An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 4, 2014
This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the National Federation of the Blind along with accelerating growth and unparalleled unity. The financial problems we have had in the recent past have been met with decision. The prospects for us in the financial arena are by no means assured, but our expenditures have been brought into line with our income. The ongoing projects we are undertaking are as bold, as far-reaching, and as imaginative as any we have pursued. The foundation for our growth is well built, and we have the prospect in our immediate future of expanding programs and increasing influence inspired by the spirit of our members.
We in the National Federation of the Blind attempt always to expand the legal protection of the blind, and we take whatever vehicle is available to do this. In the State of the Union message delivered January 28, 2014, President Obama declared that the minimum wage for federal contract workers who are providing services would be raised to $10.10 an hour. A number of these contract workers are employed in sheltered workshops. Disabled workers employed in such places are frequently paid less than the federal minimum wage. Members of the National Federation of the Blind wondered whether the executive order to implement this declaration would include disabled workers or continue to leave them out of federal minimum wage protection. Before the issuance of the executive order, some officials from the Obama administration expressed doubt about the propriety or even the power of the administration to raise the minimum wage for disabled employees because Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act incorporates an explicit provision saying that disabled employees are not guaranteed the minimum wage. We wrote to the president and to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez asking that we be given the same minimum wage protection accorded to others.
On February 12, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order. I sat in the East Room of the White House along with Anil Lewis, who currently serves as executive director for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and hundreds of other people. The president spoke about the executive order he was about to sign, telling us that he wanted protection for all American workers and that he was about to ensure it for federal contract employees doing certain kinds of work. When he signed the order, I was within a few feet of him. I rose to cheer the president when he laid down the pen because as of January 1, 2015, all federal contract workers who provide services, including people with disabilities, will be paid $10.10 an hour. This is the first time in history that the United States has offered minimum wage protection to disabled employees.
We have been trying to get the Congress to repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. On February 26, 2013, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act (HR 831) was introduced by Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi. In early June, HR 831 had eighty-six cosponsors, including a number of members of the leadership in the House. More than seventy-five organizations support the repeal of this unfair law. Section 14(c) was originally adopted in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was intended to be a jobs bill for the blind and otherwise disabled. However, the promise of employment has never been fulfilled; the hardship for disabled workers has continued to expand decade after decade; and the exploitation of those with disabilities has expanded beyond the sheltered workshops to a number of private employers. If there has ever been a demonstration of a failed piece of legislation, this is it. This law must go, and we are urging members of Congress to repeal it.
Equal access to information is a fundamental plank of the program we have continued to pursue during the last year. Because blind people are a small segment of the population of our nation, it is sometimes difficult to get major corporations to join with us in creating full accessibility. However, when we reach the appropriate people, we often find partners willing to work strongly with us. The Google company is a case in point. As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, Google has been a joy and a sorrow. Some of its products have been accessible, and some of them have been not just difficult but impossible. Furthermore, when they have become accessible, they have not always stayed that way.
Three years ago a senior vice president of Google, Alan Eustace, appeared at our convention. This was a major step forward because in previous meetings with Google personnel, we had been told repeatedly that Google is made up of many engineering teams that operate independently—it is “siloed.” Even if one part of it created accessible technology, this did not change plans in any other part of it. We were faced with the prospect of having to persuade senior Google representatives in each of the silos to create an accessible system. When Alan Eustace came to the convention, he promised that accessibility would be built into Google products company-wide. He implied that it would be done quickly. However, the management system at Google really does encourage independent development of products without central control. This meant that a decision by a single person was very difficult to implement.
About a year and a half ago, a new senior executive was given the challenge of addressing accessibility at the company. Kannan Pashupathy was at our convention last year, and he has pursued accessibility of Google products along with a number of others at Google. You will be hearing from Eve Andersson, accessibility engineering and product manager for Google later this afternoon, and Ray Kurzweil, who is currently director of engineering at Google, will be making a presentation later during the convention.
