Braille Monitor                                     August/September 2017

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Strengthening the Federation’s Heartbeat Through Resolutions

President Riccobono began his 2017 Presidential Report to the convention as follows:

During the past year, the heartbeat of our organization has grown in strength and intensity. Our heartbeat is a rhythm created from bringing the diverse stories of blind people together with a unifying belief that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our future. As more blind people hear our message and join our march, the rhythm grows stronger. The rhythm carries us through times of challenge and refuels us in times of celebration. As the tempo of society changes, we adjust to keep pace, and often our rhythm sets the standard of excellence. Steady, determined, and full of optimism for our future we contribute to the heartbeat through local chapters, state affiliates, and our national organization. Individually we seek to live the lives we want and collectively we transform our dreams into reality. We are the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.

How do resolutions contribute to the heartbeat of the Federation? Since resolutions are statements of policy that reflect our priorities, they help to focus our efforts so that we can continue to raise expectations every day because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. The objective of a cardiologist is to make sure that the human heart has a steady beat. Resolutions perform a similar function for the Federation’s heartbeat. Some of our resolutions are proactive and call for new solutions to problems. Others are reactive and call on government, business, and educational entities to change policies or cease destructive procedures. Through resolutions, we develop a steady course of action for the future. The convention, the supreme authority of the Federation, considered twenty-four resolutions. The convention chose to pass twenty-two of these. Let us examine these resolutions to see which ones are proactive, which ones are reactive, and how they achieve a steady heartbeat for the National Federation of the Blind.

Any individual may submit a resolution for consideration by the resolutions committee. The resolutions committee is one of the largest committees in the Federation and is made up of leaders from across the country. This year the resolutions committee met on July 11 and considered and passed twenty-four resolutions. I was privileged to be the chairman of the committee and was ably assisted by a longtime member of the national staff, Marsha Dyer, and a newcomer to the national staff, Melissa Kroeger. The draft resolutions passed by the committee were placed on our website so that members could review the proposed policies before they went to the convention floor. These resolutions were considered by the convention on Friday, July 14.

As I mentioned earlier, the convention chose to defeat two resolutions that dealt with technology. In Resolution 2017-13 Gary Allen, president of the NFB of Connecticut, proposed that we “call upon developers to adopt the long established keyboard interface conventions that have served the blind well for many years.” The convention agreed that having to learn different interfaces for each application creates barriers for users. The resolution was defeated because these conventions are not written down in a central place such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, level AA. Greg Aikens, president of the Georgia Affiliate, proposed in Resolution 2017-21 that we encourage the VFO Corporation to be more proactive in providing access to popular applications. Once again, the convention agreed that this was a problem, but objected to some of the language in the resolution. Since there was general agreement about the problems addressed in these resolutions, I am sure they will be restructured and resubmitted for consideration again next year.

The convention passed seven resolutions that are clearly proactive responses to problems. Two of these resolutions were about air travel, two concerned congressional action, and the remaining three covered accessibility issues.

Michael Hingson, a longtime leader in the Federation who currently serves as vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, sponsored Resolution 2017-02. Discrimination against the blind by airlines continues to be a vexing problem. Resolution 2017-02 offers a reasonable solution. The Resolution reads in part: “this organization demand that the United States Congress amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action for violations of the law that permits compensatory and injunctive relief, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees, in order to deter future acts of discrimination.”

The second resolution concerning discrimination by airlines was 2017-17. The resolution listed various discriminatory behaviors such as aggression toward blind travelers’ service animals from other passengers’ pets or emotional support animals. The three proponents of this resolution use guide dogs. Two of the proponents, Jessica Snyder and Aleeha Dudley are members of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. Aleeha also won a national scholarship in 2011. The third sponsor, Julie McGinnity, is president of the Performing Arts Division and first vice president of the NFB of Missouri. Julie won national scholarships in 2011 and 2013. In this resolution we urge “all airlines to develop continuous and effective personnel training programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Guide Dog Users so that the discriminatory treatment of blind passengers will come to an end.”

Blind people have great difficulty purchasing access technology. Since Congress plans to reform the tax code, we have suggested the excellent solution of creating a refundable tax credit for the purchase of screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, embossers, etc. In Resolution 2017-09, “this organization strongly urge the United States Congress to enact the Access Technology Affordability Act immediately.” Tracy Soforenko, president of the Virginia Affiliate, proposed this resolution.

Braille literacy has been a priority of the National Federation of the Blind for decades. Resolution 2017-12 promotes a new way to get more Braille into the hands of blind people. In this resolution we urge the US Congress to authorize an appropriation of five million dollars to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to purchase refreshable Braille displays. Lillie Pennington, a 2017 summer intern at the Jernigan Institute who is studying social work at Northern Kentucky University sponsored this resolution.

