by Christopher Gray
I'd like to take a moment as we enter into 2007 to assess the year just ended and consider what it can suggest for 2007 and beyond. 2006 could well go down as one of ACB's finest years in the past decade, although many might have predicted otherwise in January of last year.
Our greatest success of the year is doubtless the ruling by Judge James Robertson in which he upheld ACB's contention that the currency as it exists today violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. He insists, as both blind consumer organizations have requested since the 1980s, that the Department of the Treasury sit down and consult with low vision and blind people as they alter the currency in order to create new and better means of accessibility. This is a great victory for all blind Americans, and it is my firm hope that within several months such conversations can begin.
Though we prefer not to engage in direct litigation, ACB also joined forces with others in 2006 to sue the Social Security Administration (SSA) under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The purpose of this litigation is to require SSA to provide correspondence and other key materials to recipients in a format that recipients can read. For example, SSA must cease sending printed letters of request for appointments, determinations of payment, and so forth to totally blind recipients. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund for its assistance and forward-looking vision in this case.
More directly related to ACB's organizational affairs, we have achieved many successes that will, in time, affect ACB's bottom line. In the fourth quarter of 2006, ACB brought on a new chief financial officer at our Minneapolis offices, Lane Waters. While Lane may not be directly responsible for all of the successes I'm about to tell you, he has had a hand in many, and he has been the primary cataloger and organizer of many more on ACB's balance sheets and on those of our Enterprises and Services business as well.
I am often asked about ACB's reserve funds. This year, the board of directors is extremely proud to tell you that those reserves remained untouched. In other words, ACB adopted and maintained a budget through which we "lived within our means" and did not have to rely on taking money out of reserve funds. Better than that, we were able to place an additional $100,000 back into our reserves, which greatly strengthens the organization and guards us against unforeseen possibilities in the future.
The businesses we operate within the American Council of the Blind Enterprises and Services have achieved renewed strength in 2006 as well. Unlike in 2005, ACBES met its full commitment to ACB. In addition, ACBES maintained a funding level that allowed it to begin new investing in its own infrastructure to strengthen and build the business. My belief in our thrift store business has never faltered, and I firmly believe that we are witnessing a return to prosperity of that business.
And finally with regard to money, let us not forget the victories we have achieved this past year with Trader Joe's and Safeway and its several subsidiaries. These stores now join others such as Wal-Mart which offer accessible point-of-sale machines that allow blind people to enter their pin numbers independently rather than announce them to clerks, fellow customers, or companions. These negotiated settlements did not require litigation and are great successes that help all blind people.
All in all, we can be quite proud of what has been achieved in 2006. Already, 2007 has shown an equally positive nature. The online petition that allows people to support the currency litigation has been a huge success. If you have not yet done so, please go and sign it at http://www.money4all.info. The ACB Radio World stream is about to begin test broadcasts and people have come forward to broadcast in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch. If you can assist in broadcasting in a foreign language, please don't hesitate to be in touch with the American Council of the Blind.
I wish you all the best for 2007. Keep checking "The Braille Forum" for news, stories of success, and important information.