by Christopher Gray

As we go to press, there are rumblings from our nation's capitol that cause many in ACB to feel concern and apprehension for key programs serving the blind and visually impaired. The potential exists for Social Security reform that leaves many fearful of what might happen to SSI, SSDI and overall retirement payments. Also, funding for senior blind seems jeopardized from what we are hearing about the administration's budget plans for 2005. Third, plans are under way that, if finalized, will remove all regional offices and oversight from the Rehabilitation Services Administration. The resignation of the commissioner of RSA highlights the problems that exist within the rehabilitation system for the blind today. Finally, the Randolph-Sheppard program is again under attack, and bills are now in Congress that would drastically alter the availability of potential vending facilities for participants in this key employment program for the blind. All in all, 2005 is shaping up to be a challenging year, fraught with possibilities whose effects are hard to understand, hard even to contemplate for many of us.

It is important to remember at moments like this that the potential for change is not the same as change itself. Seldom are our worst fears realized in matters of legislation. Despite what may happen and notwithstanding some of the proposals currently getting a lot of attention from the media and on Capitol Hill, there remains a fundamental ethic in this country that has, for almost seven decades, been favorably inclined to the needs of and programs for blind and visually impaired Americans. We have no reason to think that this ethic has fundamentally changed. In addition, we are part of a movement today that includes cross-disability coalitions and advocates for civil rights that has been and will continue to be effective in its advocacy on our behalf and on behalf of all disabled people.

Finally, the legislative outcome for many of the things causing great concern today can be affected by what each of us does and says during the course of the coming year. We can and will make a difference, individually and collectively as blind Americans. In many areas, the American Council of the Blind is gearing up to meet the challenges of 2005 and beyond. In January, our new Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, Day Al-Mohamed, came on board and is hard at work getting acquainted with our programs and with people on Capitol Hill and within the administration. Day's youth, enthusiasm and energy are infectious, and I have every confidence that she's going to be a major part of that difference we will make in Congress in 2005.

By the time you receive this magazine, we will have held the 2005 Presidents' Meeting and Legislative Seminar in Washington, D.C. We will make our positions clear on the issues mentioned and others as well during our time on the hill, and the seminar can lay the groundwork for a new dialogue with Congress in Washington, D.C. and in your home districts throughout the year.

Also, many readers may not be fully aware that there is a legislative working group that has functioned for several years in support of programs and services for the blind. This group represents every major organization of and for the blind with only one exception. I know that every member of this group is completely committed to helping us find approaches and create alternatives that are good for the blind community at large. This working group is very aware of the needs of and positions taken by ACB members, and we will continue to keep focused on all of these things. Granted, we cannot predict the future, and potential problems do exist for us. Be that as it may, it is important to focus our attention and efforts on positive solutions and alternatives that will work for our community.

In other news, in early February, the ACB board of directors met and passed the 2005 budget for the organization. I am extremely pleased to let you know as well that the organization used virtually none of its reserves during 2004. I'm sure you can imagine how pleased the board and assembled audience were to hear this announcement from Jim Olsen, our chief financial officer. Many were concerned about this possibility, and I'm sure you will join me in congratulating Jim and executive director Melanie Brunson for all of their work in helping keep the organization on strong financial ground.

Finally, I am pleased to let you know that our organization has a second person to assist us from April 2005 through March 2006 with programming and other work related to ACB Radio. She will be introduced more fully when she comes onboard in April. She comes to us on loan, and at no cost to the organization, from the Arts Council of England. This is real evidence of ACB's growing recognition and support, not only here, but in other parts of the world as well.

In 2005, it is important to remain optimistic, critical to remain focused on programs and services we know are required for blind and visually impaired people, and absolutely critical for all to work together in trying to preserve what we have, and improve our programs when that opportunity arises. If we all continue to do these things, and are in touch with Congress and the administration, I have no doubt that what has begun as an anxious year can end on a much more positive note. Let's turn our attention to doing everything we can to help make that a reality.

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