Braille Monitor                                      August/September 2016

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The 2016 Resolutions: A Declaration of Independence for the Blind

by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: The supreme authority of the National Federation of the Blind is its annual convention, and the way it most directly decides the policies of the National Federation of the Blind is through resolutions it passes. Sharon Maneki was the chairman of the 2016 resolutions committee, and here is her report of the committee’s activity.

It is appropriate to reflect on the sixteen resolutions passed by the 2016 Convention as a declaration of independence for the blind, because these resolutions were considered on July 4, Independence Day. The most familiar part of the United States Declaration of Independence is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Prior to 1940 and the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, most blind people did not believe that these rights applied to them. Thanks to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, the world for blind people is very different today. We know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future and that blindness is not what holds you back. We also understand that we must raise expectations because low expectations keep us from achieving our dreams of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In 2016 how do the blind intend to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

In order for a resolution to be considered by the Convention, it must be passed by the resolutions committee. The thirty-member committee, comprised of people throughout the nation, met on July 1. Many thanks to the committee members and to Marsha Dyer, and Anne-Marie Laney, who served as secretaries to the committee, and to our national staff who did research and put the resolutions on the web for making my job as chairman easier.

Like our colonial forefathers, members of the National Federation of the Blind do not sit and wait for something to happen. We take control of our own destiny. The common theme of the resolutions this year was access. The underlying principle in our demand for access is equality. To achieve independence, blind people must have access to education, employment, and information. The resolutions committee considered and passed sixteen resolutions, and the Convention did the same. Let us examine these resolutions which are our Declaration of Independence.

The quest for equality has always been a fundamental principle of the Federation’s philosophy. Three resolutions express this demand in terms of the twenty-first century. These resolutions concern equal treatment for disabled veterans, the right to parent children, and eliminating health inequities for blind and low vision people with diabetes. “The budget-neutral Space Available program, operated by the Air Mobility Command, allows members of the active military, retirees, and others to fly on military aircraft if space is available.” In Resolution 2016-02, “The National Federation of the Blind demand that the conference committee end the unequal treatment of our nation’s blind or otherwise disabled veterans in the Space Available program by adopting the language in Section 1046 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House.” Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, sponsored this resolution.

One of the most formidable challenges that blind people face in our quest for equality is the right to parent our children. Melissa Riccobono, the First Lady of the Federation, introduced Resolution 2016-08. In this resolution we “call upon state legislatures across the nation to enact laws that establish procedural safeguards to protect the right of blind people to be parents and prohibit discriminatory presumptions of manifest unfitness solely because a parent (or prospective parent) happens to be blind.”

Tom Ley, president of the Louisiana Center for the Blind Board of Directors and a longtime leader in the NFB Diabetes Action Network and the Maryland affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2016-16. In this resolution we adopted the Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss. These rights include true independence, meaningful access, and identical devices. True independence means the right “to manage our diabetes independently, with dignity, and without requiring assistance from sighted individuals.” Meaningful access is the right “to access the same life-changing diabetes information, diagnostic tools, and treatments as are available to others.” Identical devices means the right “to benefit from the same (not inferior, antiquated, or less effective) diabetes devices at the same time and price as our sighted peers.”

The Convention passed three resolutions regarding access to education. “The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HE) Act will authorize a purpose-based commission comprised of representatives from all relevant stakeholder communities to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines that will be beneficial to both developers and manufacturers of postsecondary electronic instructional materials and related technologies.” In Resolution 2016-01, we “commend Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee’s First Congressional District for recognizing the importance of digital accessibility by championing the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act in the United States House of Representatives.” We also “call upon the United States Congress to act swiftly to provide consideration and a floor vote to the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, thereby ensuring that blind, and otherwise print-disabled, students are afforded the same educational benefits provided to nondisabled students so that they can live the lives they want.” Danielle Burton, a senior at Morehead State University in Kentucky and who serves as secretary in our National Deaf-Blind Division, sponsored this resolution. Danielle is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2013 and 2016.

Penny Duffy, a member of the board of directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and president of the New Hampshire Organization of Parents of Blind Children introduced Resolution 2016-11. According to the implementing regulations of IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], visual impairment, including blindness, means “an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” Many visually impaired students in grades K-12 are being denied special education services because their state uses a more restrictive definition than that found in the IDEA regulations. In Resolution 2016-11, we “call upon the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to audit each state’s definition of the disability of ‘visual impairment, including blindness’ to ensure that a child’s eligibility for special education is not dependent upon that child’s state of residence.”

Some students are having difficulty reading their math and science textbooks. Unnecessary confusion abounds because some states are using the Nemeth code for mathematics and science notation while other states are deciding to adopt the UEB [Unified English Braille] code for technical materials in place of Nemeth. In Resolution 2016-14, “…this organization call upon the Braille Authority of North America to state unequivocally that the Nemeth code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB context, is the only standard for mathematics Braille in the United States.” Conchita Hernandez, chairman of the National Spanish Translation Committee and a member of the board of directors in the DC affiliate, sponsored this resolution. Conchita is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2010 and 2016.

