The history of the organized blind movement, according to one of its leaders, might well be seen as a confirmation of the challenge-and-response theory of social evolution propounded some decades ago by the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee which held that the rise and fall of civilizations has corresponded to their ability to meet successive challenges, from without or within, by appropriately vigorous responses. So long as the response is more energetic than the challenge, said Toynbee, a civilization may be said to be in the ascendant. As with societies so with social movements, added Kenneth Jernigan in a presidential speech; so long as the organized blind remain vigilant against the forces opposed to them, capable of meeting any challenge with an immediate response, for so long will they be a dominant factor within their own sphere of action.
After fifty years of continuous challenge and response, it was clear by 1990 that the National Federation of the Blind was still ascending as a movement and expanding as a force in the special sphere occupied by the blindness system. More and more that system and its constituent agencies had come to recognize this reality and to respect the Federation, if not for its virtue then for its strength. But there were still pockets of resistance in the system (rear-guard elements like those dominating most of the sheltered workshops) which interpreted the progressive philosophy of the NFB as a threat to their very existence. These reactionary elements were neither as numerous nor as formidable as they once had been; but they were as stubborn as ever in their opposition and as determined in their efforts to retain or regain custody over the lives of those they still perceived as their dependent wards.
The present chapter relates the story of one such agency challenge and of the massive response which was mustered against it. That response, beginning in the sixties, took the form of an aggressive and sustained campaign to reform or retire a self-appointed watchdog group calling itself the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). From the time of its origin in the sixties when it was known as the Commission on Standards and Accreditation of Services for the Blind (COMSTAC), NAC operated effectively as a front organization for the American Foundation for the Blind and other agencies of the blindness system in their effort to extend control over all those blind persons (numbering in the tens of thousands) who fell within the network of public and private service. While the ostensible purpose of NAC was to provide a neutral and objective arbiter of professional standards for the field, its practical intent was to hold a whiphand over service agencies of all kinds through the arbitrary power of accreditation in other words, to reward its friends (by granting approval) and punish its enemies (by withholding the prize).
The confrontation between the organized blind and the agency known as NAC may be dated from November 1965, when a national conference was held in New York City by a newly formed group known as the Commission on Standards and Accreditation of Services for the Blind (COMSTAC). The New York conference climaxed two years of elaborate planning on the part of the American Foundation for the Blind, which had conceived the idea of COMSTAC and was its primary source of financial support. (The Foundation initially contributed $225,000 over four years to the project, to which additional funds were later provided by the U.S. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and, to a much lesser extent, by private foundations.) Some 300 professional workers and administrators took part in the four-day meeting, at which the reports of a dozen technical committees were presented for approval. The announced purpose of the conference, with its massive panoply of professional celebrities and task-force committees, was to create a new and independent agency to administer an ongoing, voluntary system of accreditation of local and state agencies for the blind on a national basis. The impression sought to be conveyed was one of consensus and harmony on the part of all interests in the field of work for the blind. Most such groups were indeed prominently in attendance: the American Association of Workers for the Blind, the National Rehabilitation Association, National Industries for the Blind, the state commissions, public and private welfare agencies virtually the entire gamut of professional organizations with an interest in the lives of blind people. The only concerned group which was conspicuous by its almost complete absence not only in the conference itself but in the numerous preliminary meetings at which standards were initially proposed and formulated was the organized blind.
The idea of establishing an independent accrediting system for all groups doing work with the blind which led to the formation of COMSTAC and its successor agency, NAC was not as novel as the conveners of the New York conference pretended to suppose. A decade earlier the American Association of Workers for the Blind had attempted to gain control over the field of services by instituting a seal of good practices, to be obtained as a reward by agencies conforming to the AAWB's expectations of professional conduct. However, of the several hundred agencies and organizations in the field only 20 or 30 applied for and received the seal; and of those that did, more than a few were regarded by the blind themselves as backward in their philosophy and unproductive in their enterprise. After a short time this counterpart to the Good Housekeeping seal was quietly shelved by the AAWB.
Apparently profiting from that earlier failure to impose its view of professionalism and its system of control upon the entire field, the American Foundation for the Blind moved prudently to give the impression of independence and autonomy to COMSTAC. The 22 persons named to the commission came from a broad range of professions, many of them outside the field of work with the blind and most of them prestigious. Among the members were public officials, business executives, philanthropists, academicians, and civic leaders. Among them also were appointees of the Foundation from within the field, high-ranking officials of agencies doing work with the blind. Not among them, however, were any representatives of the blind themselves; not a single commissioner came from a membership organization of blind people. Moreover, the paid staff director and moving force of COMSTAC was one of the Foundation's own Alexander Handel, Foundation insider and employee, who left his job with the Foundation for full-time employment with COMSTAC and later with NAC.
Even before the 1965 conference in New York, the organized blind had reason to be apprehensive concerning the character of the proposed accrediting agency and the quality of its standards. In its preliminary phase COMSTAC was divided into a dozen specialized subcommittees, each involving hundreds of people across the country and further subdivided into smaller groups. While a few spokesmen for organizations of the blind and the many agencies in the field who did not want to be controlled by the American Foundation gained admission to deliberations at the local level, their dissent from the prevailing tone of affirmation went virtually unnoticed. In those rare instances when they were not excluded by the contrived selection process and were in the majority, the blind and the agency dissenters were still effectively neutralized by the heavy-handled tactics and maneuvers of the presiding COMSTAC officials. For example, at the 1965 annual convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind, where discussion of the COMSTAC standards was invited, only the discussion leaders had copies of the standards, and a concerted attempt on the part of home teachers to seek a vote on standards affecting their specialty which seemed certain to be negative was overridden by the chair.
It was for this reason that Jacobus tenBroek, then President of the National Federation of the Blind, emphasized in his 1966 convention address the distinction between what he called agencies for the blind and agencies against the blind. Today in this country there are agencies which choose to work not for the blind but with them as collaborators, colleagues, and co-equals, he said. There are agencies that affect toward us a posture of indifference and a mask of neutrality. There are agencies which regard it as their special mission to fight the blind at every turn and with every weapon. There are agencies such as a number of sheltered shops which believe it is their function to control, suppress, and sweat the blind.
Now comes COMSTAC, tenBroek went on. The latest, greatest, and most ominous of all agency efforts to dominate the field to the exclusion of the organized blind. COMSTAC's 22 autonomous members for so they describe themselves are self-appointed; its tasks are self-assigned; its authority is self-arrogated; its special knowledge is self-proclaimed; its actions are self-serving. The standards it presumes to set for others are misconceived, misdirected, and miserable. Its outlook is paternalistic and condescending. Its interest in the content of programs is incidental if not accidental.
President tenBroek made it clear in this address that his criticism was not directed at the principle of seeking an improvement of services to the blind. We would and do join in every legitimate effort to improve the qualifications of workers for the blind that is, to insure that they become more wise, more perceptive, more humane, and more imbued with sympathetic understanding. We would and do join in every reasonable effort to improve programs for the blind that is, to see to it that they liberate our people from self-imposed and socially imposed restrictions, to restore them to normal lives and normal livelihoods.
TenBroek concluded his speech with the declaration that: For all its bright and shiny newness, COMSTAC in reality is obsolete. Its philosophy of goods and services derives from an earlier age in which the recipients at the end of the line were simply human objects to whom things were done. Those were the good old days, before the revolution in welfare. But the revolution has come and has brought with it recognition of the recipient not as a passive object of professional manipulation but as a responsible participant in the making of decisions that affect his life and the administering of programs that bear upon his welfare. Of all this COMSTAC is unaware and uninterested.
In the years following that official assessment of COMSTAC by the leader of the organized blind, a number of events occurred which served both to confuse and to sharpen the issues surrounding the idea of accreditation for agencies in the blindness field. COMSTAC was itself dissolved and immediately reconstituted (or cloned, as someone said) in the form of NAC which proceeded to declare its autonomy and independence from the network of agencies which had fathered and funded it. Meanwhile the National Federation of the Blind went through its own transition in the late sixties as Kenneth Jernigan succeeded Dr. tenBroek in the presidency; but the succession signaled no change in the NFB's policy of vigilant appraisal of agency activities on the accreditation front. In 1971, five years after Dr. tenBroek's critical address on the subject, President Jernigan submitted a comprehensive Report to the members of the National Federation of the Blind on COMSTAC and NAC, which reviewed the recent history of developments in the field and concluded with a blistering attack on the integrity, credibility, and viability of the watchdog known as NAC. Under the title "NAC: What Price Accreditation" Jernigan penetrated the screen of professional rhetoric surrounding the role of NAC and exposed the hidden wires and batteries linking it with its parent agencies. He concluded with a warning to Federationists to continue to insist on a voice in the functioning, as well as the accrediting, of any and all programs affecting their lives. The text of his report follows:
NAC: WHAT PRICE ACCREDITATIONA REPORT TO THE MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND ON COMSTAC AND NAC
The developments which next occurred, in the period following that report to the membership, amply confirmed the fears of the organized blind concerning the character and purposes of NAC. The events of one day in particular which happened to fall on December 7, 1971 involved both a confrontation and a conclusion: i.e., a confrontation of the principal antagonists and a conclusion of the first phase of NFB-NAC relations. The drama of that fateful encounter in Manhattan, and the context of events surrounding it, was later narrated in detail by Kenneth Jernigan in a special edition of the Braille Monitor (August 1972) devoted to the NAC controversy. Under the heading, "NAC: Response to Bigotry," the NFB President announced the ending of his personal relationship with NAC and the beginning of a new Federation policy and tactic. Here is the article in its entirety:
by Kenneth Jernigan
December 7, 1941, said Franklin Roosevelt, is a day that will live in infamy. To the blind of this country December 7, 1971, is also a day that will live in infamy. It was then that the Board of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) met at the Prince George Hotel in New York City and finally and irrevocably showed, for all the world to see, what kind of organization NAC really is.
Members of the organized blind movement will remember the appearance of the NAC representatives at our convention in Houston last July. Mr. Arthur Brandon, president of NAC, and Mr. Alexander Handel, executive director of the organization, spoke to us about NAC's purpose and objectives. Although we were in profound disagreement with the way NAC is structured, its methods of operation, and its basic premises, we treated its representatives with courtesy and respect. There were no personal attacks and no aspersions.
Prior to our Houston convention Mr. Brandon had first accepted the invitation to come and then, when he realized questions would be asked and a discussion would occur, changed his mind on the grounds that he did not wish to engage in debate. After it was pointed out to him that NAC had received hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and thus had some responsibility to appear and give an accounting to the largest group of consumers of its services in the nation, Mr. Brandon again changed his mind and once more agreed to come but only subsequent to considerable publicity. Obviously, he felt embarrassed and ill at ease at having to appear at our convention.
At this stage (apparently judging me by himself and, therefore feeling that I, too, would find a confrontation embarrassing) Mr. Brandon asked me as NFB President to present the views of the organized blind at the December, 1971, NAC Board meeting. He assured me that I would be given courteous treatment and heard with respect. Of course, NAC's exaggerated view of its power to inspire awe is not shared by the Federation, and the prospect was not at all embarrassing. Rather, the invitation should have come when NAC was first established. As Federationists know, I accepted the invitation.
Under date of July 13, 1971, Mr. Brandon wrote to me in a tone and manner that showed he had learned nothing from our convention. He seemed to be saying, We have all had an opportunity to vent our feelings. Now let's settle back into the old rut of `NAC-as-usual.'
Under date of July 20, 1971, I replied to Mr. Brandon, attempting once again to penetrate his bubble of complacency. I said to him in part:
The tone of your letter (especially that part which says as we look ahead we must search for ways of working together effectively) indicates a conception of what occurred at Houston and of the attitudes and intentions of the blind not, in my opinion, in accord with the facts. At Houston we did not simply have a friendly little debate which allowed people to blow off steam. We did not meet before that audience of a thousand people simply to exchange ideas and go back home to business as usual.
What that audience was telling you, and what I have been trying to tell NAC for several years, is simply this: The blind of this nation are not going to allow all of their service programs to come under one uniform system of control with the tune called by the American Foundation for the Blind and the accompaniment played by HEW. The blind are not opposed to reasonable and proper accreditation far from it. The blind do not oppose good agencies, government or private, which are doing good work. However, the Federation does not believe that NAC is properly constituted, that its standards are reasonable, that it is responsive to the aspirations and desires of consumers, or that it is a positive factor (as now structured) in the field of work with the blind.
Mr. Brandon made no response to my letter, and I prepared to go to New York in December. Under date of November 29, 1971, Dr. Patrick Peppe and Adrienne Asch, members of one of the local New York City affiliates of the Federation, wrote to Mr. Alexander Handel, executive director of NAC, to ask that they and other interested blind persons be permitted to attend the December 7 NAC meeting as observers. Their letter was courteous and respectful. It made no demands or threats; it only requested. The full text of the letter reads:
Dear Mr. Handel:
As consumers of services of agencies serving the blind, we would like to be present at the December 7 meeting of NAC. Since NAC was established to be the accrediting authority for agency service, our lives are vitally affected by its deliberations and actions. Therefore, we ask that we and others both the organized blind and the unaffiliated but concerned consumers of services be permitted to observe this meeting to learn more about the current policies and plans of your organization.
We would appreciate hearing from you by letter as soon as possible. Thank you very much for your cooperation.
Adrienne Asch, Secretary
Patrick V. Peppe, Member, Executive Committee, The Metropolitan Federation of the Blind/Affiliate: The National Federation of the Blind.