Google is not finished with its work on accessibility, and my estimation is that this will remain a work in progress indefinitely because Google itself is a work in progress. However, I believe that Google has made quite substantial progress and that it will have accessibility in hand within the next few months. I believe that much of the problem that we have encountered with accessibility will be adequately addressed by the company within a year. Kannan Pashupathy has indicated that he will be at the 2015 Convention.
In the meantime, the inaccessible technology previously distributed by Google remains in place. I indicated to Google that we had promised to assist certain individuals (mostly students) in challenging the deployment of such technology, and we always keep our promises. Google is not trying to change this. The people there understand that when we pledge our word, we keep it. However, they have asked us for extensive quantities of information about inaccessible aspects of their products, and we are helping them to know where they need to make change. Google personnel take our recommendations seriously, and I believe that this is one reason the improvement is taking place.
When Google began creating digital versions of print books a decade ago, the National Federation of the Blind wondered what we should do to become part of the project. We thought digital books could be read electronically. The prospects for access to vast amounts of information were enticing. Google contracted with about ninety libraries, which gave Google the print books to scan. When the scanning was complete, Google returned the books to the libraries along with a digital copy of the scanned books. Google retained a copy of the scanned books to be used in the Google Books project.
A number of the libraries formed the HathiTrust, and they entrusted their digital book collections to it. The Authors Guild sued the HathiTrust saying that the digital copies of the books violated the copyright law because they constituted a taking or theft of the information stored in the books. The Authors Guild demanded that the digital books be destroyed.
The National Federation of the Blind intervened in the case because we want to protect this enormous treasure of digitized books, a compilation of information never previously available to blind people. The trial court in New York declared that we have a right to have access to these books, and the Authors Guild appealed. On June 10, 2014, the decision of the court of appeals was released. The intellectual property contained in the scans of these books (more than ten million of them) is available to us. It is also available to others with disabilities who cannot easily read ordinary print. We have a tentative agreement with the HathiTrust to serve as the mechanism for distribution of these books. All of the details have not yet been established, but the legal authority for making these books useful to the blind of the nation is in place.
In December of 2012 I stood on the sidewalk in the rain in front of the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington, with a picket sign in my hand. Many members of the National Federation of the Blind were there with me. Amazon had been creating inaccessible technology for use on college campuses and in elementary and secondary schools. Years earlier the Amazon management group had promised accessibility, but they never delivered. We had brought actions against a number of libraries and universities deploying Amazon products, and we had entered into agreements that they would not use inaccessible technology. But Amazon would not discuss an agreement with us to build products that the blind can use. Amazon was seeking to have its book readers become the de facto reading systems for students in school with disastrous results for the blind.
Furthermore, Amazon, along with others, filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission requesting a waiver of the requirement that its products using advance communication software be accessible for the print disabled. We asked that the agency reject the request. Despite our urging, the FCC granted the petition, but only for a year.
Shortly before last year’s convention, Amazon released an application for Apple products that permits accessible use of the books Amazon distributes, and in the fall of 2013 Amazon produced a Kindle Fire with a number of accessible features. This product is not as accessible as the iOS application, but a few of the controls are usable. Amazon may think that this is enough. However, we don’t believe it. Half-baked will never do. Our efforts regarding Amazon and its intrusion into the education market have already been somewhat effective, but we will keep at it until we have the same access that others take for granted. We will never be satisfied until we have access to 100 percent of digital information 100 percent of the time.
Our objective to obtain equal access to digital information is a major factor in creating the access technology industry. We seek personnel to serve in this arena in our headquarters office in Baltimore, but we also encourage others to employ competent people to assure that accessibility is built into their products from the beginning. Companies with which we have been working in the United States tell us that they need people knowledgeable in this area of expertise to help them understand and fulfill the requirements.
In an effort to assist the nonvisual access industry, we have accepted a grant from the state of Maryland to create a National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Commerce, and Public Information. We begin in Maryland, but we intend to expand this center to the nation. We expect to use this center to stimulate academic institutions to create courses in accessible technology design. We also believe that we will be able to establish a web portal to determine compliance with accessibility standards. We intend to cause accessible nonvisual design to be a feature of engineering and internet courses and to become an accepted requirement in creating digital information distribution centers.
