate board of directors and first vice president of the Lincoln Chapter. The resolution failed because the convention felt that network neutrality is not really a blindness issue. Network neutrality is a concept whereby communication networks do not prioritize delivery of particular messages passed over their infrastructure.

The twenty-one resolutions passed by the 2014 Convention illustrate the rising expectations of the blind. We expect our government to live up to its promise of equality for all. We will not allow companies to diminish our employment opportunities. We will not settle for excuses by businesses which exclude us from full participation in commerce and other life activities.

The convention passed eight resolutions involving actions by government entities. Chancey Fleet, vice president of the New York City chapter of the NFB of New York, sponsored Resolution 2014-01. On July 26, 2010, the US Department of Justice issued an advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which the department stated that it would issue regulations making the internet a public accommodation that would be subject to requirements under the ADA. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice has taken no action since 2010 and recently announced that no rule will be issued until March of 2015. In this resolution we demand that the Obama Administration put forward a proposal for a robust regulation ensuring blind Americans full and equal access to the products and services that are available on the internet.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, people with disabilities were grateful to have any type of job and did not object to being paid less than the minimum wage. Today our expectations are much higher, and we recognize that paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage is discrimination. The convention passed two resolutions concerning federal government policy on subminimum wages. Sarah Patnaude, a 2014 national scholarship winner and president of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, introduced Resolution 2014-05. In this resolution we highly commend President Obama "for including people with disabilities in his executive order, ensuring that federal contract workers with disabilities will be paid $10.10 an hour just like their nondisabled peers."

Justin Salisbury has been a leader of the NFB in every state where he has resided, including Connecticut, North Carolina, and Wisconsin and won a national scholarship in 2011. Justin proposed Resolution 2014-02, which deals with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. This act was greatly strengthened by our advocacy efforts. "The language regarding sheltered subminimum wage employment was substantially changed so that it will reduce the number of youth with disabilities being tracked into subminimum wage employment, and other objectionable provisions of the WIOA were removed, including the transfer of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to the Department of Labor and programs for the older blind to the Department of Health and Human Services." We are pleased to announce that the US Congress heeded our resolution and passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in July 2014. President Obama signed the legislation on July 22, 2014.

For nearly thirty years blind and low-vision people with diabetes have been urging manufacturers of diabetic equipment to include nonvisual access features in their products. In Resolution 2014-07 we call for "the end of discrimination against blind and low-vision diabetics by insisting that Congress give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to mandate full accessibility in diabetes-related devices." Sandra Ryan, president of the Iowa Diabetic Action Network and a board member of the Iowa affiliate, sponsored this resolution.

Most electronic healthcare record technology is inaccessible to blind people. This lack of access is extremely detrimental to both patients and people who work or wish to work in the healthcare industry. Access requirements were left out of the certification criteria proposed in March of 2014 by the office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology. In Resolution 2014-10 we strongly urge the office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology "to amend the Voluntary 2015 Certification Criteria for Electronic Health Record Technology to include accessibility for all users of the technology." Amy Murillo, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Arizona, proposed this resolution.

The convention passed two resolutions that involve the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The twenty-first century Communications and Video Accessibility Act "directs the allocation of up to $10 million per year from the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund for the distribution of specialized equipment to low-income people who are deaf-blind to enable them to access telecommunications service, internet access service, and advanced communications." To implement this legislation, the FCC created the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program as a three-year pilot, which is scheduled to end on June 30, 2015. To address problems such as delays in the purchasing and distributing of equipment and the lack of qualified trainers to instruct deaf-blind people on using the equipment, Janice Toothman and Kathy Miller proposed Resolution 2014-09. Janice is secretary of the Deaf-Blind Division, and Kathy is one of its board members. Kathy is also president of the Lake Area chapter in the NFB of Louisiana. In this resolution we also strongly "urge the FCC to make the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program permanent before the June 30, 2015, deadline so that there is no interruption of service."

Paul Martinez, president of the Florida Association of Blind Students and a member of the board of directors of the Florida affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2014-16. On May 16, 2013, the Coalition of E-Reader Manufacturers filed a petition with the FCC requesting a waiver from the requirement to make consumer products with advanced communications services accessible to users with disabilities. The FCC granted a one-year waiver rather than the permanent waiver requested by the coalition. In this resolution "We commend the FCC for listening to the National Federation of the Blind and other stakeholders who have been denied access to e-readers, digital books, and consumer electronics and for rejecting the coalition's request for an indefinite waiver."

The National Federation of the Blind expects state governments to follow federal law. Since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, we have been working with state governments to ensure that their voting systems are accessible as required by this act. As Nathanael Wales, the proponent of Resolution 2014-17, explained, "It is difficult to bring election practices into the twenty-first century." Nathanael won his first national scholarship in 1997 and his second national scholarship as a tenBroek fellow in 2000. He currently serves as treasurer of the NFB of Connecticut. Seventeen states and some counties in California and Florida have online ballot-marking systems. Only four of the seventeen states extend the use of these systems to voters with disabilities. Permission to use accessible online ballot-marking systems is especially important to deaf-blind voters because they can use their own personal access technology to cast a secret ballot. Frequently the accessible voting machines used in the polling places are difficult if not impossible for deaf-blind people to use. In this resolution we strongly urge all states to implement accessible online ballot-marking systems available to voters with disabilities.

The convention passed five resolutions to improve employment opportunities for blind people. We expect all employers, whether they are in the public or private sector, to eliminate the many barriers to full employment created by the lack of access.

