President’s Report, Part II

by Kim Charlson

ACB also established the Legacy Society as part of an effort to be more proactive, honoring and recognizing individuals who have included ACB in their estate plans via a bequest or another type of planned gift and have communicated their intentions to ACB. This allows us to recognize and honor those individuals while they are still with us rather than only acknowledging their generosity after their passing. These initiatives all go far toward making it possible to support ACB’s organizational work and advocacy.
 
This work is often referred to as capacity-building, and ACB has been very busy constructing our support system this past year. One example of this expanded capacity is due in large part to the generosity of JPMorgan Chase, who supported ACB being able to bring 21 additional members to the 2015 mid-year presidents’ meeting and legislative seminar in Washington, D.C. in February. Many of this group were first-timers, who would not have been able to participate without this funding support. Due to this grant, 21 additional members were able to advocate in person for ACB’s legislative imperatives on Capitol Hill, and were able to network and learn from other affiliate leaders and take back best practices to their state and special-interest affiliates.  
 
JPMorgan Chase also sponsored the production of an informational video entitled “BlindAbility,” that will be previewed for the first time later this evening. It features four ACB members, who are all working, discussing their lives, their goals, and how important advocacy is to each of them. It will be made available on ACB’s YouTube channel for anyone to share with their organizations, potential employers, rehab agencies, or other civic groups. I hope all of you are as pleased with the video as I am …
 
Our capacity-building continued into the spring of this year. Many of you are aware of Google’s presence at our convention over the past four years. We are very appreciative of their support, and this year, they have worked with ACB to build and expand our capacity through their active engagement with us in Google for Nonprofits. We have received training in the use of special analytic tools that allow us to track Internet traffic to acb.org, as well as the ability to use specific terminology to enhance our website hits with various search engines. These are powerful tools that will increase our ability to be more visible online and to become a destination for people or media who Google for blindness-related resources. 
 
Last year, ACB launched a pilot Volunteer Hours Reporting Program with 11 committees, which collectively reported a total of 8,534 volunteer hours worth $192,444 of in-kind contribution value to ACB.  We are in the process of expanding this volunteer reporting program to our other committees and task forces in 2015. This initiative shows funders our commitment to our work, and documents the hours of work contributed by our hundreds of faithful volunteers in all capacities. Thank you again for all you do!
 
In early January 2015, ACB announced a structured negotiation settlement with CVS/caremark. This settlement collaboration was with the law office of Lainey Feingold, and Linda Dardarian of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian and Ho. CVS Health has started offering talking prescription labels, braille, and large print labels to customers who are blind or visually impaired through its mail service company Caremark. They are using the accessible label system provided through En-Vision America’s ScripAbility program. New or existing Caremark customers can order the new labels by calling their Caremark call center or Caremark’s general customer care toll-free number at 1-800-552-8159. En-Vision America can be reached at 1-800-890-1180. The Caremark initiative joins previous work by ACB with CVS Health making accessible prescription labels available from CVS/pharmacy for prescriptions ordered for home delivery through its online pharmacy, CVS.com. Ensuring that all of our members have access to important information about their prescriptions is a critical component in assisting people to independently manage their health care needs on their journey to better health. Please stay tuned for more announcements with exciting news on other prescription providers over the next several months.
 
On the legislative front, ACB was very pleased to have Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) re-introduce H.R. 729, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2015. This bill seeks to right a wrong that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have perpetrated for many years through the denial of coverage of low-vision devices for Medicare recipients.  CMS has elected to very narrowly interpret the regulations so that devices that have one or more lenses are treated the same as ordinary eyeglasses.
 
At the 2015 legislative seminar, attendees went up to Capitol Hill to seek additional co-sponsors for this piece of legislation. ACB members played a significant role in getting many of their representatives to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill. We still need more co-sponsors, so when you return home, make a pledge to have your affiliate work to get your entire House delegation to sign on as a co-sponsor. We presently have 11 co-sponsors.
 
In my report at last year’s convention, you may remember I shared audio of a taxicab sting operation conducted by a team of investigative journalists from WUSA Channel 9 in Washington regarding access to taxis by blind individuals using guide dogs. Over the past year, official complaints were filed with the appropriate D.C. agencies; mediation was attempted but not successful. In early March 2015, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of Eric Bridges and the American Council of the Blind against four taxicab companies in the District of Columbia for discriminatory practices against blind and visually impaired individuals accompanied by guide dogs.
 
The complaint, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that Yellow Cab of D.C., Grand Cab, Elite Cab, and Pleasant Taxi all engaged in discriminatory practices when their drivers failed to pick up Eric, who was hailing a cab with his guide dog, General. This discriminatory treatment is all too common for blind and low-vision passengers who use guide dogs.
 
The incidents alleged in the complaint are just a few examples of the systemic discrimination that blind individuals with guide dogs face on a daily basis. Equal access to public transportation and transportation services is a fundamental right under the D.C. Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The cab company defendants have all contributed to this systemic discrimination and illegal activity by engaging in, and allowing their drivers to engage in, a pattern and practice of discrimination. This is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. It is truly an honor to be working with the talented attorneys from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on this case. I also want to commend Eric for his leadership and commitment to following this very strong case through to its conclusion. 
 
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs honored ACB with their organization’s 2015 Alfred McKenzie Award, named for the former Tuskegee Airman and lead plaintiff in a successful class action brought by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee challenging racial discrimination. The award recognizes committee clients whose dedication and courage have produced civil rights victories of particular significance. 
         
I need to comment briefly on developments surrounding ACB’s efforts regarding accessible currency. We continue to work with Jeffrey Lovitky, our pro bono attorney, on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing case. In an article in “The Washington Post” in late June, “The big change to the new $10 bill that no one's talking about,” it was confirmed that the new $10 note will be the first bill scheduled for release with tactile features to benefit people who are blind.  The widely publicized announcement that a woman will grace the redesigned $10 bill has overshadowed what we believe will be an equally historic change in the way America’s money literally feels. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told reporters that tailoring the $10 bill to the blind was in keeping with the new design’s theme of democracy. But he did not specify exactly how the currency would change.
 
We have not received any design details, but our understanding is that the new note is slated to be unveiled in 2020. Thursday morning we will have an update from Sid Rocke, chief counsel for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, so I urge you all to be there to hear the most up-to-date news. The bureau will be in the exhibit hall as well, continuing to distribute currency readers to those who have not received one as a part of this phase of the meaningful access program.