National Conference/Convention Report, Part II

by Mitch Pomerantz

This month's installment of my national conference/convention report continues the discussion about our efforts toward accessible prescription drug labeling.

The bill language -- which earlier this year was incorporated into S. 3187, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act -- calls for establishing a working group comprised of representatives of the blind and aging communities, along with pharmacies and the U.S. Access Board.  This group will develop "best practices" for pharmacies to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired have access to prescription drug labeling.  These recommendations would provide guidance to pharmacists on actions they can take to ensure that their blind and visually impaired patrons understand the information on their prescriptions and to enable independent access to that information.  The guidelines will provide pharmacies a range of options they can choose to offer consumers.

Both houses of Congress approved our language and it only awaits the President's signature.  We are proud of this initiative and believe this will go a long way toward protecting blind and visually impaired people from inadvertently taking the wrong pill or the incorrect dose of medication.

Since I'm discussing access to prescription information, we can't forget the tremendous work being done by our attorneys, the queens of structured negotiations, Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian.  Both of them send "wishes for a successful conference and convention and congratulate ACB on 51 years of advancing the rights of people with visual impairments across the United States and the globe."  This is Lainey and Linda's 17th year working with ACB, and they look forward to many more years of collaboration, friendship and landmark advancements in making information and technology accessible.

So, let me mention Lainey and Linda's activities addressing access to prescription information.  On June 8th, Walmart announced that it has begun a pilot program to provide talking prescription containers to mail-order customers with visual impairments across the country, and also at three stores.  ACB, CCB and AFB were structured negotiations partners in this groundbreaking initiative.  Any ACB member who can, is encouraged to order a prescription through Walmart and try the ScripTalk talking prescription system.

This pilot is the first step, and is part of a broader initiative that Lainey and Linda have engaged in with Walmart and other major retail chains including CVS/Caremark, Walgreens, Target and Rite Aid to provide talking prescription containers, braille and large print label information, as well as braille, large print and electronic versions of patient information sheets which are included with prescriptions.

Access to other types of information is high on the priority list.  ACB has made substantial progress with Weight Watchers in the past year on the accessibility of its web site including online weight-loss tools, its iPhone app, and alternative formats for print information.  Accessibility improvements have already been made and more are in the works.

Lainey and Linda continue to monitor ACB's historic agreement with the American Cancer Society addressing the needs of people with visual impairments who have cancer.  Under the agreement, ACS is providing information in braille, large print, audio CD, MP3 and electronic formats.  The web site has also been updated to comply with accessibility standards.  This year, ACS has agreed to provide additional documents in braille.

In 2012, ACB and its Massachusetts and California affiliates continued to partner with Major League Baseball in their ongoing work to ensure the accessibility of and all major league team web sites.  I'll say no more about this because we are going to hear from a representative of MLB very shortly and I'll let him talk about what happened in early June.

Much more is happening in the structured negotiations arena.  Discussions in various stages continue with the Cinemark movie chain, Bank of America, Safeway, WellPoint Health Insurance and Charles Schwab.  If you do business with any of these companies and want further information, please contact either Lainey or Linda.  The ACB national office can provide their contact information.

I need to comment briefly on developments surrounding ACB's efforts regarding accessible currency.  The most recent status report released by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was, to say the least, a major disappointment.  It fails to stipulate a time-table for circulation of the first accessible bill since our 2008 court victory.  Our attorney, Jeffrey Lovitky, has issued a very strong response to the judge overseeing implementation of the settlement.  Interestingly, the bureau is once again at our conference and convention to obtain still more input on the useful tactile features to incorporate into U.S. currency.  Stop by their booth; be polite, but let the bureau's representatives know that our impatience is growing over the lack of tangible progress toward fully accessible legal tender.

You will remember that in 2010, the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) became law and as a result, the Federal Communications Commission established the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee, or VPAAC.  This entity included several ACB members (some of whom you will hear from on Wednesday), but also a preponderance of industry representatives whose perspective on what constitutes accessibility under the CVAA differed significantly from ours.  Despite the best efforts of our people, the VPAAC reports on the availability of video-described content, access to emergency information to blind and visually impaired people, and access to user interfaces, program guides and navigation to devices, leave much to be desired.  Thanks to the efforts of Pratik Patel, chair of our information access committee, and Eric Bridges, ACB has submitted comments in response to those reports.

Part III will conclude this year's report to the ACB membership.