Washington Connection 2/26/2018
Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind. The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office. If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Tony Stephens.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of February 26, 2018. Message 5 is new.
- ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number
- House Passes Changes to Americans with Disabilities Act Over Activists’ Objections
- Voting in ACB: A Proposal for Your Consideration
- Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
- New! ACB Commends Delta for Revising Its Service Animal Policy
- AFB and APH Partner for a Future of No Limits for People Who Are Blind
- Currency Case Update
- 2018 Midyear Meeting Information
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number
Once again, AudioNow has given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (712) 775-4808.
The number to listen to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “E-Forum” and “ACB Reports” remains the same, (605) 475-8154.
House Passes Changes to Americans with Disabilities Act Over Activists’ Objections
To read this article online, go to https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/house-passes-changes-to-americans-with-disabilities-act-over-activists-objections/2018/02/15/c812c9ea-125b-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?utm_term=.bb1a84637a4b.
The House on Thursday passed legislation that would amend the Americans with Disabilities Act over objections from disability rights advocates and Democratic leaders, who warned that the bill would remove incentives for businesses to comply with the law.
The ADA Education and Reform Act passed on a 225-to-192 vote, with 12 Democrats joining all but 19 Republicans to approve a bill that proponents say is aimed at curbing unscrupulous lawyers who seek profit by threatening businesses with litigation without actually seeking to improve access for the disabled.
But activists say the bill, if enacted, would essentially gut the ADA’s provisions dealing with public accommodations by removing any incentive that businesses have to comply with the law before a complaint is filed.
“We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate,” said a September letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities signed by more than 200 disability rights groups. “Such a regime is absurd, and would make people with disabilities second-class citizens.”
On the other side are business groups, such as the International Council of Shopping Centers and the National Federation of Independent Business, which say the bill would stem “drive-by lawsuits” — so named because the lawyers who threaten them often do not physically inspect the premises.
But the bill’s critics say it would not necessarily stem the phenomenon because lawyers could still demand monetary settlements that do not include fixing the problems they identify. The abuses, the critics say, are better handled through state laws and local legal disciplinary authorities.
“No federal civil rights statute imposes such onerous requirements on discrimination victims before they can have the opportunity to enforce their rights in court,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), speaking against the bill on the House floor Thursday.
Under the bill, those wishing to sue businesses in federal court over an ADA public-accommodations violation must first deliver a written notice to that business detailing the illegal barrier to access and then give that business 60 days to come up with a plan to address the complaints and an additional 60 days to take action.
The legislation garnered some bipartisan support, including from one of the most liberal members of the House.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a lead co-sponsor of the bill, said in an interview that she has “witnessed too many rip-off artists in California that are in it for just making a buck.”
“I want public places to be accessible to persons with disabilities,” she said. “I want them fixed, and I’m not interested in making a few attorneys rich, and I’m not interested in gotcha stuff. I just want them to be accessible.”
One notable Republican opposed the bill: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and the mother of a son with Down syndrome. “The ADA was enacted more than 25 years ago to protect the disability community, and as part of that community, I could not in good conscience vote for this bill,” she said in a statement.
The bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain. No similar bill has emerged from a Senate committee, and top Democrats — including Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) — are strongly opposed.
Voting in ACB: A Proposal for Your Consideration
by Jeff Thom
Last year, on behalf of the ACB voting task force, I wrote two articles for “The ACB Braille Forum” on extending voting to those not attending the ACB conference and convention. Specifically, the articles discussed the reasons for implementing such a system, an outline of how the system might work, and some of the questions and concerns that arise if such a system were implemented. The goal was to begin a dialogue among the membership about whether this momentous step should be taken.
At its fall board meeting, the ACB board of directors took action to further move the discussion along. It adopted the following motion: Pomerantz moved and McCann seconded that the ACB board direct the voting task force to prepare a report providing the findings and input from participants in the mock election, that report to include possible voting models and/or directions for further action, including cost considerations, and that this report be distributed through all communications media including ACB Radio, “The ACB Braille Forum,” and that this report be disseminated by no later than the 2018 midyear meetings.
The mock election referred to in the motion was held during May of 2017. In this election, those on the leadership listserv were used as a sample set of voters. Participants cast their ballots online and via telephone on both a resolution and a ballot for an office. We used the VoteNow system, the same system that both GDUI and Blind Pride International (BPI) are currently using for their elections. We had a number of comments on the mock election and, although several different issues were raised, the overall view, even among most of those who had concerns, was that it was easy to use the system and a positive experience. However, the goal of that mock election was primarily to allow folks to understand how the system works from a technological standpoint, not to answer the ultimate questions of how we might modify our electoral process and the desirability of doing so.
