by Sharon Lovering
After a long week of meetings at the American Council of the Blind’s 53rd annual conference and convention, members enjoyed the annual banquet on Friday evening.
“Good evening, everyone!” said Kim Charlson, ACB’s president. “You all may notice that on the agenda it says that Kim Charlson will be your emcee. Well, besides the fact that you’ve listened to me an awful lot this week … part of the process, I think, of being a good emcee is being a little bit of a stand-up comic, and since I can’t stand up, I didn’t think that that was such a great thing for me to do.” The audience roared with laughter as Charlson introduced the evening’s emcees: Brian Charlson and David Trott.
Brian Charlson introduced Sara Conrad, who gave the results of the ACB Students Money War. Third place, $125, went to the Washington Council of the Blind; second place, $185, went to ACB of Texas; and first place, $310, went to the Tennessee Council of the Blind.
Charlson then introduced keynote speaker David Lepofsky, chairman of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. Lepofsky described the scene in a Canadian courtroom when opposing counsel stopped in the middle of a case and said, “I can’t continue. We need to take an adjournment.” Lepofsky asked his law student what had happened. The student told him the power had gone out; court adjourned.
From that event, he learned two things. One was that people who don’t have disabilities don’t ask whether they’ll be able to read the materials handed out at various conferences; they just assume that will happen. But the most important lesson was that disability isn’t about biology; it’s about the world having been designed without equality in mind.
The world has changed radically in the last decades, he noted. “The same dramatic transformation in the world … has taken place in the life of people with vision loss in the past 40 years, if not sooner, in terms of access to information. Forty years ago, if the book wasn’t available on an audio tape … you had to line up human beings to read it to you. ... Forty years later, the distance between a book we’ve never read and has never been recorded, if it’s in clear print, and us … is either waiting 10 seconds, if it’s slow technology, or about 1 or 2 seconds if it’s faster technology.” The biggest challenge blind consumers face is deciding who’s going to come out with the best device more quickly, and whether to spend a few hundred bucks on it or wait for the next one, he quipped.
“Our capacity to take part in society has always been high, but it’s been radically improved in my lifetime,” Lepofsky added. “However, the opportunities have not expanded commensurately.” He offered a few examples. In the ‘80s, he worked with a group of people with various disabilities, fighting to get equality for people with disabilities into the Canadian constitution and in the Ontario Human Rights Code. In the ‘90s and early 2000s, he worked with others on a campaign to enact the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and has led the campaign to get that act enforced. He has also taken on the Toronto public transit system, which wasn’t announcing stops on its rail system. He sued the system, and won the case in 2005. He sued them again to get them to announce all stops on their buses, too, and won that case in 2007.
What did he learn from those cases? “The first is that we have to redefine ‘we.’ When we ask for what we ask for, we’ve got to end the discussion of people with disabilities versus people without disabilities and what can they do for us. The way we end that discussion is through a little exercise I’m going to do with you. … Would you please raise your hands if you have no disability now and are certain you will never get one?” No hands went up. “Everyone either has a disability or has someone near or dear to them who has a disability or will get one if they live long enough, since the most common cause of disability is aging. … This kind of advocacy for equality for people with disabilities is not asking what people without disabilities can manage to do for us. Rather, it is what we can do for people who haven’t yet gotten their disabilities so when they do get theirs, they won’t face the barriers we did.”
By framing the argument that way, Lepofsky said, it puts people with barriers against everybody. “Barriers are a universal language,” he noted. “And what unites us – all of us, regardless of what kind of disability we have – is that we all face barriers and we shouldn’t.”
To learn more, follow @aodaalliance or @davidlepofsky on Twitter. To receive e-mail updates, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. For the link to Lepofsky’s lectures on YouTube, visit www.aodaalliance.org.
Trott called Chelle Hart, co-chair of the awards committee, to the podium to present awards. Hart began with the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award. “This year’s winner joined the Washington Council of the Blind as a charter member in 1971. … In 1976 he became ACB’s first intern … Today he continues to live his commitment to the blind of America as executive director of the Missouri Council of the Blind.” The winner was Chris Gray.
“What an honor to receive this award,” Gray said. “I want to thank you all very much.”
Hart next presented the George Card Award. “This year’s nominee and winner has spent most of his adult life working to help improve the lives of people who are blind or have low vision … A few of the areas where our lives have benefitted by his leadership and guidance include: 1) the priority he placed on increasing the Title II funding for elder blind programs; 2) ACB Radio began streaming around the world with the great talents of Jonathan Mosen during this president’s administration; 3) the Thirteen Principles of Consumer Choice in Rehabilitation …” The winner was Paul Edwards.
“Normally I speak pretty well,” Edwards said. “Tonight I don’t. … Thank you so much.”
Hart then presented the Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award. “This year’s recipient has been actively involved in establishment and expansion of several non-profit organizations which have provided inclusive opportunities for the blind and visually impaired ... In the field of sports and recreation, he has introduced many … to groups such as Ski For Light, United States Association of Blind Athletes …” The winner was Oral Miller.
Trott then called on Dan Spoone to do the Forum raffle drawing. The $500 winner was Trish Mangis; the $1,000 winner, Peter Pardini; and $5,000 winner, Mike Arnold.