The Braille Monitor                                                                              August/September 2005


Imagining a Brighter Future for Blind Americans:
A Report on the 2005 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon Maneki presides at the 2005 meeting of the Resolutions Committee.
Sharon Maneki presides at the 2005 meeting of the Resolutions Committee.

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki, president of the NFB of Maryland, chairs the NFB resolutions committee, one of the largest and most important committees in the organization. Here is her summary of the resolutions considered and acted upon at this year’s convention:

Each year the Convention considers resolutions to determine the policies and future goals of the organization. Resolutions may come to the Convention by two routes, the national board of directors and the resolutions committee appointed by the president. This year the Convention received resolutions by both methods.

The national board of directors presented Resolution 2005-101 to the convention during the Tuesday afternoon session, after a moving presentation by Dr. Floyd Matson. In this resolution, we commend and thank Hazel tenBroek, wife of our founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek for her years of service to the organization. The Convention sent Mrs. tenBroek this resolution and a copy of the new biography entitled Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality, autographed by the author, Dr. Matson.

I had the privilege of chairing the resolutions committee once again this year. During its Sunday afternoon meeting the thirty Federationists from throughout the country that comprised the resolutions committee debated eighteen resolutions, sending seventeen on for further consideration by the Convention. Resolution 2005-16 failed in committee. The committee supported the goal of this resolution, which was to insure that customers can use any refreshable Braille display with either Jaws or Window Eyes. The committee concluded that there were structural problems with the resolution and that the compatibility of assistive technology products should be handled by market forces rather then by a resolution.

The Convention debated seventeen resolutions during the Friday afternoon session. The most spirited debate was on Resolution 2005-08. The resolution failed because it did not receive a majority vote from Convention delegates. The vote was twenty-six states in favor and twenty-six states opposed. The Convention agreed with the objective of the resolution, to urge airlines to make their Web sites accessible so that blind travelers may purchase tickets from the Web. Controversy arose over some of the wording of the resolution. Blind people are not the only consumers who have trouble using the Web to purchase tickets.

The Convention passed sixteen resolutions, which demonstrate the proactive nature of the Federation. These resolutions reflect our capacity to imagine and create a brighter future for blind Americans. They call for congressional action in a variety of areas; propose improvements in education, rehabilitation, and the Social Security programs; promote a variety of types of access; and urge producers of television programs to portray the capabilities of blind people.

The Convention passed three resolutions concerning the Congress. In Resolution 2005-01 we call upon Congress to amend Section III of the Rehabilitation Act by directing the administration to preserve the division for the blind, the rehabilitation services staff positions, and the regional structure of the Rehabilitation Service Administration. We also encourage Congress to preserve existing law regarding appointment of the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Tai Tomasi, president of the Utah Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.

Mark Harris, a board member and leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants, proposed Resolution 2005-06. For many years NISH agencies in the Javits-Wagner-O’Day program have tried to take control of military dining facilities that should be operated by the Randolph-Sheppard program. The National Federation of the Blind has been protesting the activities of NISH on many levels. In Resolution 2005-06 we call on Congress to adopt the House of Representatives language in the Defense Reauthorization Bill. The House language will require the Department of Defense and the Department of Education to develop a joint statement of policy to assure that the Randolph-Sheppard and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day programs function together to “meet their statutory purposes.”

During its current session Congress is considering HR 951, the Video Description Restoration Act, and S900, the Television Information Enhancement for the Visually Impaired Act. These bills mandate the reinstatement of the Federal Communication Commission rule that required four hours of video described television in certain television markets. James McCarthy, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2005-18. In this resolution we express our opposition to these bills unless they are also amended to require a process that will lead to the voicing of text printed to the screen.

The Convention passed four resolutions concerning education. These resolutions cover every level of education from early childhood through college. Carla McQuillan, a national board member and president of the NFB of Oregon, proposed Resolution 2005-04. We encourage early childhood educators to incorporate multi-sensory learning materials as the foundation of their curriculum in this resolution. This multi-sensory learning approach not only will benefit blind children and others with nonvisual learning styles but will also assist children who typically learn visually.

Angela Howard, a national scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow who currently lives in Texas, introduced Resolution 2005-02. In this resolution we commend Senators Christopher Dodd (Connecticut) and Thad Cochran (Mississippi) and Representatives Thomas Petri (Wisconsin) and George Miller (California) for cosponsoring the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. We also commend Congress for incorporating provisions of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Students in elementary and secondary schools will finally receive their textbooks on time because of the passage of this legislation.