Mr. Handel wasted no time in replying. His letter dated December 1, 1971, could serve as a model for insult and condescension. It should be read and re-read by every self-respecting blind person in the land. Its lesson should be learned well and never forgotten. It should be remembered whenever and wherever blind people meet in private homes or in public gatherings, for business or for recreation.
Mr. Handel wrote to Dr. Peppe and Miss Asch as if they had been small children or mental cripples. He suggested that since the December 7 meeting was to be a working business session rather than a meeting at which provision could be made for observers, perhaps Dr. Peppe and Miss Asch might like to meet with him privately at some mutually convenient time so that they could make comments and ask questions. He said that he was pleased to know of their interest in NAC, that he would be glad to add their names to the mailing list. He said that he would look forward to hearing from them and hoped they would telephone him at their convenience. Finally, in a P.S., he explained that the annual meeting of NAC was open to members and invited them to join up.
Lest you think I exaggerate, here is the entire text of Mr. Handel's letter:
Dear Miss Asch and Mr. Peppe:
We are pleased to know of your interest in the work of the National Accreditation Council and we shall be happy to provide you with information about our current policies and plans. If you would like to have your names added to the list of persons who regularly receive our newsletter and other materials, we should be glad to do so.
Meanwhile, since the meeting to which you refer is a working business session of our board rather than a session at which provision can be made for observers, I should like to suggest if you wish to know more about our program that you meet with me at some other mutually agreeable time.
As you know, our standards are available in Braille and recorded. We welcome your comments and suggestions on all or any of these standards. By meeting where a mutual exchange is possible you would be in a position to raise questions and express your views regarding the matters which, as you indicate, are of vital concern to blind persons.
Please telephone for an appointment at your convenience. I look forward to hearing from you.
Alexander F. Handel
P. S. The Annual Meeting of NAC is open to its affiliated members. Such affiliation is available to the National Federation of the Blind and is also open to local and state organizations of the blind. (See leaflet.)
Dr. Peppe, Miss Asch, and other blind people in New York City then went to the press. When a reporter called NAC headquarters, Miss Anne New (NAC staff member) revealed more than she realized. She was quoted in the press as follows: You don't necessarily put a majority of TB patients on the board of a tuberculosis hospital. We know what the patient wants to be treated as a human being and not some sort of cripple. We stress this in our standards again and again.
If Miss New does not understand why we as blind people object to her statement (and she probably doesn't), she makes our point for us. If Mr. Handel does not understand why we find his letter insulting, condescending, and unresponsive (and, again, he probably doesn't), then he only underscores what we have been saying for years. How could anything better illustrate NAC's total isolation from reality, its complete irrelevance!
It was in this atmosphere and with this background that I went to the Prince George Hotel in New York City late in the afternoon of December 6, 1971. The first event was a cocktail party held in Mr. Brandon's suite. I was met at the door with an air of hostility and resentment.
I think it is pertinent here to call attention once again to the structure of NAC, as well as to the usual format and tenor of its meetings. The American Foundation for the Blind and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare are, of course, firmly in control. Officials of both have membership on the NAC board; and the executive director, Mr. Handel, is a former Foundation employee. In addition, several other selected agency leaders have membership. To add respectability, people of prestige from outside of the field of work with the blind have been placed on the board public officials, business executives, university deans, labor leaders, etc. These are people of goodwill and integrity, but they are not knowledgeable concerning the problems of blindness. Obviously they take their tone and orientation from the American Foundation for the Blind and its hard core inner circle.
The atmosphere of the NAC board meetings is invariably snobbish and pretentious almost pathetically so. The civic and business leaders on the board are made to feel that they have been asked to join an exclusive private club, a body of national prestige. There is a good deal of socializing and no sense at all of involvement with the gut issues facing the blind. There is much gracious, high-toned exchange of compliment and some very businesslike talk about finances. There is considerable discussion about professionalism and the maintenance of high standards in work with the blind; but if these people were asked to sit down for serious conversation with a blind welfare recipient or sheltered shop employee or college student or secretary or working man or housewife, they would react with outrage and indignation if they did not die first of shock, which seems more likely. Here are a group of people who hold themselves out to the public as the setters of standards and the givers or withholders of accreditation but who will not deign to mix with or listen to consumers. In fact, as you will shortly see, they even deny (unbelievable though that is) that the blind are consumers.
Under the circumstances it is not surprising that I was greeted with hostility and resentment when I entered Mr. Brandon's suite. Very shortly I was engaged in conversation with Mr. Joseph Jaworski, a lawyer from Houston, Texas. Mr. Jaworski, whose father is a top official of the American Bar Association, was recently added to the NAC board. The reason is fairly obvious. He is a person who evidences no background in or understanding of the problems of blindness but who seems to have many opinions on the subject. He spoke somewhat as follows:
I have read all of this material about NAC which you sent to the board members, but tell me: What's the real complaint?
I replied that the real complaint was just what we had said namely, that NAC had been conceived and structured undemocratically. I told him that since the primary function of NAC was to make decisions concerning the lives of blind people, the blind themselves should have a major voice in determining what those decisions would be and not just individual blind persons, but elected representatives of constituencies. I told him that the blind representation on NAC was only tokenism (six out of thirty-four) and that even the tokenism was largely window dressing since four of the six represented only their agencies or themselves and, by no stretch of the imagination, constituencies of blind people.
He responded in this manner: There are black people in the city of Houston, and they do not have a majority or equal representation on the city council. Yet, the city council governs them and makes decisions about their lives.
Yes, I told him, but the primary purpose of the Houston City Council is not to make decisions concerning blacks, or even the blacks of Houston. Its primary purpose is to make decisions about the people of Houston (of whatever color); and, in the proper democratic tradition, the people of Houston control it entirely. This is all we are asking of NAC that the people who are primarily concerned with and affected by its decisions have a major voice in its operation.
Mr. Jaworski did not seem to understand the distinction, nor did two or three others who were listening in. The rest of the cocktail party passed without event, as did the dinner which followed.
After dinner the board began its first business session. The question arose as to what should occur if an agency applied to NAC for accreditation and if the accreditation should be denied. Should the agency have a right to appeal to the entire NAC board, or should the decision of the subcommittee called the Commission on Accreditation be final? I suggested that the NAC board holds itself out to the public as the accrediting body and, therefore, that it cannot properly delegate final accrediting authority to a subcommittee.
At this stage Mr. Fred Storey, a sighted theater owner from Atlanta, took the floor and said: I think we ought to follow the example of other accrediting bodies in this matter. Since Mr. Jernigan seems to know so much about it, why doesn't he tell us what other groups do?
I responded that I didn't know what policy other accrediting groups followed. To which Mr. Storey replied: Then, why don't you be quiet and keep your mouth shut!
I did not answer in kind but simply told him that as long as I continued to be a member of the board, I would decide when and on what questions I would speak. In fairness let it be said here that not all of the board members approved of Mr. Storey's boorish behavior. Two or three of them came to me privately afterward and expressed apology and regret. However, not one of them stood up in the meeting to call him to task or say a single word of protest; and the Chairman, Mr. Brandon, expressed no disapproval.
After the meeting I went to the front of the room and reminded Mr. Brandon of his promise of courteous treatment and of how he had received no personal abuse but only respect at our Houston convention. His tone was one of petulant fury. He said: Some of the board members feel that you have been abusive to them. He went on to say: I was never treated so discourteously in my life as at your Houston convention.
Mr. Brandon, I said, can you really say that the Federation or I personally did not treat you and Mr. Handel with personal courtesy and respect?
Well, no, he said, but you inflamed the audience with your speech. Besides, I don't have to listen to you, and I can't control how NAC board members treat you when they disapprove of your conduct.
At this, I told Mr. Brandon that I now released him from all of his promises of courtesy and fair treatment and that I would publicize his behavior and that of the board for all to see, which I am now doing. As I walked back through the room, I was accosted by Mr. Storey. He was furiously and childishly belligerent. I'm Fred Storey, he said, and I just want to be sure that you know that I'm the one who told you to shut up.
Look, my friend, I replied.
I'm not your friend,he said. (To which I could only answer: I believe that's the truth.) He went on: You hide behind words like courtesy and fair play. Your real purpose is to create dissension and trouble. You have no business on this board. You are not one of us. This is what he said. I leave it to all who attended the Houston convention or who care to listen to the recordings to determine whether we treated the NAC representatives with respect. I also leave Mr. Storey's loutish behavior to stand as its own commentary, on himself and on NAC.
The next morning the NAC board assembled as usual, behind closed doors. About a dozen local blind persons (representing the organized blind of the area) appeared and sought admission as observers. The request was denied. Apparently fearing to leave these blind people unwatched, NAC stationed a staff member outside of the door to remain with them throughout the day. A delegation of four board members left the meeting to talk with them. It brought back the news that the group would be content if only two of their number could be admitted as observers, pledging to cause no disturbance or say a single word.
I offered a motion to admit the observers. Although the discussion that followed was somewhat characterized by the petty hostility and ill temper of the night before, the substantive question at issue received attention. Dr. Melvin Glasser, director of the Social Security Department of the United Auto Workers Union, said that NAC was only exercising the usual prerogative of any corporation to hold its board meetings behind closed doors. What about your own organization, the Federation! he said. Its board meetings are not open. I couldn't come and attend.
Ah, but you could! I told him. Come on. We would be glad to have you. Our board meetings are open to all, members and non-members alike.
My motion was defeated with only six yes votes and twenty no votes. It may be interesting to note that four of the six yes votes were by blind people, and one of the remaining two was by a black man. In other words two-thirds of the blind members of the board (even the agency representatives) could not bring themselves to vote no, and the black representative of the Urban League also stood to be counted, though he said not a word in defense of the motion and must, therefore, share in the shame of NAC's sorry behavior. In any case the blind were excluded, and the NAC staff member stood guard over them throughout the day. As the NAC minutes admitted, It should be noted that the demonstrators were peaceful and courteous.
With respect to the matter of closed meetings and secret conduct of affairs, NAC is almost paranoid in its behavior. As a NAC board member, I had great difficulty in even getting a list of the names and addresses of the other members. Finally, under date of May 1, 1971, I received the list; but its form was interesting. On the top line of the first page (printed in capitals, presumably for emphasis) was the word confidential. Admittedly one might not be proud to have people know he was associated with NAC; but why, in the name of all that is reasonable, should the very names of the NAC board members be kept secret?
Late in the morning I was asked to present the statement which Mr. Brandon had earlier invited me to give. Federationists are too familiar with my views to need them repeated here. They were presented in detail at the Houston convention and in the September, 1971, Braille Monitor.
Company unions serve many purposes. In this connection, the arrangement of the NAC agenda is interesting. Immediately following my presentation, Judge Reese Robrahn, president of the American Council of the Blind, delivered a statement. In general he defended NAC and said that while it had some weaknesses and imperfections, ACB supports it since ACB is a constructive organization. In an apparent attack upon the NFB for its criticism of NAC and its criticism of some of the so-called professional literature about blindness issued by the federal government and the American Foundation for the Blind, Judge Robrahn said: Anyone with normal intelligence can dissect and distort any standard, sentence or paragraph. This, however, cannot be considered a validation of the attack on a standard, sentence or paragraph.
Judge Robrahn, by implication, defended NAC for not denying accreditation to sheltered shops paying less than the minimum wage to blind workers. Under the circumstances this is not surprising. It dovetails with the fact, which the ACB has failed to publicize, that Mr. Durward McDaniel (ACB Washington representative) now serves as a member of the board of National Industries for the Blind, the infamous organization that controls merchandise orders from the federal government to the sheltered shops. Of course, Judge Robrahn also failed to mention the appearance of Mr. McDaniel in Minnesota last year (with the support of agency officials) to organize an ACB affiliate when the Federation in that state was fighting for the rights of collective bargaining for the workers in the sheltered shop of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. Many of the blind of the state felt that the ACB affiliate was being organized as a company union, fostered by the shop management to divide the workers, break their resistance, and confuse the public.
In this same vein Mississippi agency officials told Federation organizing teams early in 1972 that they would not give lists of names of blind persons to the NFB but that they would give them to the ACB. Later, when the small Mississippi affiliate of the ACB was established, the reports of pressure for membership by agency officials were graphic and widespread.
Judge Robrahn attempted to leave the impression that the ACB is large, growing fast, and about to approach the size of the NFB. The facts, of course, are something else again. Affiliated organizations on paper are not necessarily organizations of actuality or substance.
After Judge Robrahn's presentation there was considerable reaction by the members of the board, particularly to my remarks. Of special interest were the comments of Dr. Melvin Glasser, the United Auto Workers representative. He said that NAC was not properly a social action group but a standard-setting body. I tried to point out to him that NAC could not avoid engaging in social action. By accrediting and giving its stamp of approval to a sheltered shop which pays fifty cents or less per hour to blind workers, NAC helps perpetuate the system. If its standards for determining which shops should be accredited do not take into account the wages of the workers, then those standards are irrelevant; and they constitute a form of social action, keeping the blind down and keeping them out.