We have taken other actions to encourage the continued development of universally available access technology. In December 2013 representatives of the major election technology developers, and researchers in election technology from Clemson University, Rice University, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—an agency of the United States Department of Commerce traveled to the Jernigan Institute to learn about access technology, such as refreshable Braille, that enables the deaf-blind to vote privately and independently. As a result of this seminar, researchers at Rice University are working to incorporate refreshable Braille into their Prime III accessible voting system. We have also created, under our Help America Vote Act grant, a mobile voting working group to promote the use of online voting systems. In addition, we have worked very closely with the Maryland State Board of Elections to ensure that its new online absentee ballot marking system is accessible. This system, if implemented, will allow blind and deaf-blind voters in Maryland to mark their absentee ballots privately and independently for the first time. However, when the State Board of Elections failed to certify this system for use, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit. The trial is scheduled to take place before the election this fall.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind continues to house at least one of each hardware and software product that provides digital information to the blind. As I reported last year, we are experimenting with the use of 3D printers to provide blind students with tactile information, and we continue to consult with companies about methods for implementing accessibility in their programs and products. Quantum Simulations, a long-standing partner, has made its Braille and Mathematics tutors accessible. In September these were certified under the National Federation of the Blind’s web accessibility certification program.
As Federation members know, we initiated the Blind Driver Challenge program with an automobile that the blind can drive at the Daytona International Speedway. Now we have performed at another internationally recognized racing venue. Dan Parker is a member of the National Federation of the Blind from Georgia, who is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He was a drag racer until he hit a wall at 175 miles per hour on March 31, 2012. Injuries from the accident caused his total blindness. After eight months of recuperation, Dan made up his mind. The limitations some people attribute to blindness would not stop him. He had been riding motorcycles since he was eight. He had always had a dream of racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Dan decided that he would pursue his quest for the Salt. He would build and independently operate his own motorcycle on the Salt Flats at a sanctioned event. Dan Parker found our Blind Driver Challenge on the internet, and we became a primary supporter of his project. At 11:01 a.m. mountain time on August 26, 2013, Dan Parker kicked off from the starting line. Beginning at a steady pace, Dan Parker found his groove at the beginning of mile two. During the second mile he stayed within four feet of the centerline of the track, and toward the end of mile two he began to “let it out.” He completed the first historic independent run by a blind person at the Bonneville Salt Flats with an officially recorded speed of 55.331 miles per hour. This is the second achievement in our Blind Driver Challenge efforts. Dan Parker will be speaking on the platform later during this convention.
If we can build an automobile equipped with nonvisual guidance technologies, and if we can equip a motorcycle with guidance systems for the blind, we can likely build an information gathering system that will permit independent bicycle riding for blind people. This is currently a project we are exploring in the Jernigan Institute. I would point out that riding a bicycle does not require a driver’s license, and even if the bicycle is equipped with an engine that has a displacement smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, it does not, in some places, require a driver’s license.
Braille continues to be a high priority for the National Federation of the Blind because this is a primary mechanism for blind people to get information, and it is equally important for deaf-blind individuals. We have continued our work to administer the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading under contract with the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Since taking on the project in 2007, we have forwarded the names of approximately 1,800 individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
We give Braille books to blind children. The Braille Reading Pals Club, for children ages birth through seven, has 427 participants. We also give many Braille books to older children. Those who learn to read find that the world opens to them.
In June we conducted our second annual race for Braille literacy known as Dot Dash, which as you might expect, is a 6K race, one K for each Braille dot. More than 150 people participated, and Michael McCrary, a former member of the Ravens football team with two Super Bowl rings, was our Braille Literacy Champion.
The National Federation of the Blind has participated in the World Blind Union since the mid-1980s. Our first vice president, Dr. Fred Schroeder, served as our representative to the United Nations during the period that the convention on Rights of People with Disabilities was being considered by this international body. Dr. Schroeder assisted with drafting the language of this international instrument and was a major factor in getting it through the political process. The international convention has not yet been adopted by the Senate of the United States although it has been signed by the Obama administration. However, Dr. Schroeder has been leading international efforts to assist in having this convention adopted in many countries, and he was the person chairing an international meeting for planning about this instrument which occurred at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute last fall.
