by Eric Bridges
Happy new year! I trust you all had a safe, happy and healthy holiday season. Let’s take a look back at all the amazing things that happened in 2019.
At the start of 2019, ACB was looking to hire a new director of advocacy and governmental affairs. And we found one – Clark Rachfal. He was then serving as the Program Manager, Public Policy at National Industries for the Blind. In that role, he was responsible for researching and promoting legislative and regulatory policies that support NIB’s mission. He cultivated relationships and collaborated with policymakers, national blindness organizations, and the cross-disability community on public policy priorities. He managed the NIB Advocates for Leadership and Employment Program, directly mentoring and training more than 50 grassroots employee advocates. Clark jumped right in and helped Claire Stanley with the 2019 legislative seminar.
Also in January, ACB’s Audio Description Project celebrated its 10th anniversary. To read a summary of the ADP’s work through 2018, visit http://acb.org/ADP-10th-anniversary.
Toward the end of January, we received the news that the President had signed the Marrakesh treaty and would be sending it to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). On Feb. 8, we received notice from WIPO that the USA was the 50th member of the Marrakesh Treaty.
In late February, it was time for the annual leadership meetings. (No, they aren’t called “midyear” anymore.) Legislative imperatives included autonomous vehicles, accessible durable medical equipment, and the low vision aid exclusion. Over a hundred members attended, and enjoyed a day on Capitol Hill, talking with members of Congress about the issues.
Shortly afterward, ACB posted a job announcement for a membership services coordinator, a position that has been unfilled since August of 2006. After screening the applications, interviewing the candidates, and taking care of the paperwork, we hired Cindy Van Winkle, formerly of Seattle, Wash., in June. She is based in the Minneapolis office. To learn more about her, check out the following podcast: http://acbradio.org/content/acb-advocacy-update-july-2-2019-1.
In July, ACB held its annual conference and convention in Rochester, N.Y. One item on the agenda was the election of new officers, board members, and members of the board of publications. They are:
- President: Dan Spoone, Orlando, Fla.
- First Vice President: Mark Richert, Arlington, Va.
- Second Vice President: Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
- Secretary: Denise Colley, Lacey, Wash.
- Treasurer: David Trott, Talladega, Ala.
- Newly elected board member: Donna Brown, Romney, W.Va.
- Newly appointed chair of the board of publications: Deb Lewis, Clarkston, Wash.
- Newly elected board of publications member: Zelda Gebhard, Edgeley, N.D.
During convention, I met with newly elected ACB president Dan Spoone on Facebook Live! No stranger to the ACB membership, we are excited to introduce Dan and learn how he pictures the future of ACB. To view the video, go to https://youtu.be/kirpKuNm_HU.
At the convention, ACB’s board of directors met and adopted a vision statement and a set of core values. They are as follows:
- To create a society without barriers for the blind and visually impaired community through advocacy, public awareness, collaboration and support.
- Integrity and honesty - Our word is our bond serving as a foundational element demonstrating our strong democratic principles and values.
- Respect - We treat others as we expect to be treated. We welcome each individual’s unique talents and honor diverse work and lifestyles.
- Collaboration - We believe success comes from working together to create solutions that advance the organization's mission through partnerships and teamwork.
- Flexibility - We adapt to ever-changing circumstances and situations. We are receptive to multiple points of view and ideas.
- Initiative - We can and do make a difference in all of our efforts. We embrace continuous learning, hard work, personal responsibility, accountability and motivation.
Another highlight of the convention was that ACB signed a cooperative agreement with OrCam Technologies, the world’s most advanced wearable AI-driven artificial vision innovator for people who are blind or have low vision. This agreement will raise awareness of OrCam’s assistive technology among ACB members in the United States to support uses in education, employment and quality of life for blind and low-vision Americans. OrCam devices will be available for sale to ACB members with a special ACB discount.
On Aug. 8, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Enforcement Office issued a final statement of enforcement priorities for service animals. In this statement, DOT provides greater clarity to air travel passengers with service animals, as well as airlines, about the DOT’s interpretation and enforcement of the existing service animal rules. ACB is pleased that DOT has constructed a final enforcement statement that will protect the rights of passengers with service animals for the entirety of their flying experience. The DOT’s final enforcement statement contains provisions that:
- Prohibit airlines from requiring advance notice that a passenger is traveling with a service animal for flights less than eight hours. This guarantees passengers with service animals greater flexibility in air travel.
- Consistent with the Air Carrier Access Act, credible verbal assurance is proof that a person with a disability is traveling with a service animal.
- Prohibit airline categorical restrictions on service animals based exclusively on breed and age.
- Limit airline requests for documentation regarding service animal vaccinations, training and behavior to reasonable requests to determine whether a specific animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.
ACB and its members nationwide will remain engaged on this important issue to ensure that all passengers traveling with service animals receive the full protections of the Air Carrier Access Act. ACB and Guide Dog Users, Inc. remain willing to assist all airlines to review and amend their current service animal policies.
Early in the fall, blind Chicagoans filed suit against the city and its Department of Transportation in order to challenge the systemic lack of accessible pedestrian signals at intersections all over the city. The lawsuit, which has been filed on behalf of the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago (ACBMC) and three individual plaintiffs with vision-related disabilities, alleges that Chicago disregards blind pedestrians’ safety needs in its pedestrian planning, thereby violating federal and state civil rights laws. As of late September, Chicago had equipped only 11 intersections with pedestrian traffic signals that make street crossing information accessible to blind people, even though fully 2,672 of its intersections are signalized. This number — less than half of one percent — may be the worst of any major metropolitan area in the United States.
Shortly afterward, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, H.R. 4129. This bill was one of ACB’s legislative imperatives for 2019. Once it becomes law, H.R. 4129 would direct the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to construct a five-year pilot program for the coverage of low vision devices.
On Oct. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on Domino’s v. Robles. ACB and its members applaud this decision and commend the Supreme Court for their action. The unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit made it resoundingly clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites, and by declining to hear Domino’s appeal, the Supreme Court upholds the civil rights of people who are blind and visually impaired in online commercial settings.
A few weeks later, Reps. Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and David B. McKinley (W.Va.) re-introduced the Cogswell-Macy Act, which would improve educational services for students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind. Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
And now for something we’ve all been waiting for! On Nov. 1, Apple launched its streaming service, Apple TV+. Learn more about it at http://acbradio.org/ACB-Advocacy-Update-10-31-19.
Speaking of waiting, just before Christmas, in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, my wife Rebecca gave birth to our second son, Noah Eric. On arrival, he weighed in at 8 pounds, was 20.5 inches long, and had a full head of blonde hair. Big brother Tyler was so excited to welcome Noah home!
Thanks to your advocacy, we caught the attention of Congress, and got the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act re-introduced, as well as the Cogswell-Macy Act. We helped get clarity on the regulations for guide dogs on aircraft. We could not have done it without your assistance. As we head into 2020, please consider making a donation to ACB by visiting http://weblink.donorperfect.com/ACBFundraiser. With your support, ACB will continue to make important strides to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people. ACB and you, together, for a bright future!