What an irony that one should have to explain such matters to a representative of organized labor! Have the unions really become so management-oriented and so out of touch with ordinary people! Obviously Dr. Glasser did not stand at the gates of Ford and General Motors in the 1930s and see the hired thugs beat the workers who tried to organize and improve their condition. Neither did I, but I sat in the NAC meetings of the l970s and watched the performance of Melvin Glasser. It is a long way from the factory gates of the thirties to the suave manner and condescending behavior of Dr. Glasser in New York, but his shame is none the less for the distance. Those early working men and women who fought and bled to establish his union, who sometimes risked their very lives for the concept of minimum wages and the right to organize, must stir in their troubled graves at the prospect of such behavior by a representative of the UAW.
Dr. Glasser also advanced a novel theory about what a consumer really is. He said that, as with hospitals, so with the blind. Consumers of the services of hospitals are not just the patients but all of the potential patients therefore, everybody. Thus, the consumers in the field of work with the blind are not merely those who are now blind but also those who may become blind in other words, everybody. Therefore, he (Dr. Glasser) is as much a consumer and has as much right to representation as you or I. Not only would it appear that the representatives of organized labor support sweatshops and management, but they've also become sophists it would seem.
I wonder how Dr. Glasser would like a dose of his own sophistry. Let us consider his union, for instance. Most people in the country are potential workers in the auto industry. Therefore, they should be eligible for membership in the UAW. They should be able to vote and hold office. After all, it is not only the actual workers but the potential workers as well who must be considered. Even the children will be potential workers someday, and certainly the senior citizens were potential workers once. So the entire American population has equal rights in the UAW. False reasoning? You bet!
Next Mr. Robert Goodpasture, former head of National Industries for the Blind, took the floor. He made a very strongly-worded attack upon me and said that he would move to censure me if a mechanism were available but that, since it was not, he would content himself with his statement. He was particularly incensed that I had made public the vote concerning the link-up between NAC and National Industries for the Blind. Well he might wish to keep that agreement secret in view of its disgraceful implications. I told him that I had never pledged to keep NAC's actions secret and that I had no intention of doing so, now or in the future. I told him that I felt the blind had a right to know what NAC was doing and to have a voice in it.
Then, I moved to have his remarks printed verbatim in the NAC minutes. He and several other board members seemed surprised at this motion and said, What! Do you want what he said printed!
Yes, I replied. His comments make my point better than anything I could say. Let them be printed for all to read.
As you will see, the entire text of the NAC minutes is being reproduced in the Monitor.
Most of the rest of the day was taken up with the usual trivia which characterizes NAC. It might be worth noting that Mr. Robert Barnett, director of the American Foundation for the Blind, came back to the meeting after lunch with this comment: The people outside say that one reason they don't like us is because we have accredited a local New York agency which is anathema to them. Well I guess we'll just have to change our standards. He said this with a snicker and a smirk as if to dismiss the demonstrators as kooks and nonentities. He might have done better to listen to them.
Their feelings of disgust for him and what he stands for were at least as great as his for them. As one of them later remarked: The blacks may have their Uncle Toms, but we have our Uncle Bobs. In mid-afternoon I left, feeling that NAC was a total loss that if anything were to be accomplished, it must be by confrontation, and not in the conference room. We are now left with two questions. What do we do next, and where do we go from here? It is to these questions that we must address ourselves.
In the first place Mr. Storey and Mr. Goodpasture are right. I have no business on the NAC Board. Mr. Storey told me: You are not one of us! No, thank God, I am not; and I hope I never will be. I do not see how any blind person or any true friend of the blind can keep his sense of honor and self-respect and serve on the NAC board. Therefore, I am no longer a member of NAC. I do not ask them to accept a resignation or to recognize the fact that I have quit. I simply take this occasion and this means of letting the world know that I am not part of NAC and that I do not want my name associated with it. We will now see if they add to their other faults the bad taste and boorish behavior of trying to expel me after the fact. Let them. We can give their petty action (if they choose to take it) suitable publicity.
Next we must consider NAC's presumptuous behavior in thinking it can hold closed meetings. First we tried reason and persuasion. These were spurned. The blind were not even allowed to have two silent observers in the room. NAC will regret the day. We will now adopt different tactics. NAC will probably try to conceal the time and place of future meetings, (just as it writes confidential on the list of the names of its board members), but we will track them down. Wherever they go and whenever they meet, we the blind will go to the doors and demand admission not only the local blind but as many of us as possible from throughout the country. We will recruit our sighted friends and supporters to swell the numbers, and we will not take no for an answer. Whatever is required to make NAC responsive to the needs and problems of the blind, we will do. I have never participated in a demonstration in my life, but enough is enough. This is the time to stand and be counted.
We will send material concerning NAC to federal officials and to every member of the Congress of the United States. Our local and state affiliates and members must follow up with personal contacts and letters. Further, the blind of each state must demand that their state and local agencies not seek accreditation from NAC. If such accreditation is sought, delegations of the blind must call on the governor and go to the press. If an agency has already achieved accreditation, we must demand that the accreditation be repudiated. The blind of each locality must assume responsibility for informing their legislators, governors, public officials, and news media of the threat which NAC poses. When NAC representatives are asked to appear on programs, we must protest and demand equal time.
In short, we must treat NAC like the evil which it is. We must make it behave decently or strangle the life out of it. We must reform it or destroy it. We must have at least equal representation on its board and make it truly serve the blind, or we must kill it. It is that simple. NAC absolutely must not be allowed to take control of the lives of the blind of this country, regardless of the costs or the consequences. If we permit it, we deserve what we get. If we submit meekly while we still have the power to fight, then we are slaves, and justly so.
But, of course, we will not submit, and we will not fail. The right is on our side, and the urge to be free sustains us. December 7, 1971, is a day that will live in infamy, but the stain of that infamy will be cleansed. The shame of that day will be erased. I ask you to think carefully about what I have said. Then, if you will, come and join me on the barricades.
By the seventies the gulf between the blindness agencies supporting NAC and the organized blind themselves led to a breakdown of communication and a systematic effort by the agency coalition to freeze out blind organizations or their representatives from NAC meetings. There resulted a series of dramatic confrontations, organized by the National Federation of the Blind, which soon became a regular annual event held at the time and place of scheduled NAC conferences. In one year the landmark year 1973 there were actually two such confrontations with NAC, the first one in Chicago attended by 300 blind people, and the second in New York attended by no less than 1,500 blind Americans from all parts of the country. Each of these massive encounters contained a story replete with drama, inspiration, and human interest as may be seen from the successive reports on the two events published in the Braille Monitor. And each of the two NAC confrontations drew broad public attention symbolized on both occasions by the interview of National Federation of the Blind President Jernigan on nationwide television, first in Chicago and then on NBC's Today Show in New York. Following is a collection of brief first-hand reports by participating Federationists as they appeared in the Monitor:
by Ralph Sanders
On the Barricades in Chicago: A Preface
I had arrived in Chicago early Tuesday morning to serve, along with John Taylor, as an official observer during the NAC meetings on June 20-2l. I was also there to work on the demonstrations by more than three hundred Federationists who had come, by every means imaginable, from throughout the country to let the members of NAC's board know just how the blind of this country feel about their kind of accreditation without representation.
Tuesday was hectic. We were busily preparing for a press conference for Dr. Jernigan for early Wednesday morning. When the busload of Federationists from California arrived, they all pitched in. As others arrived, things began to fall into place. Finally, Don Morris and I braved the late afternoon Chicago traffic and the outrageously expensive cab fares to venture downtown to finish arrangements for the press conference.
When we returned, materials and signs were ready.
The first feeling of great excitement was apparent when those present met in Don's suite in mid-evening. Following the meeting, a few of us who had not had time earlier sought dinner. As a foreshadowing of the next two days, this was hardly finished when we learned that the Iowans, more than seventy strong, had arrived at the hotel. Again, we met to outline plans.
The next morning, Wednesday, we left a good-sized contingent at the O'Hare Inn to picket as NAC board members arrived, and the rest of us ventured downtown.
The press conference went very well. With Dr. Kenneth Jernigan speaking on behalf of the blind of this country, our position was articulately expressed.
By the time those of us who had attended the press conference arrived at Chicago's Civic Center, picket lines were up on all sides. The public of Chicago heard and read our message. With little time to spare, we finally boarded buses and cars and headed for the O'Hare Inn.
When I disappeared to take up my post as an official observer, I was comforted knowing that some three hundred blind persons manned the barricades in front of the hotel and in the central courtyard.
The Girl Scouts Do It! Why Not NAC?
With the moral support gained from knowing that the boards of directors of such groups as the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of America hold closed board meetings, the board of directors of NAC, meeting in Chicago on June 21, 1973, reaffirmed their policy of openness with closed meetings.
McCallister Upshaw, board member from Detroit, moved the resolution. Although, in the future, any guests attending a board meeting will have to be there on special invitation from the board of directors, Mr. Upshaw said he didn't feel that the two observers from the National Federation of the Blind should be asked to leave. (One has to wonder what position he would have taken if a representative from Dialogue magazine had not also been in attendance.)
The only dissension against the resolution came from our beloved Uncle Bob, Bob Barnett, from the AFB. No, he wasn't opposing the idea of closed meetings. He simply felt the whole discussion was a waste of time and that NAC ought to get on with the serious items on its agenda.
Based on the quick, unanimous vote in favor of the resolution, one can assume that all of the board members thought consumer participation a waste of time.
A provision of this resolution would allow any group or person who wishes to present to the board a matter dealing with NAC to do so. It is important to note this section of the resolution for it was less than three hours later that NAC, keeping to its true colors, went against its own resolution.
John Taylor had given Peter Salmon copies of a memo from Dr. Jernigan which asked for the minutes of the NAC meeting and asked that the organized blind be permitted two observers at future meetings of the executive committee. John Taylor requested that Mr. Salmon read the memo and distribute copies, which we provided, to the members of the board. Mr. Salmon said that he would do this. Keep in mind that this occurred prior to the adoption of the resolution.
As the NAC meeting was nearing its end, with the members of the board nervously trying to get out to their planes to be jetted home to their agencies and corporations, and the memo still not having been announced, John Taylor addressed the chair to ask that it be done.
Peter Salmon replied, as my notes reflect, that he had discussed the matter with the NAC executive committee; and that it was felt that it was not an appropriate time to present the matter. A number of items in Mr. Salmon's message should raise the blood pressure of the blind of this country: This action contradicted, if not the letter then at least the professed intent of, the provision of the resolution adopted earlier by the NAC board allowing presentations to the board. In addition, there had been no mention of any meeting of the executive committee (perhaps Mr. Salmon gauged the sense of the executive committee by consulting with Uncle Bob). Finally, the sequence of events concerning the NFB memo makes it clear that the resolution barring observers from board meetings only formalized what has been the NAC policy all along claiming openness while operating in secrecy.
These actions should provide final proof to any blind person still having questions about it that NAC intends to continue on its merry way, adopting professional standards and methods of self-evaluation despite what the blind themselves think. After all, the members of the board of NAC have devoted years to helping the blind; why shouldn't they know what the blind need?
The annual meeting of NAC took place the previous afternoon, Wednesday, June 20, at Chicago's O'Hare Inn. This was an open membership meeting attended by representatives of agencies accredited by NAC, agencies seeking accreditation, NAC sponsors, NAC board members, and most anyone else who happened along.
The most serious business conducted at this session was the election of board members to fill vacancies created because of deaths or resignations of current board members and because some board members were rotating off and could not, for one reason or another, stand for reelection.
Those elected to the board were: Howard Bleakly, formerly of Pennsylvania, now residing in Illinois, apparently appointed because of personal wealth; William T. Coppage, head of the Virginia State Agency for the Blind; Dr. John Craner, professor of educational psychology at Brigham Young University; Floyd Hammond, co-owner of a lumber company in Phoenix, Arizona, also apparently appointed because of his wealth; Howard Hanson, director of the South Dakota State Agency for the Blind; George Henderson, Jr., vice-president of Burlington Industries, Atlanta, Georgia, again apparently only for his wealth; [?] Morris, member of the Connecticut State Legislature; Bob Riley, Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas; and Lou Rives, Jr., of the Federal Department of HEW, Civil Rights Division.
Following election of board members, there was a report regarding the re-evaluation of agencies which had been accredited by NAC. This discussion led to one regarding how an agency might determine its effectiveness.
Dan Robinson, the newly elected president of NAC and a CPA with the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Company, offered the thought that this depended in large measure on the objectives set by the agency. One must assume that, by Mr. Robinson's standards, if a rehabilitation agency sets as its goal the placement of job-hungry blind persons in a sheltered workshop, and if after a year it is determined that all job placements, regardless of skills, have been made in a workshop, then the agency is highly successful.
At 5:00 p.m. the same day there was a cocktail reception at which John Taylor and I divided in an attempt to visit personally with as many members of NAC's board as possible.
I got an opportunity to talk with many of them, including such notables as Dan Robinson and Morton Pepper. I asked Mr. Robinson to define consumer. He had barely gotten into some sort of unintelligible definition (it went something like this: a client is not necessarily a consumer of an agency, nor does a consumer have to be a client) when he announced that his boss, presumably from Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Company, had arrived, and he danced out of earshot. I had the distinct pleasure of dining with Fred Storey, a millionaire NAC board member from Atlanta, Georgia, with whom all Monitor readers should be familiar for his previous outlandish behavior. True to form, he was just as insulting as ever toward our President, and toward the integrity of our movement. Present with us were a number of other board members including Dr. Gerry Scholl, from the University of Michigan; and George Henderson, a new board member from Atlanta. There were others there, but memory fails me.