When the World Blind Union met in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2012, we urged delegates to select Dr. Schroeder to become first vice president of the world body. This effort was successful. Dr. Schroeder has now proposed to the world organization that the 2016 general assembly be held in the United States. Several hundred delegates and many others will join us in 2016 to make policy for this world organization. We will have the opportunity to show representatives of the blind from around the world what we are in the United States and what we do to support the independence of the blind. The person to lead this portion of our work is Dr. Fred Schroeder.
As Scott LaBarre and Fred Schroeder reported to this convention last year, the National Federation of the Blind played a major role in securing adoption of the World Intellectual Property Organization Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, which will give access to published works for the blind across country borders. We are actively working with the State Department to send a ratification bill to the United States Senate. As a result of the work on the treaty, the World Intellectual Property Organization has established the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which will promote cooperation between publishers and authorized entities to implement the objectives of the treaty. The World Blind Union has asked the National Federation of the Blind to represent the world organization on the ABC Board, and our own Scott LaBarre will be our representative.
On January 30, 2014, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the opening of our new building at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The activities in the Institute have justified our faith in what we completed ten years ago. Mark Riccobono will report on the progress we have achieved later this afternoon.
In September we received a grant from the National Science Foundation to increase access to informal STEM learning for blind students. We will work with six science museums around the country. Visiting museums has frequently been a dismal experience for blind people. I remember my own excursion to a very famous science museum. After the 150th glass case, I began to ward off the boredom with mental exercise. I estimated the number of square feet of glass in the cases I had touched, and I considered the total weight of the glass I had encountered. We are changing this. Working with others, we will create a new model for improved accessibility in museum environments. We will establish programming to engage blind youth in disciplines such as engineering design.
For several years now we have been conducting science classes for blind students during the summer months, often in coordination with partners. Last year we held STEM-X, a one-week science engineering and math program for blind high school students. We offered experience with five major disciplines: aerospace engineering, civil engineering, chemistry, robotics, and computer science. We also provided eight enrichment specialties: paleobiology, video description, geology, art, nanoscience, human physiology, biology, and cyber security.
Our collaboration with entities not ordinarily concentrating their work with blind people continues. We have talked with a number of entities working on autonomous vehicle technology to encourage development of nonvisual interfaces. We are also discussing the future of indoor navigation systems. Providing digital information about large indoor spaces such as malls and airports to members of the public is being explored by universities and some major corporations. We believe this exploration will provide blind people with new methods for getting access to information about unfamiliar indoor environments. Those strolling through the mall might be able to receive the names and locations of nearby stores, the sales being conducted in them, and a description of the layout of the premises.
On April 24, 2014, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute welcomed participants to the seventh Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Over eighty academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were present. The symposium, entitled "Disability Rights in the 21st Century: Creative Solutions for Achieving the Right to Live in the World," featured the principals in a landmark case which declared that disabled people have the right to challenge being forced into a guardianship. A reasonable and judicially viable alternative is supported decision-making, said the court. Forced guardianship, required placement in a nursing home or care facility, the demand that we turn our lives over to somebody else who believes that sighted supervision is what we need has been a part of the lives of so many blind people. Through our Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium, and the spirit of our founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek that caused the symposium to come into being, we are spreading the word that this type of thinking is being eradicated from the judicial landscape sometimes only one case at a time.
Through our Jacobus tenBroek Library, we are preserving the history of the organized blind movement. We have collected more than thirty oral histories, from members, officers, and allies of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year. We have also been entrusted with the papers of Dr. Abraham Nemeth, including documents which reflect the work he did in developing the Nemeth Braille Code for math and scientific notation. Prior to Dr. Nemeth’s development of the code, blind people were not expected to engage in scientific exploration. His work brought science and advanced mathematics to the hands of the blind. Our Jacobus tenBroek Library responds to hundreds of reference requests by our members and researchers in the field of blindness. We are becoming the best reference resource in the world on the subject of the efforts of blind people to move from second- to first-class status in society.