In response to the board motion quoted above, the voting task force met once in November and once in December. The outcome of that meeting is a proposal for the implementation of voting in the election of ACB officers, and directors and members of the board of publications for all members, whether attending convention or not. This proposal will be distributed both through ACB listservs and “The ACB Braille Forum,” as well as discussed at the presidents’ meeting in February. The voting task force is not recommending either acceptance or rejection of the plan, but feels strongly that the plan needs full consideration, including the consequences of not extending voting beyond those attending convention.
Before setting forth the proposal and raising some of the questions and concerns that arise from it, I’d like to thank the task force members: Mitch Pomerantz, Pat Sheehan, and Ken Stewart, officer liaison Kim Charlson, executive director Eric Bridges, and perhaps most of all, staff member Lane Waters for his hard work on developing this proposal.
At the outset, let me say this proposal is the only one that, given all the variables that apply to our elections, and taking into consideration the state of existing technology, staff time, the cost of implementing a remote voting technology, and other factors, we could reasonably view as worth presenting. Under this proposal, VoteNow, the system used by GDUI for several years and used in our mock election, would also be utilized to implement the individual vote segment of this voting procedure. We chose the VoteNow system after investigating several remote voting providers and considering them based on format, accessibility and cost. As an example, some remote voting companies have online voting but not telephone voting, some have web sites that are not very accessible, some send emails but not postcards, and some are far more expensive than others. From our review, we settled on VoteNow as the most effective system to meet our needs. It also helped to know that other ACB affiliates had gone through a similar review and arrived at the same conclusion.
The process would only apply to officer, director, and board of publications (BOP) elections, and not to resolutions and constitutional amendments. In addition, director and BOP seats that come open as a result of an earlier election would need to be handled in the traditional way, as there would likely not be time under the technology being used, for VoteNow to configure the ballot.
Before describing how the system would actually work in the ACB election context, it is important to recognize that our problem is that we do not fit the “true” remote voting business model; we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. In a remote voting business model, the ballot is typically known well in advance and is not created or changed within a matter of minutes - the provider has ample time to create and test the website and telephone ballots. Additionally, voting occurs over an extended period of time — days or weeks, not minutes or hours as in our case. I want to commend VoteNow for trying extremely hard to accommodate to our needs if we were to adopt the proposal discussed below.
Under our proposal, 30 days prior to the ACB convention, the deadline for being a certified member of ACB for voting purposes, the ACB office would provide VoteNow with names of every member of ACB certified as eligible to vote. Two weeks prior to convention, VoteNow would provide postcards, and emails if desired, giving each member a personal identification code. That code would be needed to cast his or her vote. The nominating committee would likely continue to meet Sunday evening. The voting process would begin on Wednesday morning, with nominations from the floor and the affiliate vote. Once all nominations were made, VoteNow would configure the ballot. Individual voting would open Wednesday at noon and close Thursday at 8 a.m. Individuals would not vote on the convention floor, but would, like those not attending the convention, be able to vote with their identification codes via telephone or using a computer. The election results would be announced Thursday morning, and any board or BOP vacancies could be filled by elections conducted in the current manner during the Thursday session.
Let me now discuss some of the issues that using such a system would create. First, the cost of using VoteNow would be slightly in excess of $9,000. We would need to decide how to pay for this cost. VoteNow allows ACB to include biographies of the candidates. However, any candidate who chose to run from the floor would need to immediately have his/her biography ready for input into the system. Would we want biographies? If so, would we want to change our practice by mandating that any person who seeks to run for an office must declare at some point prior to the election on the floor? What do we do about elections where there are more than two candidates? We could have a run-off on Thursday, using the traditional method where only those at convention could vote, or we could make the highest vote-getter, even if less than a majority, the winner.
With respect to board elections, a losing candidate now has the opportunity to run in subsequent seats. Now, that opportunity wouldn’t occur, unless a vacant seat was created through a board member winning an officer election. Do we want to change our board of directors voting procedure to have one election under which a voter would cast the same number of votes as there are open seats? Should we be concerned that a glitch in designing the ballot could throw off the entire timing of the election? How concerned should we be that, since our elections often occur on or around July 4, short staffing on the part of VoteNow could cause a problem? Should we consider the elimination of affiliate voting, since every member would now have the right to cast a ballot? Should we be concerned that some elections would be handled using the new methodology, while others would need to be dealt with using the traditional one?
On the other hand, with issues such as potential declining convention attendance and possible membership facing us, is doing nothing a recipe for a gradual decline of ACB? Also, we cannot make any change in our voting procedure without modifying our constitution and bylaws. By way of example, we would need to modify various provisions that limit voting to those at convention.