They were generally as discourteous as they thought they could be, which I assured them was fine. Had I come to Chicago simply to enjoy the company, I would most certainly have been out on the picket lines and not in the lions' den. As with Daniel, God was kind to me, and the dinner session ended early.
The meeting of the board of directors of NAC began at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday. I have already referred to some actions taken by the board. Most of the time was devoted to nice, friendly remarks from Peter Salmon, Dan Robinson, and others, complimenting other members of the board who had either assisted in getting financial gifts from somewhere or who were leaving the board.
I think that there would be general interest in the financial report, however.
It was reported that NAC had started this year with a projected budget of $293,000 but that the budget was now reduced to $278,000 this, it was alleged, because of sound fiscal management by NAC's staff. It was further reported that by June 21, $102,000 had already been spent. Also, an additional $30,000 would have to be raised to reach the $278,000 now projected. The contribution by the Department of HEW has been dropped from $100,000 to $90,000. It was quite obvious from many comments that NAC anticipates this being the last year that federal support is offered. Perhaps they anticipated the power of the Federationists marching outside.
Great attention was given to a donation of approximately $12,000 from a Mrs. Moses and $100,000 from the Goldman Foundation, or some such group. (John Taylor and I did not receive printed copies of the materials that everyone else had before them, so we must rely on our notes.) There was much concern expressed about future sources of financing.
Keep in mind the amount of money NAC needs to operate, and consider that in 1972 fourteen agencies applied for, and eight received, accreditation. Also, remember that the agency seeking accreditation bears a great deal of the cost.
It was reported that NAC has now accredited some fifty agencies. If this sounds impressive, remember that there are more than five hundred agencies in this country.
Other weighty matters discussed included changing NAC's fiscal year from January 1 through December 31 to July 1 through June 30.
The other interesting action taken by the board was the decision to allow the executive committee to determine the time and place of the next NAC meeting.
Sitting through the NAC meetings, I kept asking myself just which of the actions they took did they not want the public to know about? Just what warranted closed, secret meetings? From what are they cowering? Apparently something must have gone on in Chicago that John Taylor and I did not attend and which they wish to keep secret.
They likened themselves unto the Red Cross and the Girl Scouts. It probably never occurred to them that both these organizations operate entirely on private funds, seeking no money from Washington, and that neither of these groups takes actions which determine policies for agencies funded by state and federal tax dollars. But then, they don't care, I'm convinced, about the public's dollars. To them it is simply a question of professional standards.
I went to Chicago hoping that reason might prevail; that these distinguished gentlemen might still be able to appreciate the real importance of consumer participation.
Sitting on the DC-9, winging my way back to Arkansas, homeland of J.M. Woolley and the new NAC Board member, Lieutenant Governor Bob Riley, I recalled the events of June 20 and 21 in Chicago. It is not that these people disagree with us; it is that we speak different languages. Picture Dan Robinson's remark: the word "consumerism" has become so bastardized as to be meaningless. They really don't appreciate what most blind Americans face as a part of daily life. To them a blind American is Peter Salmon, who took occasion to talk about his chauffeur. No, NAC is not going to have a change of heart and reconsider consumer participation. Each of them will try to forget that there were several hundred blind men and women outside, protesting their actions. This they cannot do, however, for they were too aware of our presence. Little was said to acknowledge the demonstration at least but you could read in their reactions that they were afraid: afraid that things wouldn't be as they had been in the days when the sheltered workshop was considered kind and the agencies' services weren't questioned. A number of them, I am certain, were questioning their participation in NAC. They will do a great deal of thinking in the weeks to come. One should not be too surprised to see a number of resignations in coming months.
It is interesting to note that at least one NAC board member, Bob Buckley, from Iowa, resigned prior to the board meeting. What is particularly enlightening is the fact that neither his name nor his resignation were mentioned during any of the meetings to which John Taylor and I were invited. They are scared: scared of what can happen when a board member copes with personal integrity, and scared to acknowledge resignations. The question we must answer is how scared they will become. The answer lies in our hands.
Following the end of the board meeting, John Taylor and I found our friends in force in the central courtyard, where a dialogue was underway between Don Morris, our ever present and always energetic chairman, and Bob Barnett, Uncle Bob. But all we got was more evidence that we apparently speak different languages we English and they NAC-anese. Barnett was finally saved from his embarrassment when two of his friends dragged him from our midst. It seems that Mr. Barnett was about to miss his lunch. Oh well! It was extremely reassuring to sit in the meetings knowing that hundreds of blind friends were outside, braving the sun and fatigue to express the feelings of tens of thousands of blind people from throughout the country, loudly, but peacefully. Our honor, in contrast to NAC's deception, must stand as a symbol: something for all of us to follow in the coming months as we pursue the reformation or disappearance of NAC. Let history record just who it was that failed to meet the issues. NAC, the dirt is on your hands, not on the hands of the Red Cross, the Girl Scouts, or the blind of this country.
by Don Brown
Glory, glory, Federation; NAC needs some alteration. Start with representation; Our cause goes marching on.
This song, spontaneously created and sung on the Chicago picket lines, captures the spirit and mood of the three hundred Federationists who came from all over this nation to demonstrate their concern and protest their grievances to the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Despite NAC's efforts to keep the time and location of their summer board meeting a secret from the National Federation of the Blind until the last moment; and despite NAC's choice of the O'Hare Inn for their meeting place, a hotel hidden away from the mainstream of Chicago's activity in the airport complex; and despite the choice of the meeting time, June 20th and 21st, in the middle of a work week, the National Federation of the Blind demonstrations against NAC can only be judged an overwhelming success.
I arrived in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, June 19th, the day before the first NAC meeting, and found a large group of Federationists from several states already busily at work putting together picket signs in the National Federation of the Blind demonstration headquarters located in the O'Hare Inn. The work went cheerfully and quickly, perhaps because we are becoming more proficient in sign assembly with each passing NAC demonstration. The first briefing session took place at nine o'clock that evening. Don Morris urged a standing-room-only crowd that flowed into and down the hall to keep their cool during the demonstrations and to be on our guard against whatever NAC might throw at us. Don pointed out that, based on previous experience, we could expect almost anything from NAC, and he pointed out that we had to maintain restraint at all times.
The next morning, Wednesday, June 20th, Federationists clambered aboard two Greyhound buses; and, leaving a large delegation of demonstrators behind to man picket lines at the front of the hotel, we headed for the downtown Chicago Civic Center. We were greeted there by a large delegation of Illinois Federationists swelling our ranks to well over one hundred enthusiastic demonstrators. We stationed ourselves on the four corners of the block, at the doorways to the Civic Center, with the remainder of us circling the block. All of us carried signs and handed out thousands of handbills to the public. Deep concern and indignation were often expressed by those Chicagoans we had the opportunity to reach that morning. Later that morning President Jernigan arrived from a successful press conference and joined us at the barricades. Carrying a picket sign, President Jernigan marched around the block. The number and enthusiasm of the Federationists at the Civic Center that morning can be measured by the number of Federationists who attempted to give President Jernigan and each other handbills. President Jernigan spoke to an interested public by microphone from a platform, eloquently expressing our cause and what they, as concerned citizens, could do to help create an atmosphere in which NAC would be responsive to the needs of the blind.
At noon we boarded the Greyhound buses for the bumper-to-bumper trip back to the O'Hare Inn. Three picket lines were maintained throughout the afternoon and evening of June 20 and the morning of June 21. Two picket lines were at the front of the hotel, one on either side of the hotel's front entrance, while a third group maintained a vigil around the hotel swimming pool. The NAC board meeting room was adjacent to this courtyard area. We walked for hours, singing songs, chanting slogans, and talking to hotel guests.
The Chicago press was on the scene throughout Wednesday afternoon. Newspaper reporters talked to Federationists from all over the country while newspaper photographers captured on film the number of demonstrators for their reading public. Television cameras and microphones were in view that afternoon recording the action and enthusiasm of the festive but disciplined singing and chanting marchers.
The picket lines were disbanded at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, and we returned to the National Federation of the Blind demonstration headquarters for a briefing session at which Don Morris commended the gathered Federationists for their enthusiasm, hard work, and self-discipline.
The next morning at 8:00 a.m., a Greyhound bus carried a group to the airport terminal where they carried signs and gave handbills to the passing public. Thursday morning the press evidenced their interest by their presence, many staying on the scene longer than some of the NAC board members themselves. The bulk of the Federationists were on the three hotel picket lines by 8:00 a.m. Thursday morning. By midmorning the bus had returned from the airport complex and the largest group of Federation demonstrators of the two day meeting began a vigil for the emergence of the NAC board members from their meeting. We all gathered in the inner courtyard adjacent to the NAC board meeting room and softly sang and chanted songs, quietly standing and holding our signs. The NAC board meeting dispersed at 12:30 and the successful National Federation of the Blind demonstration ended at 1:00 p.m. We returned to the National Federation of the Blind demonstration headquarters where we were briefed on the closed NAC board meeting by our two observers.
By any measure, the demonstration was a success. One is moved by the dedication of Federationists who traveled thousands of miles at tremendous personal expense and inconvenience, either individually or in groups, as the National Federation of the Blind of California and the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa did by chartered bus. The solidarity of the group, its self-discipline and enthusiasm were an impressive testimony to those who participated. The impact that we had on Chicago can be measured by the extensive and favorable press coverage that we were given by the local news media. The impact that we had on NAC can be measured by the open hostility that we encountered in many NAC board and staff members. This hostility is witness to our effectiveness for it accurately reflects the feeling of many NACsters that their position of credibility in the eyes of Congress, the blind, and the public has been shaken, and that they are on the run, and that they know that the National Federation of the Blind will continue to track NAC.
by Nancy Smalley
Where does a "Freedom Bus" go? What is a "NACster"? On June 17, 1973, thirty-one California Federationists boarded their bus and left for Chicago. This "Freedom Bus" was chartered by the National Federation of the Blind of California and was financed largely through donations from California's fifty local affiliates. The enthusiastic travelers paid for the rest of the trip out of their own pockets.
The destination of this bus was Chicago's O'Hare Inn, or NAC-land. NAC, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, was holding its semiannual conference, and Federationists from all over the nation wanted to be present to voice their disapproval of NAC's acts. Giving NAC accreditation to sheltered workshops which pay far below minimum wage standards, for example, is not met with a great deal of acceptance by most blind people. The organized blind have no voice in this so-called accreditation although they are most assuredly affected by it. However, once an agency receives this accreditation it is eligible for federal funds from the Department of HEW. Approximately $600,000 of taxpayers' money has been used to date. Blind people feel that if they, the consumers of the services of these agencies, can voice no opinions regarding these services, then federal funds should not be used for such a program. Thus, hundreds of Federationists felt compelled to personally protest the activities of NAC. The California "Freedom Bus," with its load of weary travelers, pulled into Chicago Tuesday morning, June 19. But these Californians had come to work; and, after a shower, a change of clothes, and a bite to eat, they were busy at work assembling picket signs in the headquarters suite. Phones were capably handled by Judy Boyle [who is multi-handicapped] during most of the Chicago stay. The picket sign assembly line went on into the evening, but finally the last one was completed and stored for easy availability. That night a briefing session was held relating to events for the following day. Californians greeted and mingled with Federationists from other states. Don Brown and Arthur Eick had flown in and joined the group. Mr. Eick, in his eighties, proved there was no generation gap in this high-spirited group which was composed of college students and right on up the ladder of accumulating years.
Wednesday morning found our group back on the "Freedom Bus," but this time only to take the short trip into Chicago's Civic Center Plaza. Hundreds of Federationists carried picket signs and passed out handbills all morning at the Plaza. To further interest and educate the public, Dr. Jernigan and other blind leaders used the Plaza's public-address system to explain our cause. Around noon, picketers, picket signs, and handbills were back on the bus heading toward NAC-land where "NACsters" had gathered.
Bob Acosta, ably assisted by Don Brown, was our committee member from California to help coordinate the demonstration. Organized picketing continued throughout Wednesday afternoon and on into late evening while the NAC banquet was in progress. This degree of organization could not have been accomplished without a great deal of hard work on the part of many people. Don Morris, of Iowa, and Ralph Sanders, of Arkansas, were on top of the situation at all times. Dr. Jernigan himself was seen with a picket sign in his hand. Bob received complete cooperation from the Californians, and Bob's own voice could often be heard leading our people in thechant, NAC, No! Blind Rights, Yes!
While a majority of people were at the Plaza Wednesday morning, a group remained to cover the O'Hare Inn. This group was most ably organized and overseen by Kathy Northridge and Mary Catalano.
When Thursday morning rolled around the rather tired picketers were back in line, picket signs and handbills in hand, but still enthusiastically singing and chanting. By now most of our people had sunburned faces and blistered feet. Marching on a picket line is no easy task. Braving the elements such as the sun and wind takes a lot of strong will and fortitude.
Federationists were on hand until the final NAC meeting adjourned. But NAC would not talk to us, with the exception of Mr. Talbert, who met briefly with the Californians. John Taylor was not allowed to give his short statement. John and Ralph Sanders surely attended those meetings as silent observers. Bob Barnett, from the American Foundation for the Blind, talked briefly with some of us as he left the meeting but refused to see the seriousness of the matter. Were all our efforts going down the drain? Was NAC completely unfazed by our presence? I think not. They were, indeed, aware of our presence; and they must have realized we are not about to give up the fight. The National Federation of the Blind is going to pursue this matter to the finish.
