A Brief Retrospective on 2011

by Melanie Brunson

By the time you read this, we will be several weeks into a new year. I hope the year has gotten off to a positive start for all of you, and that it will continue to bring you increased opportunities, good fellowship, and happiness.
Before we send off the old year completely, I thought it would be fun to look back on ACB's accomplishments in 2011. The year before that was somewhat of a banner year for us, with two major pieces of legislation we had supported being signed into law, as well as a number of structured negotiation settlements. This past year may seem less productive, but that is largely because many of the things we achieved were in the regulatory rather than the legislative arena, and as a result, did not gain the same amount of public notice that legislative victories often do. However, regulations are where decisions are made about how the legislation will be implemented and enforced, so they are important to the process of determining over the long haul how much of a victory the original legislation really was.
This past year, there were a number of opportunities to influence the nature of regulations that will be implemented in a number of policy areas, and ACB has taken advantage of those opportunities. I am pleased to report that a significant number of our members, as well as our staff, have assisted with this effort. In January 2011, several ACB members were appointed to the advisory committee convened by the Federal Communications Commission to make recommendations regarding how to implement portions of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (which was one of our bills signed into law in 2010) that deal with, among other things, audio-described programming on TV. These recommendations will be critical to the development of the FCC's ultimate positions and the implementing rules that result. Our members are still fully engaged in the work of their respective work groups, and the advisory committee will reap the benefit of their work as it issues its report later this year.
In addition, there have been several opportunities for public comment to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on issues of concern to people who have visual impairments. ACB, its members, and its affiliates have all responded in significant numbers. ACB and GDUI supported efforts by the U.S. Department of Transportation to make sure that airports provide places inside secure areas where people who travel with guide dogs can take them to relieve themselves in between flights. Access to safe dog relief areas that can be used without having to leave secured areas and be re-screened in order to re-enter an airport terminal and get to a flight has been a major challenge for people who travel with guide dogs and other service dogs for years. We were pleased that the DOT proposed rules aimed at solving this problem and encouraged them to move ahead with their proposed rule.
We also submitted comments to the U.S. Access Board that covered a variety of issues related to making streets and walkways more accessible to pedestrians, including those with visual impairments. In these comments, we reiterated the need for more accessible pedestrian signals at intersections, and supported the need to use them at entrances to roundabouts. Many of the other issues addressed in the Pedestrian Safety Handbook we talked about last month were also covered in these comments.
Space does not permit me to give you a complete list of all of the proposed regulatory changes that ACB, its members, and affiliates have commented on over the course of the year. But I can say that our input has been noticed by government staffers. As a result, we are being specifically invited to provide further comment on some of the issues we addressed in comments. It is our expectation that these efforts will bear fruit in the months ahead.
Thanks to all of you who have helped us spread the word about how to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all people who are blind and visually impaired.