The purpose of vocational rehabilitation is to assist people with disabilities to gain or return to employment. Resolution 2014-03 puts vocational rehabilitation agencies on notice that they should not force clients to use the Window-Eyes screen-access program just because the program is free. The resolution also lists a set of principles that should be incorporated into policies used by vocational rehabilitation agencies for determining which screen-reading software counselors and supervisors should purchase for specific clients. For instance, "Each client's knowledge and experience with specific software must govern the decision, avoiding the need for the client to learn a completely new program." Curtis Chong, long-time president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science Division and treasurer of the NFB of New Mexico, sponsored this resolution.

SharePoint software is widely used in both business and government. Because most of its features are not accessible to blind users, Michelle Clark, a federal government employee, introduced Resolution 2014-04 to urge the Microsoft Corporation to rectify this problem immediately. Michelle is president of the National Harbor chapter and serves as a member of the board of directors of the Maryland affiliate.

Jeremiah Beasley, a technical expert who serves on the board of directors of the NFB of Wisconsin and as a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, sponsored Resolution 2014-08. Companies such as Oracle Corporation have demonstrated that it is possible to "have and follow an accessibility policy for a very diverse portfolio of enterprise products." In this resolution we not only urge companies to make their enterprise software accessible but also demand that public entities that procure enterprise solutions comply with applicable laws by "procuring and deploying only enterprise solutions that are accessible to their blind employees."

Using the cloud for collaboration and backup storage purposes is becoming the norm for many employers. Cloud services have a checkered history with accessibility. Cindy Bennett, a 2014 national scholarship winner, who is studying human-centered technology, sponsored Resolution 2014-13. Cindy serves as the treasurer of the NFB of Washington. In this resolution we "insist on a commitment from such cloud storage providers to robust and reliable, rather than incidental, partial, and intermittent accessibility."

In Resolution 2014-20 we "demand that makers of remote access tools provide equal access for blind users to all of the tools that they offer." Jack Mendez, director of technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, sponsored this resolution. Jack explained that employers expect personnel to work from any place at any time. Blind people can perform if we have access.

Full participation of the blind in society has been our goal since the inception of our movement. Because the Federation raises the expectations of blind people every day, our demands for full participation keep increasing. The convention passed eight resolutions relating to demands for full participation in all aspects of community life. The variety of these resolutions illustrates our expectations for greater participation.

Robert Jaquiss and Cary Supalo sponsored Resolution 2014-11. Dr. Supalo has been an NFB leader in every state where he has lived and won two national scholarships, one in 1994 and the other in 2001. Robert Jaquiss is a longtime Federationist who has served many years on the national Committee for Research and Development and the Committee for the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology. He is secretary in the Oregon affiliate. In this resolution we "commend Vernier Software and Technology LLC for its willingness to listen to the advice of blind people and for its innovation in providing access to the full laboratory experience for blind students and scientists." Vernier is the world's leading manufacturer of school laboratory equipment.

In today's unpredictable society more and more people feel the need to acquire home security systems. Denice Brown, president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter and member of the board of directors of the NFB of Pennsylvania, proposed Resolution 2014-14 because blind people expect to use security systems if they wish. As the resolution states: "BE IT RESOLVED…that this organization strongly urge security system companies to make their wall panels, apps, and websites fully and equally accessible to all consumers so that having a secure home or business is not reserved only for the sighted."

The use of an electronic notetaker enables blind people to participate in numerous activities from work and school obligations to social events such as singing in a choir. In Resolution 2014-15 we urge Freedom Scientific Inc. immediately to correct the errors in the Unified English Braille code translation tables for JAWS. Jennifer Dunnam, president of the NFB of Minnesota and the Federation's representative on the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) board, proposed this resolution.

One of the greatest barriers to full participation in all aspects of community life is the lack of transportation. The convention passed two resolutions concerning access to transportation apps. Technology is changing the way that the public requests and pays for transportation from taxicabs and new transportation services such as Uber. Transportation services want their customers to request, track, and pay for rides by using smartphone applications. The goal expressed in Resolution 2014-19 is to make sure these systems are as usable for the blind as they are for the sighted. Ronza Othman, vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a leader in the Maryland affiliate, sponsored this resolution.

Technology trends in the airline industry are moving in a similarly troublesome direction. Eric Duffy, president of the NFB of Ohio, introduced Resolution 2014-21. In this resolution we "call upon all airline carriers to ensure that all features of their mobile applications are accessible to blind travelers."

The last three resolutions that I will discuss in this article concern general access to computing, the internet, and mobile applications. Resolution 2014-06 was the most proactive resolution passed by the convention this year. The Internet of Things is a proposed development of the internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. In this resolution we "call upon the developers of connected and connecting devices for the Internet of Things to extend their groundbreaking work to all users by providing speech and tactile feedback to put all users, including the blind, on an equal footing." Yadiel Sotomayor, treasurer of the NFB of Puerto Rico and a national scholarship winner in 2010, introduced this resolution.

Curtis Chong, who is no stranger to Monitor readers, sponsored a second resolution at the convention, which makes specific requests of Apple Inc. In Resolution 2014-12 we "call upon Apple Inc. to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps, including core apps distributed by Apple in the base iOS distribution, and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated."

When Edward Shaham introduced Resolution 2014-22, he explained that the blind are entitled to have secure computers just as the sighted are. "This organization strongly urges the makers of antivirus software to make their products accessible to blind users" in this resolution. Edward is an up-and-coming leader in the NFB of Connecticut. He hopes to obtain a degree in computer security.

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. The highly technical nature of this year's resolutions may require further study. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. I look forward to seeing next year's resolutions because I am confident that our expectations will be even higher than they were this year.

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