Thursday afternoon, June 21, the Californians once again boarded their Freedom Bus and braced themselves for the long trip back to Los Angeles. Would there be a letdown on the return trip after all the events of the past week? No indeed; there was not. This hearty crew had just begun to fight. Earl Carlson was a mass of bandaids covering the blisters on his feet that he received while acting as messenger throughout the large complex of the O'Hare Inn. Ed Crespin was another who covered the area, assisting people and substituting for picketers needing a break.
A feeling of happiness, success, and togetherness existed throughout the group. Repeated choruses of Glory, Glory, Federation could be heard sporadically during the trip. Although the trip was long and tiring, it was relieved with jokes and stories, courtesy of Al Gil and others, singing, and a general good time until the final stop where we parted company.
The Federation's most historic event, aside from its founding, occurred most appropriately on Dr. tenBroek's birthday, Friday, July 6. At about mid-morning a foundation-shaking (American Foundation for the Blind-shaking) rollcall took place. As the President of the National Federation of the Blind called the names of the states, the delegates arose and made their way to their appointed places, secured state standards and picket signs, and marched the half mile, two-by-two, and four-by-four, on the sidewalks of New York with dignity, pride, and great decorum, to fill busy Madison Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets, curb to curb, chanting: Fifty thousand blind people/Can't be wrong, and We can speak/For ourselves. There, before the building which houses NAC, the President of the National Federation of the Blind presided over the hanging of NAC in effigy and its burial in a huge wooden coffin (which had been carried in the line of march by some of the Federation's finest and heaviest) with such pomp and circumstance as the occasion deserved. President Jernigan addressed the crowd and delivered the following eulogy:
Eulogy for NAC
They came, they said, to help the blind the poor, unfortunate blind. They came, they said, to help the agencies the many agencies who help the blind. They came, they said, to establish standards to improve the services provided to the blind the poor, unfortunate blind.
Instead, they came and they hurt the blind. They came, and they gave sanction to agencies which provide sub-standard services to the blind. They came, but they came with repression, with bad faith, and with attempts at political control of the blind.
In the beginning there was the American Foundation for the Blind. And the American Foundation begat COMSTAC. And COMSTAC begat NAC. They came from the welfare establishment, and they came from the dens of political power. They came, and they gave us NAC NAC, which was conceived in sin and born of corruption.
And when we, the blind, saw this NAC and learned of its ways, we came saying, NAC is not competent to speak for us at best, it can speak with us.
But they would not listen. NAC would not listen. The American Foundation for the Blind would not listen. When we said, Let us take part, they closed their doors. When we said, Let us speak for ourselves, they closed their ears.
Finally we came marching marching to take part, marching to be heard, marching to be free, marching to be treated like human beings. And when we came marching, they closed their eyes. They locked us out, and they turned us out, but we are here today because they cannot turn us off. We have tried every channel of communication to bring about reform of NAC. It is not that NAC cannot hear us: They don't want to hear us.
But they will hear us. They will know we are here today in the largest gathering of blind people ever assembled in the history of the world. And whenever and wherever NAC meets again, we will be there.
NAC is not alone in the harm it has done to the blind, for some of the blame must be shared by officials of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, who have given NAC over $600,000 of the taxpayers' money.
We have come too far to forget the American Foundation for the Blind and its role in creating NAC. We have come too far to forget the role of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Company and other wealthy corporations in supporting NAC. We have come too far to forget, for the hurt to blind people has been great.
We have come today to confront NAC. We have come to confront its secrecy and its refusal to talk with us. We have come seeking redress of our grievances and the righting of our wrongs. If NAC will not listen to us, then the Congress will listen; and the public will listen. Our cause is just.
We have come to assert our independence. Hear us, NAC. Hear us clearly. We shall determine our own destinies and be free from you and all that you represent. We have come here to put NAC aside. We have come to put away that which has hurt us and replace it with our own freedom.
The communications media were there in force and in all their forms. The ubiquitous Miss New, NAC's all-around coverup girl, came as usual to dissuade the press, radio, and TV people from listening to us with her familiar phrase but it is all a misunderstanding on the part of the blind, of course. It would seem that the blind don't appreciate NAC's efforts to run their lives for them. There were many on-the-spot interviews with President Jernigan and other Federationists.
The ceremonies over, most of the marchers returned to the convention. However, several hundred boarded waiting buses for the ride uptown to the headquarters offices of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Company. The huge building on Park Avenue is set well back from the street. It was noon hour, the weather was pleasant, and many people were out on the building's large plaza.
It was obvious that our group was expected. The first Federationists off the bus were greeted by a well-groomed young man who asked seemingly innocent questions spurred by curiosity as he walked the picket line with the marchers. Groups of men in twos or threes approached others with questions about the reason for the picketing, who the marchers were, whom they represented, what the Federation had against NAC, what had Dan Robinson done, and such like. All were answered, politely and in full.
While the pickets marched and chanted in front of the building, a delegation of Federationists, led by Don Morris of Iowa and Ralph Sanders of Arkansas, went up to the offices of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Company to see Mr. Robinson. Needless to say, they were not received by NAC's new president, and his emissary was anything but polite; in fact, he was rude and threatening. But whether there was direct communication or not, NAC got the message.
This great effort to carry our case to NAC and the public would not have been possible without the complete cooperation of New York's public officials and especially its fine police force. The convention expressed its feelings by unanimously adopting the following Resolution:
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind conducted the largest demonstration of blind people in the history of the world to protest against the harmful actions of the National Accreditation Council; and
WHEREAS, this protest demonstration involved the movement of upwards of two thousand demonstrators across midtown Manhattan with attendant disruption of traffic; and
WHEREAS, the complete assistance of the New York City Police Department was rendered with utmost courtesy, efficiency, and friendliness: Now therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this 6th day of July, 1973, in the City of New York, that this organization instruct its President to convey our heartfelt gratitude and deep appreciation for the invaluable services rendered by the Police Department of the City of New York; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a special message of thanks be given to Captain Wiener of the New York Police Department who showed more devotion and understanding in two hours than NAC has shown during its entire existence; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be delivered to the Honorable John V. Lindsay, Mayor of the City of New York.
by Shirley Lebowitz
The first time I ever carried a picket sign was in December, 1972, when the NAC board of directors held a meeting at the Prince George Hotel in New York City. I joined a small but determined group of Federationists to demonstrate for meaningful consumer representation on the policy-making board of NAC. In spite of the cold, strong, winter winds, we did not put down our picket signs, give up and go home. We spoke then, but NAC did not listen.
Six-and-a-half months later we organized another demonstration. This time there was a longer line of marchers at the O'Hare Inn in Des Plaines, Illinois, and in spite of the blazing hot summer sun, we did not put down our picket signs, give up, and go home. Because of the lack of pedestrian traffic at the O'Hare Inn, we could not speak to the man on the street but we came to be heard by NAC, and they did hear us, but once again, they did not listen.
Two weeks later on July 6, 1973, an army of Federationists from every state affiliate joined us as we moved the barricades to the doorstep of the NAC offices at 79 Madison Avenue, New York. Once again, we were seen and heard, and, just as before, NAC did not listen. When will they ever learn?
During the seventies, and beyond, the organized blind kept up a drumbeat of activity marches; confrontations; TV, radio, and press interviews; Monitor articles; and more protesting the policies and practices of NAC and its companion agencies. The persistent campaign was not long in bearing fruit; by the end of the decade NAC had not only lost credibility within the blindness system, it had lost the government funding (provided by Health, Education, and Welfare) and also had lost increasing numbers of agencies no longer interested in its accreditation. Gradually but steadily NAC saw its vaunted power reduced and its authority and reputation put in question. Although it struggled on into the eighties, clinging to its remnant of clients and cursing the name of the organized blind, NAC ceased to be a major impediment in the path of the movement and became instead a minor nuisance.
Among the instrumental factors in the decline of NAC was an authoritative critical analysis of the agency in the form of An Open Letter to Directors of Agencies Serving the Blind Concerning N.A.C. and its Accrediting Practices which was published in the Braille Monitor in 1978 (August-September issue). This comprehensive report, written in scholarly language and painstakingly documented, reviewed the history of NAC with reference particularly to certain key cases which had gained public notoriety during the decade of the seventies (those of NAC-supported sheltered shops in Cleveland and Minneapolis, plus a state agency in Florida). The full text of the Monitor report follows:
The purpose of this letter is to provide information about the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) information we hope will cause you to consider seriously whether NAC accreditation is the way to achieve or maintain high standards of service within your agency. The information is presented to you by the National Federation of the Blind, the nation's largest consumer organization of the blind, themselves. Because the Federation has been the collective voice of the blind for nearly 40 years, and because in that time we have been associated with most of the advances in programs and civil rights for the blind, we feel that we can speak about quality services with some weight. Yet because we have been at odds with the National Accreditation Council for more than ten years, and because our efforts to reform NAC have led NAC's officers to characterize the Federation, among other things, as the negative forces of misguided, counterproductive elements, some agency directors have come to regard the National Federation of the Blind as just one side in a political struggle.
Recognizing that this intense controversy has tended to call into question the objectivity of both NAC and the National Federation of the Blind, this letter will rely as little as possible on judgments. It will concentrate on evidence from sources outside of the Federation from court judgments, from federal investigations, and from people in the field unconnected with the National Federation of the Blind or NAC. This sort of evidence has been piling up for a number of years. We believe there is no longer a question about the worth and purpose of NAC accreditation.
It will be necessary to provide a context for the information we wish to present; and it will be necessary to make a number of judgments in order to do so. These judgments particularly those relating to events and trends now some ten or more years in the past could be supported as amply as more recent events. We shall not do so, since one of our purposes here is to state the case briefly. The past, except as a general background, is unnecessary to prove our case. Discount our judgments if you wish to; the events of the last few years speak clearly, and they are verified by evidence that cannot be discounted.
It is generally accepted that the last fifty years have seen a revolution in attitudes toward the blind. Before that stretching back through history there was an unquestioned belief that the blind are helpless, suited only for custody in special institutions or, at best, for work in a few handcraft trades (such as chair caning and broom making) or the simple, repetitive tasks performed in the traditional sheltered workshop.
This view of blindness now is recognized by most people as limiting and obsolete. With the development of alternative techniques to overcome a lack of sight, the blind have emerged from their age-old isolation and joined the mainstream of society. The trend toward emphasizing ability rather than disability took some getting used to, but gradually most of those in the field of work with the blind embraced it. Certainly the blind welcomed a philosophy that freed them from their rocking chairs and asylums.
But as happens when any major change in attitudes occurs, there was opposition to the new philosophy of blindness. This was a remarkable thing: Why should those who had devoted their lives to helping the blind resent the progress of the blind toward independence and full participation? The answer is a very common and human one. Some professionals were unable to see beyond their financial and psychological investment in the status quo.
Within the last five years, a questionnaire was distributed to the administrators of sheltered workshops in the country. Near the end appeared the question: Do you find that your blind clients are less grateful today for what you are doing for them than they were ten years ago? This is the psychological investment in a nutshell. A few decades ago, an agency director put it a different way when he said: To dance and sing, to play and act, to swim, bowl and rollerskate, to work creatively in clay, wood, aluminum or tin, to make dresses, to join in group readings or discussions, to have group entertainments and parties, to engage in many other activities of one's own choosing this is to fill the life of anyone with the things that make life worth living.
In answer to this, Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation of the Blind, replied: Are these the vital channels of self-expression for you? Are these the indispensable ingredients that make life worth living? Or are these only the minor and peripheral touches that lend variety to a life well-filled with more substantial things such as a job, a home, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
Some professionals understandably felt that the blind were biting the hand that had fed them for centuries. The blind didn't see it this way; they felt that an establishment had grown up that fed on their dependency, that depended on their dependency.
The financial investment of some professionals in the old attitudes is even easier to understand. Work with the blind has long been a place for wealthy philanthropists to direct their contributions and their friends and cousins. Salaries for blindness professionals are high, the emotional rewards are great, the public acclaim for those who enter the field gratifying.
A typical case is the traditional lighthouse or sheltered workshop. Blind workers even today may be paid as little as 25 percent of the minimum wage. Shop managers, on the other hand, are usually paid generous salaries and work with excellent security and in comfortable conditions. Often a good deal of social recognition goes along as an added benefit (if only in the social mixing with the wealthy who support the lighthouses). But when the blind begin to discuss extending minimum wage laws to the shops, or talk about unions, or demand places on the shop board of directors, it is seen by management (and rightly so) as a threat to their traditional perquisites.
This fear of change and resistance to new attitudes was widespread in the 1940s, at the time of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind. But it has largely died away as professionals saw the stunning results of the new ideas. As the blind gained access to education, to the common callings and professions, it became obvious that work with the blind could be a much more positive and truly rewarding endeavor than it had been in the old days of custodialism.
To some, though, this whole trend was a pill so bitter that it could not be swallowed. The agency with the greatest investment both financially and psychologically in the old system was the venerable American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), a New York agency that came close to dominating the field in the early part of this century and which had amassed vast financial resources as a result of its pre-eminence. It was involved in some of the early advances in technology for the blind; it virtually owned Helen Keller (it has used her name to raise millions and millions of dollars); in Congress and literally around the world, the AFB was regarded as the ultimate authority on blindness.