Cammie Loehr, president of the Oklahoma Association of Blind Students and a member of the board of directors of the Oklahoma affiliate, was the proponent for Resolution 2016-05. More and more college and university programs are requiring students to complete internships. These internships are not only an education requirement but also can assist a student with future employment. In this resolution “we demand that colleges and universities implement procedures, train employees, and otherwise take active measures to ensure that educational internships are fully, equally, and independently accessible to blind students.”

Many blind people have been successfully employed in the Randolph-Sheppard program for decades. On June 7, 2016, the United States Department of Defense issued proposed regulations that will seriously limit opportunities for blind vendors. In Resolution 2016-10 “…this organization demand withdrawal of the Department of Defense proposed regulations pertaining to military dining services, recognizing that the currently effective regulations of the Department of Education pertaining to the award of cafeteria contracts supersede those of any other federal department.” Susan Gashel, a longtime defender of the rights of blind vendors, proposed this resolution.

Access to information remains one of the greatest challenges faced by blind people. The Convention passed three resolutions concerning access to specific types of information. The Convention also passed five resolutions about technology platforms and tools that provide access to information. Michael Ausbun, first vice president of the NFB of Nevada, and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, sponsored Resolution 2016-03. The Marrakesh Treaty, which will facilitate access to published works across the globe for over three hundred million blind, low vision, and print-disabled people has been ratified by twenty countries. Sadly, the United States is not one of these countries. In Resolution 2016-03, “…this organization call upon all relevant stakeholders to make a good faith effort to encourage the US Senate to consider the Marrakesh Treaty.”

Deepa Goraya, a member of the board of directors of the Potomac Chapter in the Virginia affiliate and a scholarship winner in 2010, introduced Resolution 2016-06. In 2010, the US Department of Justice promised to issue guidance on how to comply with web access requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Obama Administration continues to delay the issuance of these regulations. Consequently, blind Americans are denied access to information, goods, and services that are available on the web. In this resolution we “condemn and deplore the Obama administration's repeated delay tactics in issuing the much-needed guidance for public entities and public accommodations with respect to the information, goods, and services that they provide via the Internet.”

All too often, blind people are denied access to mathematical information on the web because there are no standards for how the MathML programs should present the material. Screen-access technologies are inconsistent in the way they interpret MathML, and some access technologies fail to even implement MathML. Students who are studying math and employed mathematicians and engineers are faced with problems that could easily be corrected. In Resolution 2016-07, “we call on manufacturers to standardize the features of MathML.” We also “encourage all access-technology manufacturers to implement MathML support.” Julie McGinnity, who recently received her master’s degree, sponsored this resolution. Julie is the president of the Performing Arts Division and second vice president of the NFB of Missouri. She is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2011 and 2013.

The remaining four resolutions deal with access to software and hardware. This access will make more information available to the blind. These resolutions are necessary, not because access is not achievable, but because technology developers and leaders do not make access enough of a priority. Although we call many companies to task, we also recognize and appreciate businesses that do the right thing.

Jerad Nylin is a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Iowa affiliate and is the president of the Cedar Rapids Chapter. Jerad introduced Resolution 2016-13 in which we commend “Target on the excellent quality of its website's accessibility and on its continued efforts to make its site and services fully usable and accessible for all users, both now and in the future.”

Resolution 2016-04, which concerns software releases by Apple Inc., was sponsored by Francisco Salvador Crespo, Curtis Chong, and Fredric Schroeder. Francisco Salvador Crespo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He graduated from the Colorado Center for the Blind in March of 2015 and comes to National Conventions frequently. Curtis Chong is an access-technology expert who also serves as treasurer for the NFB of New Mexico. Fred Schroeder is a longtime leader in the Federation and currently serves as the first vice president of the World Blind Union. When a significant software update for one of Apple’s products is released “there are often accessibility bugs that impact the usability of the product by blind users, causing them to lose their productivity or their ability to perform certain job duties when the use of Apple devices is required.” As an example, recent software updates have been released in which blind people have been unable to answer or hang up the phone using VoiceOver. In this resolution, “…this organization call upon Apple to make nonvisual access a major priority in its new and updated software by improving its testing of new releases to ensure that nonvisual access is not limited or compromised.”

In Resolution 2016-09, we “strongly urge developers of integrated development environments and other development tools to build and expand their products with blind developers in mind.” Kathryn Webster, the newly elected president of the National Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution. Kathryn is another tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2013 and 2016.

Sachin Pavithran, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah who won a national scholarship in 2007 introduced Resolution 2016-12. Self-driving cars have been of interest to the blind for many years. Our organization has been a leader in promoting nonvisual access to these vehicles. In this resolution we urge all stakeholders to work toward the enactment of national nonvisual access standards for these autonomous vehicles.

In Resolution 2016-15, “…this organization strongly encourage health clubs, hotels, universities, workplace fitness facilities, and other fitness facilities open to the public to provide full and meaningful access on a nonvisual basis to fitness and exercise equipment, thereby complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s general prohibition on discrimination.” Jessica Beecham, president of the National Sports and Recreation Division and secretary of the NFB of Colorado, proposed this resolution. Jessica won a national scholarship in 2011.

This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By long-standing tradition, the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. When the US declared its independence in 1776, it took time to actually achieve it. The US did not achieve its independence until 1783. The Declaration of Independence for the blind, stated in these resolutions, will also take time to achieve. With love, hope, and determination we will achieve our dreams of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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