We are working to secure alternative sources of revenue. Our first Bid for Equality Auction took place on Black Friday 2013 and received more than $10,000 in bids. Thirty-one of our state affiliates contributed items to the auction. Those receiving the highest bids were: from Texas, two music badges to the South by Southwest Music Festival; from Indiana, a pearl necklace and earring set; and from New York, a weekend getaway to the Big Apple.
Since our last convention we have continued to support our programs through public relations efforts. Stories have appeared about our work in USA Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Idaho State Journal, the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Dayton Daily News, Fortune Magazine, The Atlantic, and on Fox television, NBC television, Al Jazeera America television, and on dozens of websites including the Huffington Post and the publication for congressional insiders called The Hill.
NFB-NEWSLINE®, which provides accessible news to blind people in forty-six states and the District of Columbia, serves more than 105,000 subscribers. Of the three hundred forty-three newspapers on NFB-NEWSLINE® and the forty-three other publications, eighteen are new, including some in the new breaking news category. Some of the newly-available publications are: Bloomberg News, Investor’s Business Daily, Reuters, Japan Times, and Norfolk Daily News.
We have handled a number of legal cases during the past year. Many of these involve the use of access technology, and the legal work that we do is greatly enhanced by the work of our access technology team. Anne Taylor, our director of access technology, and the people who work with her are recognized as among the most knowledgeable individuals in designing accessible technology for the blind in the world.
One case in a long series of efforts that we have conducted involves Nijat Worley, who works at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in our NFB-NEWSLINE® program. Because he wants to attend law school, he applied to take the Law School Admissions Test, and he requested that he be allowed to use both Braille and assistive technology. Need I report that the request was denied? Scott LaBarre and Mehgan Sidhu accepted the Worley case. Within weeks the Law School Admissions Council backed down. We have been fighting with the Law School Admissions Council to protect the rights of blind test takers for years, and we have won in cases against them repeatedly. In the meantime, the United States Department of Justice and the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment conducted an in-depth investigation of the Law School Admissions Council’s practices. They have reached a comprehensive settlement that requires full accommodation to the Law School Admissions Test and payment of damages to test takers with disabilities in the amount of nearly $7 million. Nijat Worley and other Federationists are eligible to receive some of these damages. Now, I wonder if the Law School Admissions Council would like to hire some blind people to serve as consultants on the subject of accessibility.
Vicki Hodges, a blind library assistant in Phoenix, learned that her hours would be cut because library officials were unwilling to provide workplace accommodations. With the assistance of the Arizona Attorney General, we caused complaints to be filed. These actions have now been settled. Vicki Hodges is receiving a payment equivalent to two years’ wages, and we are getting reimbursed our attorney’s fees. Furthermore, the city of Phoenix is establishing new policies to provide access technology for blind employees.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that government websites and other government-owned technology be accessible to the blind, but the government often ignores this requirement. Virgil Stinnett, a blind vendor living in Hawaii, attempted to use the website of the Small Business Administration without success. We helped with a complaint, and a settlement is in place. The Small Business Administration has decided to follow the law. The settlement also requires this agency to pay the National Federation of the Blind legal fees in the amount of $80,000.
Equal access to education 100 percent of the time is what we want and what we intend to get. Elementary education is under review in the United States. In January of 2014, the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey and some of our members filed a lawsuit against the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a group established to develop tests regarding Common Core Standards. The tests PARCC was about to distribute were not available in Braille or in other accessible formats for the blind. Shortly after the filing of the lawsuit, we met with officials of PARCC and reached an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, PARCC is working with us to post accessible practice tests online and to have Braille-ready files for all tests available for download. PARCC is doing much of its testing through a contractor, Pearson Education Services, and we have been actively building accessible tests with this entity as well.