As the Federation grew (concurrent with the change in public attitudes toward the handicapped), the American Foundation's domination of the field declined. But unlike most of the other traditional agencies, the Foundation was unwilling to adapt itself to the new situation. It resisted the notion that blind people could speak for themselves; indeed, it labeled their insistence on doing so a form of neurosis growing out of their blindness. Gradually, professionals and agencies in the field who, for whatever reason, found the new independence of the blind inconvenient looked to the Foundation for support. The American Foundation for the Blind became a bastion of the old style custodialism.
The Origins of NAC
This division in the field and the Foundation's waning prestige led to the establishment of the National Accreditation Council.
In the early 1960s, the AFB announced the formation of a Commission on Standards and Accreditation for Services for the Blind (COMSTAC). Later this became the National Accreditation Council. The ostensible reason for COMSTAC and NAC was laudable enough. As expressed in 1976 by Louis Rives, Jr., NAC's current president, this was as follows:
The standards and accreditation system of which NAC is the voice came from within the field from the experience of blind people, from government and other suppliers of services to blind people, and from the public which supports agencies and schools for the blind. All agreed there should be some objective way to determine whether an agency or school is doing a good job. In 1967 they joined in creating NAC to provide this objective determination through a voluntary system of accreditation.
The broad consensus Mr. Rives refers to is a public relations fantasy. The American Foundation for the Blind believed it already represented such a consensus; NAC was an attempt to impose the AFB's views on the rest of the field.
There were no open forums to develop standards. Meetings were held that were advertised as having this purpose; but those who attended were handed standards that had been formulated beforehand. Criticisms of this procedure and the standards themselves were ignored. Indeed, those who were thought to be hostile to the AFB were turned away at the door. (In 1973 the National Federation of the Blind prepared three publications documenting the early history of NAC. These are available to anyone who wishes to explore the matter further.)
The origins of NAC, the make-up of its board of directors, and the trading of staff between NAC and the AFB make NAC's claim to represent an objective consensus untenable. Even without all this, NAC's financial history removes all doubt in the matter. In 1968, according to NAC documents, $70,000 out of a projected budget of $154,034 was to come from the AFB; most of the rest came from a $75,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In succeeding years, particularly after HEW cut off its funding, the AFB increased its contributions to make up for other losses of income. In fiscal 1977 (according to the NAC Annual Report), out of a total income of $301,962, the AFB provided $188,000.
Nor has the Foundation's support been limited to directgrants. When a small band of National Federation of the Blind members broke away in the early 1960s to form the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the Foundation courted the group, spurring it to attack anyone who questioned the value of NAC accreditation. More recently the Foundation began making direct grants to the ACB. Immediately after these grants began, the ACB's magazine, the Braille Forum, began printing NAC-originated attacks on the National Federation of the Blind. ACB staff members have been put on the boards of NAC and the Foundation.
During the early years of NAC, despite Mr. Rives's statement about voluntary accreditation, the blind witnessed a variety of attempts by the AFB to pass legislation or guidelines at both the state and federal level to condition government funding on NAC accreditation.
Concerning the NAC standards themselves, at first all that could be said was that they placed an overwhelming emphasis on ensuring that agency staff would enjoy job security and their traditional privileges. The standards were also concerned with the details of the agency's bureaucratic structure. The agency's effect on its blind clients on whether they were being prepared for independent participation in society was a secondary, and apparently irrelevant, consideration.
Irrelevant as the NAC standards were to the real concerns of blind people, it soon became clear that they were irrelevant for another reason. It became clear that NAC accreditation did not depend on an agency's adhering to the standards. Our reasons for concluding this are discussed later; but there is no reason to doubt that it is so: NAC officials concede the point.
At the NAC annual meeting held in November, 1977, in Phoenix, an observer asked about the discrepancy between the practices of accredited agencies and the language of the standards. Wesley Sprague, chairman of NAC's Commission on Standards, replied that every agency has when they're reaccredited or accredited has to abide by the standards of the various sections as pertain to them. But then Richard Bleecker, NAC's executive director, interrupted to explain:
Excuse me, as I may add a postscript to the answer. I want to be complete in responding to Mr. Parker. And I would love nothing more than to concede the correctness. However, I must point out that not every accredited agency is able to meet every standard. And meeting every standard is not a precondition to accreditation. In fact, no accredited agency as yet meets every standard. Accreditation and standards are a direction, and it's a process of improvement. To be accredited, the agency must either meet the standards or have an awareness and commitment to attempt to meet them.
To which we would simply add that if the precondition to accreditation is only a commitment to attempt to meet the standards, accreditation becomes meaningless.
The Decline of NAC
What must an agency do, then, to gain NAC accreditation? It must give public support to the American Foundation for the Blind and NAC, or some of the agency's directors must also be members of the AFB or NAC boards. To understand why NAC would adopt such a practice (and we believe the fact that it has will not be in question by the end of this letter), we must look at the setbacks NAC has received in the last few years.
At first NAC accomplished a respectable number of accreditations each year. In 1970 (the year NAC had its highest net gain), 16 agencies were added to its list. At that time NAC had high hopes of continuing this rate of growth. According to a 1974 report on NAC by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO): During the SRS team visit in March, 1973, NAC told the team its fiscal year 1978 projected budget was $379,000 and an estimated total of 200 or about 50% of the approximately 400 organizations serving the blind and visually handicapped would by then be accredited.
Yet even when this statement was made, professional and agency support for NAC was dropping away. In fiscal 1975 the net gain was four agencies; in fiscal 1976 it was five; and in fiscal 1977 it was only three. Thus by the end of 1977, instead of nearing its projection of 200, NAC had only 67 accredited agencies. (We use the term net gains because during this period several agencies made the decision not to renew their accreditation when it expired.)
Another setback occurred in 1973 when an ad hoc committee of the American Library Association's Round Table on Library Services to the Blind stated: It is the consensus of the committee members that the NAC standards as they pertain to library service for the blind are no longer relevant. Following this, NAC withdrew its library standards and no longer accredits libraries.
A major setback was the loss of HEW funding, which in the early 1970s accounted for roughly half of NAC's budget. The GAO report discusses the termination of the grant that provided this funding: The Director, Division of Project Grants Administration, SRS, told us that the NAC grant was recommended for phase-out in 1975 by the Division of Project Grants Administration because of:
- NAC's poor performance record;
- Low acceptance of NAC accreditation by blind agencies.
- A low cost-benefit ratio.*
(*This GAO report, made in response to a request from Congressman John Brademas and published in September 1974, has been talked about widely by NAC and represented as clearing NAC of all the criticisms brought against it. As will be clear from the few portions already quoted, the report simply recounts what GAO investigators were told by the people they talked to. The GAO found no financial malfeasance which is all that an accounting office can determine but then no financial wrongdoing had been alleged. The problems with NAC have nothing to do with accounting.)
Two other occurrences from this period (1973-1975) are also represented by NAC officials as absolving it from criticism. One is an HEW study done in 1973, the other is a statement inserted in the Congressional Record by Congressman Brademas. The HEW study was made by a panel heavily weighted toward NAC. One of the panel members was Louis Rives (now president of NAC and even then a strong partisan of the agency). Another member was Arthur Korn, who had been involved in the organization of COMSTAC, NAC's predecessor.
The circumstances surrounding the Brademas statement speak to NAC's credibility. Speaking in July, 1975, NAC executive director Richard Bleecker said: You may remember Congressman Brademas as the one who called on the U.S. General Accounting Office, the official investigative arm of the Congress, to make a thorough study of these charges and accusations [against NAC], a study which, as you know, did not sustain them. Since then, Mr. Brademas has been looking with great care at this whole thing to see what the fuss is all about. And, I am pleased to report, he has recently inserted a statement in the "Congressional Record" that uncompromisingly recognizes NAC as a responsible and effective standards-setting, accrediting body.
However, when the Federation contacted Mr. Brademas's office, we learned that the statement in question had been prepared by NAC and that Mr. Brademas inserted it in the Record as a courtesy gesture. As Mr. Brademas himself later wrote: I am troubled to learn that my insertion of a report of NAC's programs has been construed as singling out for recognition of NAC's accreditation process. Rather, I intended my statement and the report of NAC's work to be included in the Congressional Record as information for those interested in standards for agencies that serve visually handicapped people.
Finally, NAC relies heavily on the fact that the U.S. Office of Education has NAC on a list of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies and Associations, a list which includes accrediting bodies for everything from embalming to landscaping. Yet in the summer of 1976, when NAC applied for a grant from the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped the section of the Office of Education with expertise in blindness the proposal was rejected. All of these instances show what is generally recognized in any event that approval or disapproval by the government is a political process and that most government reports have in them something for everyone.
We now turn to an examination of a few of the agencies determined by NAC to be providing quality services to the blind. Our general thesis is that the test of an accrediting system is not its public statements but the programs it approves. In choosing examples we have focused on agencies whose problems go beyond differences of philosophy.
In 1972, the blind of Florida received services from the NAC-accredited Bureau of Blind Services (this has now been reorganized into the Office of Services for the Blind). It was the state licensing agency for the federal Randolph-Sheppard program (under which blind persons have a priority to operate vending facilities on federal property). As the state licensing agency, the Bureau had responsibility for managing the support services for the vending facilities, a number of which were located at Cape Canaveral.
A state licensing agency may take (or set aside) a portion of vendors' earnings for certain purposes that are narrowly defined in federal law. These include (1) maintenance and replacement of equipment; (2) purchase of new equipment; (3) management services (in other words, the payment of the salaries of stand supervisors); and (4) assuring a fair minimum return to other operators. The law makes it clear there may be no exceptions to these categories, and it says that the set-aside must be reasonable. In Florida, the Bureau determined that it was reasonable to take 6-1/2 percent of the vendors' gross profits. If a vendor were making a net profit of about 20 percent, this set-aside would amount to one-third of his income.
But in 1972, it emerged that the Bureau of Blind Services was withholding another five percent of gross profits from the vending operations at Cape Canaveral (or about another twenty percent of net profits) and transmitting this money to the recreation fund of the Cape's sighted space workers. When the local newspapers publicized this illegal additional set-aside, the Bureau stopped withholding it. This, however, was just the beginning. The stand supervisor then went to the vendors with a consent form authorizing the Bureau to withhold two percent of gross profits. When one of the vendors refused to sign this, he was told he would lose his vending stand. The vendor, James Parkman, went to court.
At this point the Bureau changed its mind. The suit was dropped after the Secretary of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (of which the Bureau was a part) issued the following directive:
(A) There shall be no approach of any kind whatsoever to any blind person working in the vending stand program by any employee or agent of the Bureau of Blind Services, including any blind person working in the vending stand program, regarding contributions to the NASA Exchange Council or to any other organization, group, or fund of any kind except for standard practices such as asking state employees if they would consider contributing to the United Fund or participating in group insurance.
(B) There shall be no action taken by the Bureau of Blind Services, its agents, or employees, including blind persons working in the vending stand program, adverse to the interest of any blind person working in the vending stand program because of his refusal to contribute to any organization, group, or fund, including, but not limited to, the NASA Exchange Council, United Fund, group insurance, nor shall any such refusal be considered in any manner by Bureau of Blind Services with regard to any action adverse to the interests of any blind person working in the vending stand program, including, but not limited to, transfer and termination.
The practice that this directive ended indicated an insensitivity to the rights of the blind vendors. It also, of course, worked a severe financial hardship on them. The blind of Florida considered that it was not an example of quality service. Whether it was or not, it undoubtedly was a violation of federal law. Throughout this time, the Bureau of Blind Services was accredited by NAC. Despite the Bureau's violation of the law and its coercion of the blind vendors to stifle their complaints, the agency was judged by NAC to be maintaining a high standard of service.
The case of the NAC-accredited Cleveland Society for the Blind is similar to the one discussed, but it goes much further.
In the early l970s, the Cleveland Society was the so-called nominee agency for the Randolph-Sheppard program in Ohio (that is, the state licensing agency contracted with the Society to manage the vending program). Each year the Cleveland Society received a part of its operating budget from the United Torch Services.
The problems with the Society's management of the vending program began to come to light in the fall of 1972, when Cleo Dolan, executive director of the Society, sent a memorandum to the vendors stating that we are anticipating and expecting the [snack bar] managers to participate in the United Torch Service campaign at the same degree as our regular staff persons. We have tentatively agreed among all of us who are so vitally involved in the United Torch Services campaign this year, that any gifts less than one-half of one percent of the total earnings of a worker would not be an acceptable pledge. Once again, we point out that this 1/2 percent was of gross earnings, or several times that in net earnings.
When the vendors protested the peremptory tone of Mr. Dolan's memo, he wrote back, saying: We are concerned that we have undoubtedly not provided sufficient strong administrative guidelines and have attempted to involve those who are employed to a greater degree, which apparently has weakened our program.
Mr. Dolan concluded by stating: Again, I personally doubt that you failed to get the message that we were attempting to communicate, and I think your interpretation was correct. Namely, we do feel strongly about the support of the United Torch Services and we doubt that further elaboration on the reasons should be necessary to this particular group.
Earlier we discussed the amounts that may be set aside by an agency administering the Randolph-Sheppard program. Shortly after these memos from Mr. Dolan, the Cleveland Society began deducting an additional set-aside which it called a service charge. At this point the vendors hired a lawyer and began looking into the Society's management practices. The result was a lawsuit claiming that the Society had, over the years, withheld funds in excess of $1 million for purposes other than those permitted by the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Stand Act.
