The Braille Monitor                                                                                       July 2003

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Arrogance or Desperation?

by Peggy Elliott

From the Editor: Peggy Elliott is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and a former member of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board). Here is her commentary on recent activities by an employee of the board:

Monitor readers will remember that the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) conducted hearings last October in Portland, Oregon, on proposed changes to its regulations that would compel universal installation of audible pedestrian signals and detectable warnings at essentially all intersections at an astronomical and as‑yet‑uncomputed cost to local governments. Sensibly enough, federal agencies normally complete the final rule‑making process as defined in federal law before beginning to train the people to be regulated by those rules on compliance with them.

Put another way, the changes supported by Ms. Lois Thibault, director of research for the Access Board, and nowhere required by federal law, are being sold to the public under false colors. Not only is there no requirement for installation; no rule has yet been formally proposed that would mandate such installation. Last year's hearing concerned a report of an advisory committee of citizens whose recommendations have not yet been turned into proposed regulations. But the proposals suit Ms. Thibault's low opinion of blind pedestrians, people in her view who need her kind and sighted help as well as a vast expenditure of tax dollars to get around the country safely. Federationists know Ms. Thibault's position ignores the overwhelming evidence that blind people get around safely every day, which makes these changes to federal law unnecessary and probably illegal.

Under her guidance the Access Board has apparently decided not to bother with the niceties of federal procedure. On April 16, 2003, Ms. Thibault provided three hours of training to more than fifty employees of Montgomery County, Maryland, on compliance with the proposed changes which will, Ms. Thibault devoutly hopes, eventually become the final rules. To put the matter simply, such training sessions jump the gun and smack of deception. Without actually breaking the law, conducting training sessions on proposed changes certainly violates federal procedures.

Could it be that the Access Board is so unsure of public acceptance of its regulations that it has decided to conduct brief training courses around the country in an effort to convince people that the proposed changes are widely accepted and required by law in order to lend credibility to its final rules, thus shaping the reactions of the local government entities that will have to comply with them? This is particularly unfair to local governmental officials, who typically just want to know what's required. As they usually put it: Don't explain why; just tell us what to do, and we'll do it. Get it down in black and white, in measurements and standards, and we'll build it that way. Ms. Thibault's approach is apparently to disguise her personal opinions as federal law and hope no one asks too many questions. Local governmental officials aren't likely to; they just want the specs, which Ms. Thibault with her prestigious-sounding federal title is seemingly providing.

Federationists will be interested to know that, as part of this training, Ms. Thibault devotes time to attacking and attempting to refute the position of the National Federation of the Blind on the placement of audible pedestrian signals and detectable warnings. One is left to conclude either that Ms. Thibault feels threatened by the NFB's position or that our arguments have such innate sense and attractiveness to the public that getting a head start on imbedding her wishes in the final rules by attacking us is her only recourse.

One can also hope that Access Board members, Ms. Thibault's actual bosses, will put a stop to her running around the country, pretending her opinions are federal law. Unfortunately the Access Board does not have a strong record of controlling Ms. Thibault. This leads to yet another question: why? The blind and local governments everywhere are apparently about to be hoodwinked and our rights as citizens to have a voice in our government trampled by one determined, wrongheaded federal employee. It's democracy backwards--federal employees imposing their opinions on the entire country by guile and grit. And it's wrong!

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