Another partner that has joined with us in seeking completely accessible education is the University of Montana. The relationship started with an argument when Travis Moses, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Montana and a student at the University of Montana was unable to gain access to courses and materials on the campus because of the inaccessible systems being used. As I reported to you last year, the University of Montana asked George Kerscher to help achieve accessibility, and the president of the university along with the general counsel agreed to make education there usable by everybody. The University of Montana general counsel, Lucy France, will be addressing the convention later during the week. The university has pledged that it will no longer purchase inaccessible technology, that it will require vendors to install accessible products, that it will have an accessible website, and that blind students will be able to participate fully in all aspects of community life. The commitment of this university is great; the University of Montana will demonstrate to other educational institutions what must be done to offer full access to the blind.
Anthony Lanzilotti, who is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, sought to matriculate at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, New Jersey, but he ran into a number of obstacles. Not only was the course catalog an inaccessible document, not only was the system for registration and financial aid unusable by the blind, not only was the educational software inaccessible, not only were course assignments and readings posted in forms that the blind cannot read, but the college also instructed this blind student that they had a policy requiring him to be accompanied by a sighted assistant at all times to supervise him when he was on campus. He was also told that he was prohibited from participation in lab classes, and he could attempt to perform the experiments at home, where it would be safer. Several dozen outraged Federation members arrived in front of Atlantic Cape Community College with picket signs in hand to protest this barefaced effort to turn blind students away from a public institution. When the press arrived, Atlantic Cape denied that it had such a policy and declared that all of its materials were completely usable by blind people. However, it appears that officials at this college are now getting the message. We are in discussions with them about accessible technology on campus. Our members will be able to participate fully in the classes in the fall.
The Cardtronics company controls the largest fleet of ATMs in the United States, now more than sixty-six thousand. Building accessibility for the blind into these machines has come to be standard practice for manufacturers and has been required by the law for a very long time. When blind people tried to use some of the ATMs that are now a part of the fleet, they learned that accessibility had not been installed, and the National Federation of the Blind and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts brought suit. This action has been through a labyrinth of procedure. The first of the settlements took place in 2007, but it did not bring complete accessibility. For the past eight months we have been in negotiations with Cardtronics about another settlement, and we have reached a tentative agreement. This agreement is not final because it must be approved by the court, but I think that the court will give its approval. Voice guidance will be built into all of the Cardtronics machines over the next several years. The National Federation of the Blind will be part of the review process. Cardtronics will pay the attorney’s fees and will establish a banking Accessibility Center of Excellence to explore additional methods for creating a welcoming banking relationship with blind customers. Cardtronics will also make a contribution to the National Federation of the Blind of $1,250,000.
The battle over accessible airline kiosks continues. Sometimes the message from the airlines seems to be: “No blind people allowed. If there is any way to make it more difficult for you to get on our airplanes, we will find it!” In 2010 we sued United Airlines under California law, but the court rejected our lawsuit saying only federal law applies, which prohibits lawsuits by customers. Then, we sued McCarran Airport over its inaccessible common use, self-service kiosks. Although this suit was filed four years ago, the court has yet to determine whether we have a right to complain.
In the meantime, the Department of Transportation issued a rule declaring that airlines must make their technology accessible—but not all of their technology, only 25 percent of it. Furthermore, the airlines get up to ten years to do it. We don’t even get half a loaf—for the blind a quarter of a loaf will do in ten years, more or less. We will not wait for second best. We have sued the Department of Transportation. Our government boasts that the court has no jurisdiction to hear our claim. When was it that our right to be abroad in the land became so circumscribed in the law that one-quarter access ten years out is all that we can expect? What other class of human beings would suffer such indignity? If we cannot go to court, where else should we take the battle? If we cannot complain to the Department of Transportation, must we attack the machines directly? When did we lose the right to be treated equally with others? I remember the time we tried to board a plane because our rights were being denied. Must we return to those embattled moments? We might not like the choices before us, but one thing is absolutely certain. We have a right to equality of access to the systems available to all others, and we will have it.