This was not the only irregularity found in the Society's management of the vending program. In order to operate a vending facility, a blind person had to sign a contract granting the Society the right to summarily terminate his or her job if the Society decided the vendor had violated any of the contract's terms. These terms covered such matters as diet, dress, bathing habits, use of body deodorants, changes of underwear, and nightly sleep most of them in such discretionary terms that the vendors were at the complete mercy of Mr. Dolan. Nothing in the Randolph-Sheppard Act gave the Society the authority to require such a contract, and this too was made part of the vendors' lawsuit.
The federal court has yet to rule on the issues in this suit (there have been delays involving jurisdictional matters), but the evidence caused the State of Ohio to terminate its contract with the Society to manage vending stands on state or federal property.
The National Accreditation Council, however, took no action at all. Despite the evidence of illegal conduct and, far worse, gross insensitivity to the human dignity of the blind vendors, NAC continued to regard the Cleveland Society for the Blind as an example of quality service. It is no coincidence that at that time Cleo Dolan was a member of the board of trustees of the American Foundation for the Blind.
A more blatant example than either of these is the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. As part of its program the Minneapolis Society operates a sheltered workshop for the blind. The Fair Labor Standards Act allows such workshops to pay a blind employee less than the statutory minimum wage if it is shown by a work evaluation that he or she produces less than a sighted worker laboring in the same conditions.
In 1974, a blind man (Lawrence Kettner) was put through such a work evaluation by the Minneapolis Society. The Society did not know that Mr. Kettner had already been hired by a private company at a rate above the minimum wage and was only seeking temporary employment in the Society's workshop until his other job began.
Mr. Kettner was evaluated over a period of 14 days; but time studies were made only on the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth days of the period. His duties were changed thus it was difficult for him to develop proficiency in any one task. The equipment available to him had breakdowns although he was being measured against sighted workers using functioning equipment. Finally, there were delays in receiving supplies yet this was not taken into account by the evaluators. Still, Mr. Kettner's productivity increased markedly between the time studies (from 42% of normal productivity to 79%), stressing the gross unfairness of placing the time studies near the beginning of the evaluation period.
Mr. Kettner was then asked by the Society to sign a minimum-wage waiver indicating that he was capable of only 75% normal productivity. When he resisted, he was told he would sign or receive no pay for the work he had done in the workshop. Needing the money (and with another job already arranged), Mr. Kettner gave in.
This incident was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, which issued a finding that the Society had violated the regulations promulgated under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Once more, here is a violation of the law that is not simply a matter of technical detail. The violation was committed in order to benefit the agency's administration at the cost of tangible damage to blind clients. The matter was brought to NAC; but the Minneapolis Society for the Blind remained an accredited agency.
This was just the beginning. During this same period, the Minneapolis Society decided to build an addition to its workshop. The contract for mechanical work was awarded to a firm owned by the man who was both president of the Society and chairman of the building committee. Although this was widely reported in the Minnesota press, once again NAC took no action to suspend the Society's accreditation.
Reacting to such abuses as the Kettner case, a number of blind persons in Minneapolis decided to seek a voice in the Society's operation. The board of the Minneapolis Society was elected at an annual meeting by the members of the Society. The Society raised funds through mail solicitations, and anyone who donated a dollar or more automatically became a member. So these blind Minnesotans joined the Society.
The Society reacted by expelling all of the members, limiting membership (and thus the privilege of electing the board) to the board members themselves. This action was beyond the board's authority under the articles of incorporation. Not to be stopped by this, the board now came forth with an amendment to the articles which it said had been passed in 1966. This amendment granted the board the power to make further amendments. To be valid, such amendments must be filed with the Secretary of State of Minnesota. The Society board claimed that although their amendment had been passed in 1966, it was not filed with the state until 1972 due to a clerical oversight.
When the blind persons who had been expelled began discussing a lawsuit, the board members realized they had been too hasty. The board reinstated the membership (although no new members were allowed to join). They also enrolled (without being requested to do so and without collecting any fees) all the members of several large community organizations (the Kiwanis Club, the Council for Jewish Women, etc.). They then called one last membership meeting to gain approval of their expulsion of the membership. The blind who wanted to join were not even permitted to attend as observers. They went to court instead.
The court, ruling in July, 1977, declared all of the Society's actions to be violations of state law and rescinded them. The judge stated:
The only reason, therefore, to terminate membership on April 19, 1972, was to eliminate the criticism of the Society by the plaintiff members and to preclude them from increasing their voice in the membership. Membership termination was a subterfuge for expulsion of the plaintiffs without having to comply with reasonable procedures for expulsion.
The judge went further: At a time when the evidence clearly reflects the need for active and concerned board leadership, the Society blatantly rejected the services of those who had the greatest knowledge of the feelings of the blind and who had progressed the furthest in overcoming the harsh realities of their handicap. In so doing, the defendant violated Minnesota [state law].
This matter also was brought to NAC's attention. NAC took no action of any kind. It is no coincidence that a member of the Minneapolis Society's board Raymond Kempf is also a member of the NAC Board.
These examples the Florida Bureau of Blind Services, the Cleveland Society for the Blind, and the Minneapolis Society for the Blind speak to the standard of administrative regularity to be expected in a NAC-accredited agency. NAC also asserts that its accredited agencies must have a high degree of consumer participation. (At the 1977 NAC annual meeting, board member Reese Robrahn stated that NAC is unique in the field of accreditation due to this insistence on consumer participation.) Considering that the Minneapolis Society was willing to violate state laws according to the judge for the sole purpose of excluding consumer participation, some may wonder how NAC defines the concept.
The NAC concept of consumerism is seen more clearly in the events that occurred at the NAC-accredited Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. The Chicago Lighthouse manages a large sheltered workshop operation. In 1976, its shops were the subject of a landmark ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Previously, such shops were excluded from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act on the theory that they were rehabilitation programs rather than business operations. In 1976 the NLRB reversed this position (on the simple evidence of the large profits of such rehabilitation programs) and ordered a union election at the Lighthouse.
The National Federation of the Blind, reacting to the abuses of the blind workers, had been involved in this NLRB decision. (As an example of the sort of thing we objected to, the Lighthouse created two categories of workers. Sighted workers who were called workers received the minimum wage and generous fringe benefits. Blind workers who were called clients received, in general, less than the minimum wage and no fringe benefits. In many cases there was no difference between the duties of workers and clients.)
Although about 85 percent of the shop-workers had signed union pledges before the NLRB ruling, when the election was held the workers voted against a union 68-50. This change of sentiment, it seemed clear to us, was due to the campaign of intimidation carried out by the Lighthouse management. Even before the election was held, the principal union organizer was fired. The management worked to convince the blind workers that a union would mean the end of their jobs and the closing of the shop. (A charge of unfair labor practices brought by several of the workers was not accepted by the NLRB, but it is indisputable that today all of the blind persons who labored to organize a union have been fired or laid off, as have many of those who voted for a union.)
The Federation considers this series of events an indication that the Chicago Lighthouse did not maintain a high standard of service to the blind; but it is brought up here for other reasons: It was one of the first times it became clear that NAC was actively involving itself in the internal affairs of an agency of which it was also purporting to be an objective judge. At the 1976 annual meeting of NAC, Fred McDonald, the executive director of the Lighthouse, made the following statement:
I want to publicly thank Dick [Richard Bleecker, executive director of NAC] and NAC for what they did to help me in Chicago at a very, very troubled time. As you know, I took over there as the new director of the Chicago Lighthouse just a year ago the first of December; and at that time we were under considerable fire from the National Federation of the Blind and, on top of that, from a labor union.
Whether or not you feel that blind shopworkers deserve the legal protections that are extended to sighted workers, it is surely unheard of for an accrediting agency to become directly involved in the affairs of an agency it accredits. Such a practice destroys even the semblance of the objectivity that must be the dominant characteristic of accreditation.
Returning to the question of consumer participation, it appears to have been at the instigation of Richard Bleecker that the management of the Lighthouse decided to organize its own consumer organization made up of blind Lighthouse staff members. The inference is not farfetched. At the 1976 NAC annual meeting, Fred McDonald referred to a demonstration planned by the Federation to protest the firing of the union organizers. He said:
Our friends downstairs, when they arrive in Chicago on Friday, are going to have a greeting committee of about another 100 blind people that are going to be carrying placards that say: We speak for ourselves; National Federation of the Blind does not speak for the blind of this country. And again, the base of this support has come right from Dick's meeting with our board in Chicago; and this was very, very important help.
This consumer group was formed by the Lighthouse and named, ironically, the Independent Blind of Illinois. Its president, Dennis Schreiber, is a Lighthouse staff member. Since then Dennis Schreiber has been active. To give an example of his activities, a blind federal employee delivered a speech in California. This blind man began by stating that his views were his own, and that he was not speaking for the government. Some days later, the head of the agency employing this man received a letter from Dennis Schreiber, writing as president of the Independent Blind although the letter was on the stationery of the Chicago Lighthouse, and suggesting that the agency take action against its employee. The revealing point was that in his speech this blind man had criticized not the Chicago Lighthouse, but the American Foundation for the Blind.
At NAC's 1977 annual meeting, Dennis Schreiber carried this further, suggesting:
I am asking you to send telegrams to Governor Robert Ray of Iowa and Acting Governor Blair Lee [of Maryland], State Capitol, protesting the harassment, attempts at intimidation, and an attempt at the complete destruction of the National Accreditation Council. If we can get 100 telegrams on the respective desks of these Governors from all over the country, we will make these Governors wonder what is Kenneth Jernigan and Ralph Sanders trying to do.
At the time Ralph Sanders was President of the National Federation of the Blind and an official in Maryland's programs for the blind. Kenneth Jernigan was the immediate past President of the Federation and an Iowa state official.
Perhaps the officers of NAC and the Lighthouse would explain this example of quality service by saying that because the National Federation of the Blind has made strong efforts to reform the National Accreditation Council, National Federation of the Blind officers both present and past deserve to lose their personal livelihoods. Even if one were to accept such a justification, it seems obvious that NAC has put itself in a position where it is impossible to judge the Lighthouse's program objectively. How could NAC officials take an objective view of activity they themselves had instigated?
Activities Other Than Accreditation
There might be some justification for interference that sought to upgrade the programs of an accredited agency. This was not the case in Chicago. In that instance, and in enough others to form a consistent pattern, NAC began to take retaliatory action against those who were less than whole-hearted in their partisanship. At its last two annual meetings, NAC officials have railed against those they regard as counter-productive elements, and they announced plans for dealing decisively with these hostile elements.
This retaliatory activity became the province of a group called the National Committee for the Advancement of Standards or NCAS. At the 1977 annual meeting the NAC board elevated the NCAS to the same level as its Commission on Standards and Commission on Accreditation and projected that this new area of activity would be increasing.
Even before the NCAS was formally organized, NAC had been moving in this strange new direction. One of the better documented examples concerns the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB), an organization of directors of state agencies serving the blind.
During 1975, the members of the NCSAB began questioning the organization's official position as a supporter of NAC. Finally the organization voted to withdraw that support pending meaningful reform of NAC.
The next chapter occurred in February, 1976, at a meeting of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR). A small group of directors of NAC-accredited agencies convened an unauthorized meeting of the NCSAB. Present at the meeting were NAC president Louis Rives and NAC executive director Richard Bleecker. The group voted to declare that this was an official NCSAB meeting. They further voted to declare the office of NCSAB president-elect vacant, and they then chose one of their number (James Carballo) to fill the vacancy.
Nor did they stop at this. With Richard Bleecker suggesting ways to do it, the group began changing the NCSAB by-laws. At Louis Rives's suggestion, they also voted to resume NCSAB support of NAC. As Robert Pogorelc, the actual president of the NCSAB, later wrote: If the NAC executive director is responsible for involvement in the 'politics' of private and/or public organizations in the field, in order to further the cause of NAC, I believe that this fact should be published.
In a later letter, to NAC president Rives, Mr. Pogorelc was more definite:
It is ridiculous for anyone to pretend that NAC has conducted itself in such a manner as to serve as a high model for accuracy, fairness, decency, openness, and propriety. The fact of the matter is that NAC has, in its relations with the NCSAB, frequently conducted itself in a manner such as to present, at least in my mind, very serious questions as to appropriateness, propriety, and ethics. Perhaps some may wish to deny that NAC has frequently, through covert tactics in which representatives of state agencies have been provided inaccurate and misleading information outside of the spotlight of a public meeting, injected itself into the internal affairs of the NCSAB. I very seriously doubt, though, that those denials would have very much credence with state agency representatives who have witnessed or been exposed to the process.
After this meeting, James Carballo1 began taking action as president-elect ; he called yet another unauthorized meeting of the NCSAB. The actual NCSAB sought a judicial restraining order. A Mississippi court (Mr. Carballo lives in Mississippi) granted the order, enjoining James Carballo from holding himself out as the president-elect or president of the [NCSAB] and further, from representing to members of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and other interested persons that the unauthorized alleged annual meeting of the NCSAB scheduled for September 20, 1976, in Hollywood, Florida, is a valid meeting under the bylaws of the NCSAB.
This court order did not deter NAC for long. The next legally constituted NCSAB meeting was scheduled to be an election. The NAC-AFB group let it be known (and this was later publicly admitted at the meeting) that travel expenses were available to NCSAB members who supported NAC. As a result, many who had previously taken no active part in the organization turned up for the election, which understandably produced some officers favorable to NAC. The efforts by NAC to dominate the NCSAB have continued unchecked.