The voting task force wishes that there were easy answers to the issue of enabling all members to vote in ACB elections, but there are not. We hope, however, that all of you will help us make the right decision for ACB. Those of you attending the presidents’ meeting in February will have the opportunity to provide us with input at that time. However, it is crucial that as many members as possible provide their thoughts and ideas on the future of our system of voting in general and specifically on this proposal. You can provide input either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a telephone message (toll-free) at 1-877-926-1910.
Together, we will work toward the best solution for ACB.
Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
BOSTON — A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action today against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans. The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse. However, the company fails to provide audio description — a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie — for any streaming videos.
Because Hulu fails to include audio description tracks on any of its streaming content, blind and visually impaired individuals cannot independently enjoy Hulu’s video streaming services. Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen, especially in scenes with no dialogue. The audio description track plays between pauses in dialogue. Hulu boasts an extensive library of live TV and on-demand movies and series — including its Emmy-award winning original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” — but currently excludes customers who are blind and visually impaired.
In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet. A screen reader is software that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.
The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.
Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Movies and television are pillars of American culture. As delivery of such media transitions to video streaming services, it is critical that these platforms be accessible in order to ensure the inclusion of blind and visually impaired individuals in contemporary society.”
Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Hulu is owned by a collection of some of the most powerful companies in the entertainment business and is itself one of the nation’s most popular online streaming services. Its utter failure to provide access to individuals who are blind and visually impaired is astonishing.”
“BSCB members have been expressing their concerns about Hulu’s lack of audio description for years now,” said Brian Charlson, President of Bay State Council of the Blind, “and it is time that Hulu join with other industry streaming services out there and meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
“As forms of entertainment evolve, equal access must transition to meet industry innovation. Equal access means the ability to fully use and enjoy all aspects of entertainment, just like everyone else,” said Christine Griffin, Executive Director of DLC.
Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but seek only to achieve equal access to Hulu’s services.
A copy of this press release and the complaint can be found at http://dralegal.org/press/ nationwide-class-action-challenges-hulus-discrimination-blind-visually-impaired-individuals/.
ACB Commends Delta for Revising Its Service Animal Policy
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2018 – The American Council of the Blind commends Delta Airlines for re-examining its recent policy on service animals, relaxing constraints that negatively impacted travelers with guide dogs. The revised policy announced today makes changes to a policy released earlier this year that was intended to reduce the number of fraudulent service and emotional support animals that have disrupted travel and, in some cases, caused injury to passengers.
“ACB is pleased to learn that Delta listened to the concerns ACB and our members raised following the release of their January 18th change in policy,” said Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director. “The new policy provides a much more workable solution that still allows for the freedom of travel by passengers using guide dogs.”
Since its inception, ACB has advocated tirelessly for equal access by individuals who rely on the use of a guide dog. ACB played an active role in the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Both laws have established the fundamental right to access in places of public accommodation and across multiple transportation networks, including all commercial airlines.
“We look forward to working with Delta and other airlines to assure that the skies remain accessible for all travelers, especially those who experience the freedom that comes through traveling with a guide dog,” said Anthony Stephens, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs. A guide dog user, Stephens was actively involved in the 2016 Department of Transportation negotiations tasked with finding a solution to the rise in service animal fraud.
The initial policy change, released January 18th, would have created multiple barriers to free and independent access to air travel by consumers with guide dogs. Passengers with service and emotional support animals would have been required to provide prior notice, and upload relevant documents affirming the dog’s training and vaccination records. The revised guidelines relax many of these policies for individuals with legitimately trained service animals, which have already undergone great scrutiny and training before being released in the community with their handlers. Passengers traveling with trained service animals will still be required to have their dogs vaccinated and be able to provide proof of vaccination should issues or injury arise as a result of the animal.
ACB recognizes Delta’s desire to assure that in the rare case of injury, the appropriate documentation can be made available. We thank Delta for listening to its customers and redrafting a policy that does not discriminate against travelers who rely on their service dogs to be independent.
AFB and APH Partner for a Future of No Limits for People Who Are Blind
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2018 — Today, the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind announced a partnership with the mutual goal of generating substantial impact on the lives of children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. APH will become the steward of several key programs founded by AFB and assume responsibility for ensuring their continued impact. AFB will take the work to a new level by investing in policy and programs focused on creating stronger social systems, and ultimately a more inclusive, accessible society for people with vision loss. These complementary strategies will ensure that people who are blind or have low vision can live a life of no limits, recognizing that the future belongs to everyone.
