The Braille Monitor                                                                                               May, 2002

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Another Take on the September 10 Meeting with NAC

by Peggy Elliott

Peggy Elliott
Peggy Elliott

From the Editor: As President Maurer mentioned, one of the other NFB representatives to the September 10 meeting with members of NAC was NFB Second Vice President Peggy Elliott. Her view of the discussion was slightly different and completely complementary. Here it is:

Theoreticians who study ethics have two principles useful in understanding the position of the National Accreditation Council for the Blind and the Visually Impaired at its meeting with members of the National Federation of the Blind on September 10, 2001. The first principle is that a person can go wrong by either omission or commission. That is, failing to act when action is the right course is as bad as committing a wrong action. Leaving out the right thing is as bad as doing the wrong one. The second principle is that good intentions never excuse bad acts. Take for example the mother who recently concluded that she was a bad mother to her children, who would grow up into bad people likely to commit acts which would condemn them to Hell. She decided to drown all five children before they could become bad, thus allowing them, she hoped, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Her intentions were good; her actions were horrible and not excused by the good intentions. This example comes to mind from the pages of current newspapers and not because we are discussing NAC.

Those two principles, failure to act can be wrong and good intentions don't excuse bad acts, were both prominently on display at the September 10 meeting between NAC and the NFB. NAC's participants at this meeting were its new executive director, Steve Hegedeos; NAC's new president, Steve Obremski; and a NAC board member, Lee Robinson. Each had something to contribute under both principles.

Mr. Hegedeos largely confined his contributions to descriptions of his own sterling qualities. He asserted that he had, in effect, saved two other accreditation organizations, that he had devoted his life to accreditation, and that his intentions were good. He urged the NFB to take his words to heart, have faith in him, and allow him to do good with NAC.

Mr. Obremski had a slightly different view, offering his vision of a field of work with the blind happily and firmly regulated by NAC serving clients well and achieving good results, although NFB members in the room were unclear how these "good results" would be defined or measured by the people who have brought us the NAC standards thus far. He painted a glowing picture and then asked NFB to take his words to heart, have faith in him, and allow him to do good with NAC.

In other words, both men, each in his own way, offered their own good intentions and the fact that they had not been involved in NAC before as their reason for the NFB's forming a new partnership with NAC. Neither seemed to note the irony that a large part of their pitch to the NFB involved their lack of knowledge about NAC's history and misdeeds.

That was the other huge and unavoidable part of the meeting: NAC's history. Neither Mr. Hegedeos nor Mr. Obremski seemed at all interested in NAC's history over its thirty-four-year existence. While both were polite in listening to NFB members discussing that history, neither knew much of it, and both, continuously and politely, kept reiterating the point that neither of them had been there, that neither of them knew the history, and that yesterday's news while possibly interesting had nothing to do with their good intentions and plans based upon those good intentions for the rosy future of NAC. Mr. Obremski in particular seemed interested in the depth and persistence of the NFB members' indictments of NAC, but he always reverted to the "good-intentions-for-the-future" argument when it was his turn to speak.

The NFB has reasons, dozens and hundreds and thousands of reasons, why it has so fiercely and intransigently fought NAC at every turn. Those reasons are the blind people mis-served and under-served and not served and harmed by professionals at agencies accredited by NAC. Any Federationist familiar with the history cannot stop once started in naming accredited agency after accredited agency at which investigations of criminal activity have occurred, policies demeaning to blind persons have been adopted and championed, blind people have been kept out of management and policy decisions, blind people have been physically harmed without recourse, and on and on--all dismissed by Hegedeos and Obremski as irrelevant in light of their good intentions and, to Mr. Obremski, interesting for the verve with which the stories were delivered.

NFB members tried to tell these two men of good intentions that they were exactly mirroring the people who founded NAC in their proclamations of good intentions and their ignoring of the hard, unpleasant facts in the halls and management suites of agencies serving the blind. Even this historical observation was uninteresting to Messrs. Obremski and Hegedeos, who had their own good intentions before them as compasses.

The point about history was poignantly and regrettably made by the third NAC representative in the room, Lee Robinson, who serves as superintendent of the Utah School for the Blind. The Utah school has been continuously accredited by NAC since 1985 and was, if memory serves, undergoing re-accreditation during the spring of 2001. We now know from articles in the Salt Lake papers that there was a lawsuit over mistreatment of a student at the school. Indeed, during the time NAC was considering the Utah School for re-accreditation, allegations by several students of abuse were being made, all known to Mr. Robinson, with whom the matters were discussed at the September 10 meeting.

NFB members asked Mr. Hegedeos and Mr. Obremski two questions concerning these allegations: first, were they aware of the allegations, and, second, what was NAC going to do about them? It was obvious in the meeting that neither Hegedeos nor Obremski was aware of the allegations even though they are the executive director and president of the agency accrediting and considering re-accreditation of the school. They pledged to let NFB members know what NAC's response to the allegations would be, but that pledge has yet to be kept, unless the re-accreditation of the school is that response. Yes, the Utah school was re-accredited, and, to the NFB's knowledge, no action by NAC has been taken regarding the allegations of abuse at the school. While this is horrible for the children and parents concerned, it is tiresomely familiar to Federationists, who can name school after school at which such allegations have been credibly made while NAC's accreditation and re-accreditation remained in place.

From the September 10 meeting and its aftermath it appears that, not only is NAC functioning as usual with good intentions as its only justification, but NAC is also functioning as usual in taking the position that its standards have nothing to do with allegations of abuse.

The poignant part? The case in Utah that had proceeded to trial had resulted in a verdict in favor of the school for the blind as Mr. Robinson heatedly reported. No verdict, no story, you comment. Well, not quite. The case involved only one of the allegations of abuse, and the question put to the jury was whether the school was negligent according to law. The alleged negligence involved sexual abuse of one student by another. The abuse occurred once, and the parents understandably reacted strongly to this.

The abuse occurred again a short time later, and the parents filed suit, believing that after the first incident the school should have known and taken steps to protect the student from recurrences of the abuse. In other words, there was no dispute that the abuse had occurred at least twice. The question for the jury was to decide if school officials were negligent under the strict standard of the law in not protecting the student from repeated abuse. Mr. Robinson's version of the verdict was that the school had been "found innocent by a jury of our peers."

As with much else involving NAC, the National Federation of the Blind does not see it that way. The NFB agrees with the ethicists that failures to do right are the same as overt bad acts. And the Federation is absolutely grounded on the understanding that the blind are surrounded by good intentions which are rarely carried through into real belief in the capabilities of the blind. The most common location where one can find these good intentions not matched by real belief is in the agencies serving the blind accredited by NAC. In other words, the new NAC is no different than the old.

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