With respect to the eBay corporation, we have entered into our second accessibility agreement with the right kinds of internal controls, the appropriate benchmarks, and the necessary testing to assure proper development of the software. Our first agreement with eBay produced less progress than we had hoped, but the new version has systems to assure accessibility. Furthermore, promotion of accessible technology is being pursued at the highest level of the company. eBay has recently worked very diligently on its security systems. The president of eBay told me that when the eBay engineers were modifying these systems to reestablish security at eBay, they recognized the necessity of ensuring that all of them are accessible nonvisually. eBay wants to be a close working partner to assure that blind customers can buy and sell on their website.
Several years ago one of our members in Maryland, Yasmin Reyazuddin, needed our help. She had been working for one of the counties of Maryland when county officials purchased inaccessible software. These officials would not consider modifying the technology with accessibility features or purchasing accessible technology. The company that had provided the software offered to work with the county to make it usable by the blind, but the county rejected the offer. When we sued the county, the court ruled against us saying that buying accessible software is an undue burden. Officials declared that providing accessibility would cost a million dollars. The judge believed the million dollar argument and paid no attention to the testimony that accessibility could have been provided by the software creator. The decision stands for the proposition that inaccessibility in the workplace is acceptable and denying blind people equality of opportunity in employment is to be expected in Maryland. As you know, we never give up. The case is one which is reprehensible. It is now on appeal, and we expect to win for Yasmin Reyazuddin.
Aaron Cannon is a blind person who was accepted for matriculation at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. After a time, after Aaron Cannon had paid his money, and participated in classes, and had succeeded in meeting school requirements, the Palmer College officials changed their minds. They said he did not have "sufficient sense of vision," and they threw him out. Nine years ago, after negotiations failed, we brought an administrative complaint, which proceeded through many layers of decision-making, but in 2010, we won. Palmer appealed to court, and a judge decided that no blind person can become a chiropractor. The evidence presented, that blind people all over the nation are doing this job, made no difference to the judge. We proceeded to the Iowa Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court was released a week ago. It fills more than forty pages. It contains a review of state and federal law regarding discrimination involving disability along with some of the most obtuse, obnoxious, and prejudicial comments ever written by a court about the blind. Scott LaBarre served as our champion. Of the seven judges who considered the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, five declared that discrimination against the blind in colleges in the state of Iowa will not be tolerated—Aaron Cannon can go to school. Furthermore, he gets damages for the injuries he suffered, and we get our attorney's fees.
We continue to conduct our ongoing programs. We give away free white canes for blind people from throughout the United States. From the beginning of the program we have distributed more than 32,000. This year we have begun distributing free slates and styluses to blind people—346 of them so far. We have continued to maintain our headquarters at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, and we have welcomed more than three thousand visitors this year from the United States and from a number of foreign countries including: Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Israel, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Nigeria, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.
Within the past twelve months I have had the good fortune to travel to many parts of the country to support programs of our organization and to meet with members of the Federation to come to know personally your aspirations, your sorrows, your hopes, your dreams. I have been reinforced once again in the spirit that we share—a spirit of independence, a determination to be the people that will make the difference to ourselves and to those who come after us in the opportunities available to blind people here and throughout the world. I know the deprivations that we have encountered, but I also know the determination that we have to meet these deprivations head-on without the slightest hesitation. We have continued to build our movement. During the past year we have made it better than it has ever been—more robust, more resilient, more energetic, more imaginative, and more heartwarming.
As I contemplate what we have done during the past year, during the past decades, I cannot help some reflection on the time I have served in the presidency. You have offered to me the greatest honor we have—the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind. I have tried to live up to the trust that you have given. Leadership demands both judgment and generosity as well as a proper balance between the two. I have tried to lead with my mind informed by my heart, and you have given me your unwavering support.
We have accomplished much together, but there is much more yet to be done. However, I know the minds that you our members bring to this movement. I have been inspired by your toughness and the depth of joy in your hearts. I know the determination that we share, and I am certain to the innermost portion of my being that this Federation will continue to build, to flourish, and to prevail. We will keep the faith with ourselves and each other. We will carry the battle into any realm where it is needed, and nothing will stop us. We possess the energy and the drive to make our future what we want it to be. This is what I have observed in our Federation. This is what I know. This is my report for 2014.