President’s Report, Part III, by Kim Charlson

In another case with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of blind federal contractors and ACB against the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal executive branch agency responsible for administering the government’s non-defense contracts. The complaint, filed in federal district court in the District of Columbia, alleges that GSA has failed to provide a web site accessible to blind federal contractors who must register and annually renew their federal contractor registration. The complaint names three individual federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind as plaintiffs.
 
GSA is responsible for ensuring that recipients of federal funding comply with the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits both the federal government and recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability, including blindness. GSA requires federal contractors to register and annually renew their registration on a GSA web site, SAM.gov. The complaint alleges that SAM.gov is incompatible with screen-reading software that many blind individuals, including the individual plaintiffs in this case, rely on to navigate the Internet. The lawsuit seeks to force GSA to make its web site accessible to blind federal contractors.
 
The irony here is that the agency charged with ensuring that others comply with the Rehabilitation Act and make their web sites accessible to the blind is not itself complying with the law. GSA is effectively telling federal contractors to “do as I say, not as I do.” Discussions between the parties appear to be going well.
 
However, our goal is that SAM.gov become accessible to blind and visually impaired federal contractors, and we won’t rest until GSA has made it accessible.
 
Now, let me shift to television and audio description. ACB continues to dedicate resources to its world-famous Audio Description Project, ably administered by Dr. Joel Snyder, and with oversight from the ACB Audio Description Project Steering Committee, chaired by Dan Spoone.
 
We continue to develop and grow the Audio Description Project web site and Facebook page.  If it’s about audio description, you’ll find it on the web site. Please visit www.acb.org/adp and “friend” us on Facebook!
 
Some ADP highlights include:

  • Providing weekly updates on audio-described DVDs and Blu-ray discs for sale (49 to date in 2015);
  • Providing updates on TV shows airing with video description;
  • ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC now offer over 40 TV series with description, plus there are an equal number on all the other stations combined, not counting the many described programs on PBS;
  • The History Channel began offering description on some shows July 1, 2015;
  • Updating numerous entries to our performing arts, movie, and museum locations with AD;
  • Publishing articles on the expansion of AD on television to 60 markets; Hawaii’s mandate for movie description; and a new AD tour at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum;
  • Emergency signals must be voiced (as of May of this year) so all stations must now have SAP capability by then;
  • Audio Description Institutes – For the first time in 2015, we sponsored our intensive, three-day training for prospective describers in conjunction with the ACB mid-year meeting. We had 21 registrants, with a full complement of participants for the Dallas training later this week.

Much of the ADP’s planning has focused in 2015 on a Dallas “mini-conference” on Tuesday, July 7 for audio description consumers. Check the program for pricing and times.
 
With a more broad focus toward access, we saw a major development from Comcast as they rolled out Voice Guidance for the X1 platform last fall. Several people from ACB were involved in beta testing of Voice Guidance, including my household, and I can assure you that it has continued to grow and evolve over the past eight months. You will hear more from Comcast on Wednesday, but I have to say that as a corporation, Comcast has invested fully into accessibility at a level that few other corporations can rival. The leadership provided by Comcast and Thomas Wlodkowski is beginning to make an impact on other providers to begin their work to deliver accessibility by the required December 2016 regulatory deadline.
 
Beginning last summer in Las Vegas, the Audio Description Institute provided training for several employees of Netflix in the key principles of audio description; matched them with mentors who were blind to more fully understand why description makes such a difference in understanding media, events, museums, movies and television. ACB has also been working since December with Netflix and Disability Rights Advocates, a disability rights law firm in Berkeley, on a wide variety of access concerns. We will hear from the primary content manager from Netflix on Monday morning, but it is no small accomplishment that dozens of television programs from Netflix now have described content, and there are over 75 described movies available to customers who are blind as well.
 
ACB continues to make communication a high priority. ACB Radio is available on the telephone system at (605) 475-8130 – where you can listen to the six ACB Radio channels, including this convention. You can also listen to “The ACB Braille Forum” and “The ACB E-Forum” by calling (605) 475-8154.
 
For those using technology to keep up with information, ACB is there for you as well through social media.
 
The ACB Twitter account has gained more than 300 new followers since last convention, many of whom are other entities in the blindness system and in the broader disability rights community. This increased exposure on Twitter gives ACB much more recognition and visibility in the social media realm. I want to publicly express appreciation to both the Twitter and Facebook teams for ACB. The Twitter team consists of four individuals who handle tweeting responsibility for designated weeks in a rotating schedule. The team includes: Lisa Brooks (Ariz.), Jim Denham (Mass.), Michael Malver (Minn.), and Michael Capelle (Wis.). John McCann (Ariz.) serves as board liaison to the Twitter team, overseeing its overall operation and filling in as necessary. For those of you who want to follow the convention on Twitter, use the hashtag #ACB15.
 
ACB’s Facebook page is now two years old, and it has undergone amazing growth during this past year. Two years ago, on July 2, our Facebook page was born. Last year, I reported that it had grown to over 550 followers.  Now, we have over 1,330 followers.
 
ACB treasurer Carla Ruschival (Ky.) is the Facebook team leader.  She has been assisted this year by Eric Bridges, Katie Frederick, John McCann, Emily Starr, and a special thanks to ACB second vice president Marlaina Lieberg and new Arlington office staff member Kelly Gasque. ACB continues to have a strong commitment to expand its available communication channels and to utilize technology to further meet the information needs of our membership.
 
In addition to avenues of communication already discussed, I am very excited to announce the development of an ACB Access app for iOS devices that will enhance communication with affiliates, connecting users with ACB key publications, ACB Radio, ACB Reports, and other useful features. The ACB Radio management team has taken on the coordination of this project under the capable leadership of Jeff Bishop of Arizona. In fact, thanks to the Arizona Council of the Blind for their initial funding of the development of the app for ACB. We are hopeful that the app will be available in early 2016.   
 
In closing, the American Council of the Blind and our thousands of members continue to have much work to do over the next several years, not simply to advance programs and services for blind and visually impaired people, but to preserve what we’ve worked so hard to obtain during previous decades. ACB proudly represents all blind and visually impaired people regardless of economic status or functional ability. We advocate for a wide spectrum of programs and services, for people of all ages and capabilities. Our work is important, it isn’t always easy and at times, it can be disappointing. Nonetheless, that is our charge and our mission. When we have victories, they are even more exciting as they are hard-fought, and we should celebrate our successes as important steps in our advocacy. Working together we can make change happen … and I look forward to working hand-in-hand with all of you to make sure our dreams for people who are blind become realities.