The three proactive resolutions on accessibility contain both commendations and calls to action. David Baggett, an intern at the Jernigan Institute who is working on an MBA degree at Shenandoah University and is a member of the board of directors of the Winchester Chapter in the NFB of Virginia, sponsored Resolution 2017-08. “The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) have become the internationally recognized standard for ensuring the accessibility of web technologies.” In this resolution, we commend all those who follow these standards and urge “web accessibility testing organizations, browser and access-technology manufacturers, and web developers to continue to make conformance to these standards a priority in order to further interoperability across devices and services for all users.”

Rachel Olivero, a longtime Federationist who is the director of organizational technology for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2017-18. Drupal is a content management system for websites. In this resolution we commend the Drupal community for its commitment to accessibility. In the resolution we also call on “module and theme developers building components for Drupal to follow the guidance provided by the Drupal Accessibility Team to ensure their add-ons will be as accessible as Drupal Core.”

Blind people appreciate and have benefited from the increase of audio description for movies, TV broadcasts, theater productions, and other media. In Resolution 2017-23 we commend those who already provide audio description of visual content and urge those who do not provide it to make it available. We look forward to the day when presentations on such platforms as YouTube will automatically contain audio description. Vee Gaspa, an intern at the Jernigan Institute who also serves as the president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution. Vee is a junior at Seton Hall University who is majoring in English.

Some readers may view with alarm the fact that I am calling fifteen of our resolutions reactive. Organizations that merely react to situations normally do not demonstrate leadership. The NFB and its resolutions are unique, because they represent consistent positions that we have taken for many years. Resolutions 2017-01, 2017-03, 2017-06, 2017-10, and 2017-16 are perfect examples of our leadership and consistency.

The National Federation of the Blind was the first organization to sound the alarm about the dangers of quiet cars to all pedestrians, especially to those who are blind. We began our campaign to bring about change in 2003. In 2011 the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was signed into law. This act requires hybrid and other electric vehicles to emit an alert sound at low speed to warn the pedestrians of their presence. In Resolution 2017-01, we “condemn and deplore the Department of Transportation for three and a half years of delays, extensions, and postponements to the final regulation for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.” Maurice Peret, a longtime leader in the NFB of Maryland and chairman of the NFB’s Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety, sponsored this resolution.

The National Federation of the Blind has been advocating for civil rights since its inception in 1940. The writings of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, were the foundation for the principles that were included in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990. His article “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts” is still considered an important reference for lawyers and others in the civil rights field. The NFB has always maintained that the ADA addresses access to new technologies. This law does more than provide the right to physical access. In 2010 the US Department of Justice began the process of drafting web access regulations under Titles II and III of the ADA but never finished the process. Donald Porterfield, president of the NFB of Arizona, introduced Resolution 2017-10. In this resolution we “strongly urge the current administration to expand access for blind Americans by demanding that the United States Department of Justice immediately finalize and release web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that are consistent with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA.”

Kenia Flores, a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute who also serves as president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2017-06. This resolution demonstrates our continued commitment to enforcement of the ADA. Congressman Ted Poe introduced H.R. 620, The ADA and Education Reform Act of 2017, a bill that will seriously weaken the ability of disabled persons to use the courts to protect our rights. In this resolution we “call upon Representative Poe to withdraw this bill from consideration and instead to encourage the business interests who are pushing this legislative initiative to meet with and listen to the concerns of people with disabilities.”

Since the 1980s the NFB has been working to promote Braille literacy for the blind. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act is the latest threat to Braille literacy. Of course, we are opposing H.R. 1120 and have listed our reasons for this opposition in Resolution 2017-03. The amendments to IDEA suggested in this legislation will weaken the Braille presumption clause, making it even more difficult for students with limited vision to receive instruction in Braille reading and writing. Terri Rupp, president of the NFB of Nevada, sponsored this resolution. Terri did not receive instruction in Braille when she was a child. She wants to make sure that her blind daughter and all blind children get the instruction in Braille that they need.

The Randolph-Sheppard program has been providing employment opportunities to blind people since 1936. The latest threat to this program is H.R. 1990, and of course we are voicing our opposition and speaking out for the program as we have for decades. Joe Higdon, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Merchants and president of the Indiana Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored Resolution 2017-16. In 1982, Congress gave the Randolph-Sheppard program the priority to operate vending machines at interstate rest areas. H.R. 1990 will commercialize interstate rest areas, thus jeopardizing the livelihood of 400 blind entrepreneurs. We urge Congressman Jim Banks to immediately withdraw this damaging legislation in Resolution 2017-16.

Monitor readers will not be disappointed, because their expectations of reading resolutions about accessibility are met again this year. The convention passed six resolutions that are reactions to access barriers. More and more restaurants are replacing wait staff with Ziosk, a tablet-based tabletop system used to order food and pay bills. Unfortunately, the Ziosk system is not accessible to the blind. Ashley Neybert and Tom Anderson were tired of this annoyance, so they introduced Resolution 2017-05. In this resolution we “call upon all blind Americans to publicize the inaccessibility of restaurants where Ziosk is used through social media and by other means.” Ashley Neybert is vice president of the Kansas Association of Blind Students and also serves as vice president of the Science and Engineering Division. Tom Anderson is president of the Communities of Faith Division, and a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Kansas. Tom was an instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind for twenty-seven years and retired from this position in 2015.