This decision comes following extensive strategic planning by both organizations. The partnership gives APH the opportunity to expand its lifelong learning offerings and gives AFB the opportunity to expand its influence on the research and policies that impact the lives of people with vision loss.
APH will become the caretakers of:
- AFB Press – a program that publishes textbooks for college and university programs and professional books for teachers, researchers, and other professionals. The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) will remain in the care of AFB.
- VisionAware – an online program that helps adults who are losing their sight continue to live full and independent lives by providing timely information, step-by-step daily living techniques, and a supportive online community.
- FamilyConnect – an online program that gives parents of children who are visually impaired a place to find resources and support each other.
- CareerConnect – an online program that provides employment information, career-exploration tools, and job-seeking guidance for individuals with vision loss and professionals who work with them.
- BrailleBug – an online program that teaches children about braille through games and activities and provides resources to teachers and parents.
Both organizations are committed to a smooth transition and will be working in close partnership for several months.
“We are proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with so many in the field. This work has brought us to this crossroads where it is necessary for AFB to assume a stronger and more active voice in decisions that impact the broader world, particularly in the areas of education, employment, and aging and vision loss,” explains Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB. “We are excited about our new direction and optimistic about what the future holds for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our partnership with APH is a win-win for the people we serve.”
“Learning is critical to improving the lives of everyone across the life spectrum. Quality information is key for providing opportunities for employment, education and ultimately, happiness,” says Craig Meador, president of APH. “We are committed to continuing the standards of credibility and excellence established by AFB while evolving and growing these programs to keep them relevant in the 21st century knowledge economy.”
Both organizations are realigning priorities in response to the growing needs of children and adults who are blind and visually impaired. There are more than 25 million Americans with vision loss and those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages. As more people become blind or visually impaired, as schools experience a shortage of teachers trained to teach students with vision loss, as the economy and workforce changes, and as accessibility becomes even more essential to workforce training and technologies, service organizations are relying on new partnerships and sharing resources to provide the necessary supports and systems for people to succeed today and in the future.
Currency Case Update
In June 2016, the American Council of the Blind filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to act judiciously and expeditiously in order to release accessible currency by December 31, 2020. The petition to the court followed a Treasury update stating that it would not have accessible currency until as late as 2026, thirteen years past the initial timeline set forth by the court in ACB v. Paulson. The Department of the Treasury claimed that the delay was not due to making currency accessible, but rather over concerns about counterfeiting advancements.
On the morning of October 19, 2017, ACB presented oral arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding the extensive delays in implementing accessible tactile currency. During the hearing, the government gave little cause to its earlier argument that they had made meaningful access available through the e-currency readers.
On December 26, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court must make a new determination as to whether all currency must be made accessible by 2026. The government is now attempting to delay implementation of the tactile feature on all currency denominations until the 2030s. To read the decision online, go to http://acb.org/system/files/Currency%20Case%20Decision.pdf.
In this connection, as part of our case for the next phase of court activity, ACB wishes to hear from both its members and non-members, expressing their real-life problems in dealing with paper currency. We are particularly interested in your difficulties and challenges when using currency in a public environment, such as when shopping at a store, receiving change from a teller, or riding in a taxi. We would like to gather your firsthand experiences, mishaps, near misses, or horror stories.
We would also like to hear of any difficulties people are having when using, or trying to use, the external talking currency reader supplied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in a public setting.
We are asking that you provide ACB with this information in written form via email. Your individual comments will be reviewed by ACB staff, and then be sent to our attorney. ACB’s attorney will review your written comments, and, if appropriate, he will format these accounts that strengthen our case into affidavits for your signature. These signed affidavits will then be filed with the court.
Individuals wishing to provide statements for the court on issues and concerns with lack of accessible currency may send your statements to email@example.com. Feel free to call our national office with questions: (202) 467-5081.
We believe that your individual real-life stories will be critically important in attempting to persuade the court to set a firm deadline of 2026 for making all currency accessible. We look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible.
2018 Midyear Meeting Information
Our phones have been ringing with requests for information about the 2018 midyear meeting. Below you will find the dates, the schedule of events, hotel information and a link to register. We hope you’ll join us!
The American Council of the Blind’s annual midyear meeting and legislative seminar will take place from Saturday, February 24, 2018 to Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 in Alexandria, Virginia.
2018 Schedule of Events:
Saturday, February 24: Board Meeting
Sunday, February 25: Affiliate Presidents’ Meeting
Monday, February 26: Legislative Seminar
Tuesday, February 27: Meeting with Legislators on Capitol Hill
Crowne Plaza Alexandria
Room rates (pretax): $117/night
Address: 901 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone number: (703) 683-6000
To view this announcement online, go to http://acb.org/2018-midyear.