In Resolution 2005-10 we condemn and deplore the feeble attempt by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the Department of Education to establish instructional materials accessibility regulations. The proposed regulations are much too weak and ambiguous. For example, providing textbooks in a timely manner should be clearly defined. James McCarthy sponsored this resolution.

Resolution 2005-07 deals with access to electronic information and instructional technology in higher education. This resolution was sponsored by Meleah Jensen, president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students. Meleah is also a 2005 scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow. In this resolution we call upon Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to promote nonvisual access to electronic information and instructional technology. Postsecondary institutions would be obligated to incorporate nonvisual access requirements into their procurement contracts if they wish to continue to receive federal funds.

The Convention passed two resolutions concerning rehabilitation. The Federation has been a leader in promoting choice in rehabilitation for many years. Resolution 2005-17 extends the idea of choice in rehabilitation that civilians have enjoyed to the rehabilitation system for veterans. Doug Elliott, a leader in the NFB of Iowa and a veteran who served in the U.S. Army, proposed this resolution. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact legislation instructing the Department of Veterans Affairs to adopt a choice approach for veterans who receive rehabilitation services.

Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, proposed Resolution 2005-11. The United States Postal Service is violating the Randolph-Sheppard Act because it will issue Randolph-Sheppard permits to operate vending machines only if the state licensing agency agrees that the vendor shall pay a commission to the Postal Service. In this resolution we urge state licensing agencies to insist that agreements to operate vending machines should not include payment of any commissions.

The Convention passed two resolutions dealing with Social Security. James McCarthy sponsored Resolution 2005-03. In this resolution we call upon the Social Security Administration to establish presumptive disability for Social Security Disability Income applicants who meet the statutory definition of blindness. Presumptive disability means that an applicant would receive benefits before disability determination was completed.

In Resolution 2005-14 we call upon Congress to eliminate the marriage penalty that exists under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Under the current program couples on SSI receive less money than they would receive as two single individuals. Yolanda Garcia, a student leader from Texas and a national scholarship winner in 2004, proposed this resolution.

The Convention passed three resolutions regarding different aspects of access. Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2005-05. In this resolution we express our strong opposition to the use of graphically displayed text as the sole means of verifying humanity on Web sites, because the primary method used is a barrier to accessibility for the blind. Too many companies use graphical verification to protect themselves against malicious computer programs.

Don Burns, legislative coordinator and first gentleman of the California affiliate, introduced Resolution 2005-12. In this resolution we urge states to enact legislation to promote accessibility for the blind to touch-screen devices installed in public places. Examples of touch-screen devices include point-of-sale machines, lottery terminals, and kiosks to purchase tickets.

Resolution 2005-15 concerns access to airlines by blind travelers who use a guide dog. Priscilla Ferris, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Michael Hingson, a leader in this organization, introduced this resolution. In November 2004 the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new regulations concerning the Air Carrier Access Act. These regulations suggest that airlines may charge the passenger using a guide dog for a second seat if the dog cannot fit in the floor space allocated to the passenger; have the passenger ship the dog in cargo; or have the team take a later flight. In this resolution we demand that the U.S. Department of Transportation immediately revise these regulations, affirming the rights of blind passengers to travel without restrictions other than those imposed on the general air-traveling population.

Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, introduced Resolution 2005-09. In this resolution we urge producers of public and commercial television programming for young children to include audible as well as visual cues in the original scripts of their shows. This resolution does not propose audio description. We merely urge television producers to use audible and visual cues when conveying information. For instance, if there is a picture of a child boarding an elevator, sound cues such as a ringing elevator bell and the sound of the door opening should be included.

The portrayal of blind people on television was the subject of Resolution 2005-13. Dan Hicks, a longtime leader and second vice president of the NFB of Florida, sponsored this resolution. The producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, broadcast on ABC television, built a new home for a blind person and his family. The home was full of unnecessary gimmicks, portraying blind people in a negative and damaging light. We condemn and deplore the actions of the television producers for their inaccurate depiction of the capabilities of blind people in this resolution. We also urge television officials to contact the National Federation of the Blind for advice and guidance before producing programs that deal with blindness.

This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.