Janice Toothman and Everette Bacon proposed Resolution 2017-07. Janice is second vice president of the Deaf-Blind Division and a member of the board of directors of the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland. Everette is president of the NFB of Utah. He represents the Federation on the Disability Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC regulations require that emergency broadcast systems be accessible to blind people and to deaf people. The regulations do not specifically extend the accessibility requirement of these systems for deaf-blind people. In this resolution we strongly urge the FCC to immediately correct this serious omission.

Blind students and professionals in the STEM and social sciences fields face serious barriers because of the lack of access to research and reference management software. In Resolution 2017-11 we insist that developers of research and reference management software not only take steps to immediately make their products fully accessible, but also urge developers, “to engage knowledgeable screen reader users to provide in-depth testing so that their VPATs [Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates] will be accurate.” Justin Young, a doctoral candidate in Higher Education Administration at the University of Rochester proposed this resolution.

Liz Wisecarver who serves as the NFB-NEWSLINE coordinator for the Texas Affiliate introduced Resolution 2017-15. Home appliances are becoming more difficult for blind people to operate due to complex menu-driven interfaces. Traditional marking methods used by blind people no longer work because of these touchscreen-based menus. In this resolution we “call upon the United States Congress to pass legislation requiring accessibility standards for home appliances.”

In Resolution 2017-19 “this organization hereby condemn and deplore testing entities that have told blind test takers that computer-adaptive tests cannot be made accessible with screen access software and that have offered testers a human reader and scribe as their only accommodation option.” One of the sponsors of this resolution, Tarik Williams, explained how he was required to take his math final on the computer, even though the test was inaccessible. The other sponsor, Kevin Whitley, described difficulties blind people face when they are required to take computer tests in screenings for potential employment. Tarik is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students, and Kevin is president of the NFB of Alaska. In this resolution we also “demand that testing entities design computer-adaptive tests in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA so that these tests are fully and independently accessible to the blind.”

Ronza Othman, chairman of the NFB’s Federal Employees Committee and a leader in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2017-22. Federal employees have been extremely frustrated because the Microsoft Corporation broke its promises to make its SharePoint software fully accessible. The resolution reads in part: “this organization strongly urge that Microsoft Corporation make SharePoint fully accessible in all versions, including future releases and previously released versions since SharePoint 2010 of the server-based platform to its blind users.” We also “demand that federal agencies stop procuring and deploying SharePoint until Microsoft incorporates accessibility solutions in all versions.”

The last four resolutions that I will discuss in this article are reactions to plans by the federal government and by Uber Technologies Inc. These plans will seriously hinder the ability of blind people to live the lives we want.

The convention passed three resolutions concerning the proposed federal budget. In Resolution 2017-04, “this organization condemn and deplore any effort to cut funding for the Medicaid insurance program.” Bre Brown, president of the Texas Association of Blind Students, who won a national scholarship in 2015, described how Medicaid was helpful to her as a blind student. Further, cuts to Medicaid will cause this segment of the population to suffer, because most students are on a fixed income and have no other means for healthcare. The second sponsor, Trudy Pickrel, second vice president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of Maryland, is the mother of several severely disabled children. She fears that cuts to Medicaid will lead hospitals to reject treating her most fragile child, because some hospitals already reject Medicaid patients. Further cuts will increase these incidences.

Steve Hastalis, who serves as president of the Chicago Chapter of the NFB of Illinois, and Jemal Powell, who serves as its second vice president, are also longtime advocates for public transportation. They were appalled by the proposed cuts to both Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration. Consequently, they sponsored Resolution 2017-14. In this resolution “this organization strongly urge the Administration and Congress to recognize that mass transit and rail transportation are integral parts of this nation’s infrastructure and should be supported by increases in federal funding.”

The Library Services and Technology Act is an important source of funding for state libraries for the blind throughout the country. In some cases, these federal funds are the only source of revenue for the state libraries for the blind. In Resolution 2017-20, we express our opposition to any cuts and urge the US Congress to fully fund the Library Services and Technology Act. Shelia Wright, the newly elected president of the NFB of Missouri, proposed this resolution.

Resolution 2017-24 is our response to the communication from Uber Technologies entitled “New changes for better pickups.” This communication outlines Uber’s plan to charge a wait time fee if the ride has not started two minutes after the driver arrives. In this resolution we “call upon Uber to suspend the implementation of any wait time fees until an accessible means of locating a driver can be implemented.” Kevan Worley, a longtime leader in the NFB of Colorado and in the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored this resolution.

This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the convention. 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. These resolutions demonstrate our consistent leadership which strengthens the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.

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