The pattern was continued when NAC began to organize attacks against agencies whose only offense was not to seek its accreditation. This came to light when the Youngstown (Ohio) Society for the Blind decided to seek accreditation from the Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) rather than NAC. Immediately the Youngstown Society found itself under attack.
The Federation first became aware of this when our Washington, D.C., affiliate met with Charles Fegan, the director of the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. The Columbia Lighthouse at this time was considering whether to renew its NAC accreditation. Mr. Fegan was explaining to a public meeting that he did not regard himself a partisan of NAC. To illustrate this, he said he had not complied with a request that he write to the director of the Youngstown Society, opposing its decision about NAC. When he was asked who suggested that he write such a letter, Mr. Fegan demurred, perhaps realizing that he had already said too much, considering the consequences that had been visited on others who publicly criticized NAC. In the circumstances, no answer was necessary.
It is important to remember that at this very time the Columbia Lighthouse was weighing the merits of re-accreditation. The request from NAC had the double purpose of harassing the Youngstown Society and reminding the Lighthouse of what would attend a decision not to renew its accreditation.
A month earlier, in March, 1977, Cleo Dolan, executive director of the Cleveland Society for the Blind, wrote a memorandum to one of his subordinates, which read in part:
As you know, we have long understood that the Youngstown Society for the Blind was planning to be accredited by CARF rather than by NAC because of the pressure from the National Federation of the Blind group. This is in spite of the fact that CARF has never accredited an agency for the blind, nor do they have standards for such areas as mobility and home teaching services. It is further our understanding that the Youngstown Society is proceeding with the approach that CARF standards, as they must be accredited by July to comply with the RSC policies. [sic]
In light of the above, it is our belief that we should start winding down our relationship with the Youngstown Society for the Blind. It is recognized that we have funneled the Radio Reading Program state support through the CSB [the Cleveland Society for the Blind] and had planned on several other cooperative working arrangements pertaining to the Radio Reading Service including sharing a WATS line. However, if they are anticipating deserting the field of work with the blind, then it is our belief we should react the way National Federation of the Blind has advised their membership and are causing Youngstown to react accordingly. In other words, if they choose to be accredited under CARF standards, then we will request that no further cooperation or assistance be afforded the Youngstown Society for the Blind from any of the staff of the Cleveland Society for the Blind. We will want to sever all communication and relationship in the same manner in which it has been recommended that they react with accredited agencies, since they are willing to follow the dictates and policies of National Federation of the Blind.
For these reasons we would like to have you clean up all the outstanding obligations they have in relation to the Radio Reading Service so that all bills can be paid and we can make a clean break in our relations at the time their final decision is made with reference to accreditation.
Federation members in Youngstown encouraged the Youngstown Society's decision. Needless to say, they had no tool of coercion to equal Mr. Dolan's, nor would they have used it if they had. Mr. Dolan equates failing to seek NAC accreditation with deserting the field of work with the blind. For him it is reason enough to attempt to cripple the radio reading service for blind persons in that part of the state served by the Youngstown Society.
There are many lesser examples of what NAC calls the advancement of standards. When the State of California rescinded a decision to require NAC accreditation of blind agencies doing business with the state, partly on the advice of a consumer advisory board, NAC went over the heads of state rehabilitation officials to complain to Governor Jerry Brown. Writing to the Governor's assistant, Richard Bleecker stated: I am interested in learning more about the advisory committee's function, composition, representativeness, and decision-making process. Would you be so kind as to provide me with a statement of the committee's purpose, the names of the three organizations that are represented, as well as a copy of the minutes or other record which contains the substance of the committee's discussion of the accreditation issue.
When the board of the Illinois Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) met to consider a decision by the DVR director to require NAC accreditation of blind agencies contracting with the state, NAC brought to the meeting Fred McDonald, executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse. Mr. McDonald acted as spokesman for the Independent Blind of Illinois. He produced a letter supporting NAC that had 64 names on it. When the letter was examined, however, it emerged that the names were not signed but typed. (Since many of the names were of people in Mr. McDonald's employ, even their signatures would have indicated little about the independence of their views.)
At this meeting, in response to questions from the DVR board, it was brought out that NAC had never revoked the accreditation of an agency on its list. This appeared to carry great weight with the DVR board, which later voted to rescind the requirement that agencies contracting with the state seek NAC accreditation. NAC was shown to be an accreditation system without teeth, more interested in bolstering its prestige with numbers than enforcing high standards of service.
Shortly after the DVR meeting, NAC revoked the accreditation of one of its agencies. In the circumstances, who would believe that the decision was made on its objective merits. NAC decided it must have an answer the next time such a question was raised.
We began this open letter with the premise that the National Accreditation Council was formed by the American Foundation for the Blind in order to perpetuate its tradition of benevolent custodialism, and further, that this was not a positive development. It is a difficult premise to prove because its validity depends on another premise that the blind are capable of independence and normal lives.
But over the years the problems with NAC have changed in nature as well as in dimension. This happened because the theory of work with the blind espoused by NAC has lost ground with the field as with the public it is far more outmoded now than ten years ago. NAC has had to change its thrust simply to remain in existence. It has become the focus for the defensive activities of a very small group of agencies. They are agencies whose directors or programs have been shown by court decisions, or independent studies, or client experience, or federal audits to be substandard. They are agencies whose boards, in general, are interlocking with those of NAC and the American Foundation for the Blind (this has become more the case over the years).
We support as must all people of sense the desire of a school or agency to be approved by a reputable accrediting body. But those responsible for making this decision should examine what they are purchasing. NAC accreditation is expensive: it is a commitment of either public tax money or funds contributed by a charitable public. The only valid justification for devoting funds to accreditation is that such accreditation ensures the maintenance of high program standards. With relation to NAC, such a contention becomes absurd in light of NAC's approval of the actions of the Florida agency, the Cleveland Society, the Minneapolis Society, and the Chicago Lighthouse, and its own actions regarding the NCSAB, the Columbia Lighthouse, the Youngstown Society, and the California Department of Rehabilitation.
A majority of agencies and consumers has concluded that NAC accreditation does not ensure high standards of service. It lends an agency no respectability or credibility whatever.
1. James Carballo is the director of Mississippi's Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind, an agency accredited by NAC. An audit of the agency completed by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in late 1977 provides a clear example of what NAC considers quality service. According to the Jackson Capitol Reporter of December 1, 1977:
The audit, a copy of which was secured by the Capitol Reporter, reveals that out of 138 blind rehabilitation clients randomly selected by the HEW auditors, only one had finally been placed in a job in the competitive market. Even then, the audit showed, the one blind person had to take a job as a clerk, whereas she was trained to be a special education teacher.
Out of 526 blind persons the state agency had shown as rehabilitated in fiscal 1976, the audit shows, almost 85 percent were making less than $2.50 an hour and most were making less than the minimum wage.
The state agency, according to the audit, violated federal regulations by using Social Security trust funds, Supplemental Security Income funds, income derived in part from use of federal funds, income from vending stands operated by the blind, and contributions from vendors paid in part with federal funds to match federal funds.
Mr. Carballo's part in the NCSAB affair and the results of this HEW audit taken together are a clear paradigm of NAC accreditations: NAC provides its seal of approval to a substandard rehabilitation program; In return the agency publicly supports NAC (or, as in this case, goes a good deal further).
By the mid-1980s it was clear that NAC was disintegrating. As major state programs for the blind dissociated themselves from the organization and rejected its accreditation, NAC moved to recruit smaller and less well-known groups to bolster its numbers. Articles appearing in the Braille Monitor in 1986 and 1987 graphically illustrate what was happening. Excerpts and representative headlines follow:
NAC Bites the Dust in Kansas: Braille Monitor, March, 1986
Actually it happened on the last day of 1985, but on January 10, 1986, it became official: Kansas State Services for the Blind renounced NAC's accreditation.
Division of Services for the Blind Supervisor's Meeting Minutes
January 17, 1986
Present: Suzannah Erhart
NAC has been notified that DSB [Division of Services for the Blind] plans to discontinue NAC accreditation. CARF [Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities] accreditation for the rehabilitation center and Kansas Industries for the Blind should be pursued. Richard Schutz will order the necessary CARF materials.
Michigan School for the Blind De-NACs Braille Monitor, March, 1986
In a brief news release issued in early February the Michigan Department of Education announced that the Michigan School for the Blind (MSB) would not seek re-accreditation by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). The announcement declared that the residential facility could better serve its students by undertaking its own self-study, using an in-state monitoring team. The message was clear MSB had decided to de-NAC.
North Carolina Gives NAC the Boot: Braille Monitor, December, 1986
In the March, 1986, Braille Monitor we reported that the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) had been kicked out of Kansas and Michigan. Now, NAC faces new disasters. North Carolina is joining the parade.
The National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina held its annual convention during the weekend of September 12-14, 1986, in Raleigh. One of the items which was slated to receive attention was the accreditation of the Governor Morehead School for the Blind by NAC. The school had been accredited since 1972, and the blind of the state were determined to bring the nonsense to an end. A resolution had been drafted and was slated for presentation on Sunday morning, September 14; but it never happened. On Saturday afternoon, September 13, Dr. Richard Rideout (drector of the Division of Special Schools for the Blind and Deaf of the Department of Human Resources) announced to the cheering delegates that the Governor Morehead School had decided to end the NAC accreditation.
NAC often talks about the good which it has done and the general public acceptance which it is receiving. However, if any of its board members are at all perceptive or concerned about the way the blind (the people they supposedly do so much to help) feel, they should think long and carefully about the reaction in North Carolina. At the announcement that the Governor Morehead School would de-NAC the blind cheered. When the school gives up its accreditation, no facility working with the blind anywhere in the state will be NAC-accredited. As the joyous delegates chanted: NC is NAC-Free.
To: Richard Rideout, Director
Division of Special School for the Blind and Deaf Department of Human Resources
From: George N. Lee, Superintendent Governor
Re: NAC Accreditation
The Governor Morehead School has just been reaccredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for the next five years. This is important to our school.
The school has also been accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired since 1972.
I do not believe that NAC accreditation has or will have any positive impact on educational programs here at Governor Morehead School. Fact is I can't really think of any real benefits of NAC accreditation.
NAC Thrown Out in Rhode Island: Braille Monitor, December, 1986
The past year has been a time of hardship for NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). A few months ago NAC was told it wouldn't be needed anymore in Kansas. At about the same time it got a similar message from Michigan. And these messages didn't come from small, insignificant agencies. They came from the Kansas State Services for the Blind and the Michigan School for the Blind. This fall it was the turn of North Carolina. The Governor Morehead School for the Blind (North Carolina's residential school) decided NAC accreditation was not worth continuing. As the superintendent of the school pointed out, the institution had been accredited for more than a dozen years, so it was in a position to know whether or not NAC accreditation is beneficial.
NAC keeps trying to smile bravely, but the rejection slips keep coming. This time it is Rhode Island. At the annual state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island on September 27, 1986, a representative of the State Services for the Blind announced that NAC accreditation was being dropped at the end of 1986. The blind of the state were overjoyed and greeted the news with cheers.
American Foundation for the Blind Criticizes NAC: Braille Monitor, January, 1987
National Braille Association Cuts its Ties With NAC: Braille Monitor, September, 1987
As everybody knows, the last couple of years have been a bad time for NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). The North Carolina school for the blind, the Michigan State School for the Blind, Kansas State Services for the Blind, Rhode Island State Services for the Blind, and others decided they had had enough and withdrew. There is an old saying to the effect that nothing wins like success. The reverse of that coin is that nothing loses like failure and NAC certainly offers graphic testimony to the truth of it all.
One of the latest to leave NAC's sinking ship is NBA (the National Braille Association). Established in 1945, the NBA is described in the 1984 edition of the American Foundation for the Blind Directory of Agencies Serving the Blind in the U.S. as follows: Brings together those interested in production and distribution of Braille, large type, and tape recorded materials for the visually impaired. NBA Braille Book Bank provides thermoform copies of hand-transcribed texts to college students and professional persons; NBA Braille Technical Tables Bank has a collection of over 300 tables which supplement many of the texts; through NBA Reader-Transcriber Registry blind people can obtain vocational daily living material at below cost; through Braille Transcription Assignment Service requests of college students for Brailled textbooks are filled. Publications to aid transcribers include: Manual for Large Type Transcribing and Tape Recording Manual, 3rd Ed., available from LC/DBPH; Teacher's Manual and Tape Recording Lessons, from NBA national office; Guidelines for Administration of Groups Producing Reading Materials for the Visually Handicapped, from LC/DBPH; Handbook for Braille Music Transcribers, from LC/DBPH; and NBA Bulletin, issued four times a year to membership, available in print, Braille, or tape.
This is how the National Braille Association is described by the American Foundation for the Blind. Put briefly, it is the nationwide organization of transcribers. It has both prestige and stability. It has been one of NAC's sponsors from the very beginning. Therefore, its withdrawal must be particularly troubling to NAC.
No NAC for Mississippi Industries for the Blind: Braille Monitor, October-November, 1987
The foregoing excerpts from the Braille Monitor show clearly the pattern of NAC's decline in the eighties. In state after state NAC found itself rejected and on the defensive. By the end of 1989 the American Foundation for the Blind had reduced its long-standing contributions, and agency after agency had withdrawn. The NAC board had been reduced in size, and there was widespread speculation that the demise of the organization was imminent. The majority of the knowledgeable blind of the nation, along with most responsible agencies in the field, were now finding NAC a stumbling block to progress and a hindrance rather than a help.