President's Report to the Convention
by Kim Charlson
ACB continues to address many issues and advocacy challenges since we last gathered together. I’ll cover the highlights and how we are dealing with them over the next several minutes.
As you all know, the real work of the organization isn’t the moments of success with press releases and passage of legislation, but rather the daily work advocating, writing letters and testimony, and developing and supporting ACB’s infrastructure to ensure that we have the financial resources to work on our mission and get the job done.
Earlier this evening, we hosted our Annual Giving Society reception. This year, we had 223 individual donors and 40 corporate donors. These supporters are the backbone of our fund-raising which then allows us to accomplish our valuable work. One corporate example of our growing capacity is the generosity of JPMorgan Chase, whose support has allowed ACB to once again this year bring five Leadership Fellows to this conference.
Last year, ACB’s Volunteer Hours Reporting Program collectively logged a total of 17,758 volunteer hours, worth $418,388 of in-kind contribution value to ACB. This effort shows funders our commitment to our mission, and documents the hours of work contributed by our hundreds of faithful members in all capacities.
Public education is an important part of ACB’s work. Eric and Rebecca Bridges are featured in ACB’s latest video discussing raising their adorable nearly 3-year-old son, Tyler. Their positive message about blind parenting has been watched on YouTube and Facebook by over 16,000 viewers. Check out the ACB YouTube channel to view the video.
Needing more data to support our advocacy efforts, ACB developed a national survey on described audio content. More than 479 people completed the survey, which identified major demand for the increase in available audio-described programming carried through television broadcast, satellite, and cable programming. A tremendous amount of solid research data was gathered, and has helped ACB to support its advocacy with statistics reflecting our perspective. Research findings indicated that three out of four respondents felt the current amount of available audio-described content was significantly below demand, and other obstacles still exist for accessing currently available content.
In mid-November, the Federal Communications Commission withdrew the agenda item to consider the expansion of hours of audio-described content for television. Because of ACB’s continued efforts, I am pleased to report that on July 13th, the FCC will be reconsidering the report and order which would increase the required hours of described programming that covered broadcast stations must provide to consumers.
This year, we have been dealing with several attacks from a variety of directions to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In December, I sent a letter to CBS on behalf of ACB expressing my deep disappointment with the “60 Minutes” segment aired on December 4, 2016. Anderson Cooper’s segment mischaracterized the ADA as an instrument of opportunism for drive-by lawsuits, rather than focusing on the role it has played, along with the courts, in protecting the fundamental human and civil rights of more than 55 million Americans with disabilities.
On another note, ACB is working to prevent passage of the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620) by Congress. This bill, if passed, would prohibit civil suits arising out of a failure to provide adequate access to public accommodations for the disabled unless the plaintiff provides offending property owners with a written notice specifying the deficiency. Owners would then have 60 days to respond with a written plan for improvement, and an additional 120 days to correct the deficiency, or at least demonstrate sufficient progress toward a correction.
Today, any citizen with a disability denied access can immediately file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. The passage of H.R. 620 would mean that individuals with disabilities would be forced to wait 180 days to seek resolution of their federally protected civil rights. Please do what you can to protect our rights under the ADA.
Are you getting hungry? Well, ACB is working to protect your right to buy a good meal. Have you tried ordering with one of those inaccessible tablets on many restaurant tables? How about an inaccessible app? Well, Eatsa, the self-proclaimed “Restaurant of the Future” with New York, Washington, D.C. and California locations, is excluding blind customers. Its high-tech ordering and food pick-up process fails to include existing, readily available usability features for blind and low-vision individuals. ACB, in cooperation with Disability Rights Advocates, has filed a class action federal lawsuit, along with individual plaintiff Michael Godino, a New York resident (and ACB member) who is legally blind and cannot access Eatsa independently.
Eatsa employs no waiters or cashiers. Patrons order their Eatsa meals through a smartphone app or at one of the in-store ordering kiosks. These kiosks consist of Apple iPad devices mounted and framed on a stand. When the food is ready, the customer’s name appears on a screen along with a number. The number directs the customer to a cubby where they can retrieve their food. The entire process is silent. The audio jacks and home buttons required for accessible options are covered by a frame, and no tactile features exist on the kiosks. Eatsa’s phone app is also incompatible with screen-reader technology, and the food pickup process has no audible or tactile cues. While Eatsa’s kiosks contain an option to request assistance from an employee, this feature is inaccessible to blind customers. ACB is seeking an injunction against Eatsa’s further discrimination of persons with disabilities and a comprehensive plan from the chain to provide blind patrons independent access to Eatsa restaurants.
On the legislative front, our thanks to Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) on reintroduction of the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act of 2017 (H.R. 2050). This legislation will establish a national demonstration/research project tasked with identifying the impact to Medicare and Medicare recipients who are prescribed low-vision devices over a certain threshold cost. As Congress looks for ways to improve health-care costs, ACB will urge the House of Representatives to support H.R. 2050, and move toward expanding greater independence for the millions of older Americans with severe vision loss.
I need to comment briefly on continuing developments surrounding ACB’s efforts regarding accessible currency. In 2016, the government moved back the target date for the next currency redesign involving the $10 note from 2020 to 2026. Frustrated by the delays on the part of the government, ACB sought an order from the district court requiring that the $10 bill be made accessible by 2020, and all the remaining denominations be made accessible by 2026. While this order was under consideration, the Treasury secretary advised the court that he has already complied with his legal obligation to make currency accessible by furnishing external currency readers to people with visual impairments. While the secretary indicated that he still intended to proceed with adding a tactile feature in the next major redesign, he was doing so as a matter of policy, as opposed to fulfilling a legal requirement.
The district court denied ACB’s motion in January 2017, and the case is now under appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. We are asking the appeals court to do two things: 1) to order that the $10 bill be made accessible by 2020 and all the remaining denominations be made accessible by 2026, and 2) we are asking that the court issue a ruling that external currency readers do not provide meaningful access to currency. We expect a decision within the next 6 to 12 months.
To help ACB achieve its mission and goals, ACB has ventured into the development of a new Strategic Action Plan to help guide the organization in the future across five critical focus areas, including:
· advocacy, policy, and legislation;
· affiliates and membership;
· convention and meetings;
· and marketing and communications.
The five focus areas were identified by the board of directors as having the highest potential impact for our organization moving forward. The ACB Strategic Action Plan was then developed by the board, the executive director, the national office staff, and select representatives from ACB state and special-interest affiliates.
Each focus area has a set of goals, associated action steps, timeframes, and accountable leaders to help drive change and ensure completion of the objectives. Additionally, the plan identifies any resource requirements such as people needed to work on the task, funding to get the job done, or outside resources needed, measures of success, and an evaluation process for each goal to ensure that the organization is moving in the right direction to get the job of the ACB Strategic Action Plan completed. An executive summary is being drafted to share with leaders, and it will be posted on the ACB website.
ACB continues to make communication a high priority. The latest version of ACB Link has been downloaded over 5,000 times since its release last March. It provides access for iOS device users to a wide variety of ACB information and programming. We have an Android version under development, and we are anticipating its release in the fall.
ACB Radio continues to be the pre-eminent radio broadcasting system run and operated by ACB and our broadcasters, with the Mainstream channel as the flagship of ACB’s information programming. ACB Radio continues to be available by telephone, where listeners can hear the seven ACB Radio channels, including this convention. You can also listen to “The ACB Braille Forum” and “The ACB E-Forum” by phone as well.
ACB and its members have a lot of work to do over the next several months, but overall, our affiliates and chapters across this country are making a difference in so many ways. Working together, we can continue to make change happen.