by Mitch Pomerantz

Last month I offered, in slightly edited form, the first half of the report I gave during the opening session of the 47th annual ACB national convention. This month's column will cover the second part of my address.

Increasingly, ACB's input is being sought out and taken seriously by governmental entities and lawmakers. Our influence in Washington and throughout the blindness community is likewise growing. On June 23rd, ACB and other organizations offered testimony at a hearing convened by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation concerning the effect that quiet cars are beginning to have on the safety and independence of blind and visually impaired people. Along with talking about this problem, we are supporting H.R. 5734, The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, even though ACB did not introduce it. The language in 5734 mirrors that which ACB drafted and those of you who attended this year's legislative seminar discussed with your Congressional representatives. The growing popularity of hybrid automobiles poses a sufficiently serious threat to all of us that ACB must actively seek passage of this legislation regardless of who was first to introduce it.

While on the topic of pedestrian safety, I also want everyone to know that Debbie Grubb, who was largely responsible for drafting ACB's first Pedestrian Safety Handbook, has agreed to update that excellent document for us. You'll hear more about this in the months to come. Thank you, Debbie.

Yet another area in which ACB must exert its influence centers on Congressional efforts to drastically alter the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program. S. 3112, [sponsored by Sen. Michael] Enzi (R-Wyo.), would introduce sweeping changes to the existing statute and several of those changes would be catastrophic. ACB will work closely with the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America and the Blind Entrepreneurs' Alliance to remove those harmful proposals from the bill and advocate on behalf of those proposals which will enhance the Randolph-Sheppard Act by guaranteeing its viability for decades to come.

Something which has been keeping our executive director, controller and me very busy over the past several months has been the search for office space. The leases on both of ACB's existing locations, in downtown Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., expire later this year and Melanie Brunson and Lane Waters have been involved in finding new digs. I am pleased to announce that they have, and that the board recently approved those leases. Our Minneapolis office will relocate to the suburbs in August and the D.C. office will move to Arlington, Va. -- just two Metro stops from the District -- around New Year's.

More good news! On June 24th, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch voted to allocate $34.5 million for the Digital Talking Book Program. This was wholly unexpected given previous strong opposition to increasing funding for the National Library Service beyond the originally requested $12.5 million. If this level of funding clears the remaining legislative hurdles, the transition from cassette to digital format will take three, rather than the four or even six years to complete, had the lesser amount been allocated.

In the same week, the House -- totally out of left field -- passed H.R. 3195, The ADA Amendments Act. While it does include language we recommended addressing low-vision aids, web accessibility language we proposed was not considered. It is unclear whether the Senate version of this legislation, which differs somewhat from the House bill, will be taken up during this session of Congress.

I have now served as your president for one year, and I am so gratified and encouraged by the support I've received to date. This organization is only as strong as our 70-plus state and special-interest affiliates and the approximately 20,000 men and women comprising the membership of the American Council of the Blind. Every one of you has my commitment -- and the commitment of the board of directors -- that we will do everything in our power to continue fostering the democratic legacy left to us by our founders. It is my strongly held belief that the American Council of the Blind is the only truly grass-roots consumer advocacy organization remaining in the nation today. We have a tremendous responsibility, an obligation even, to strengthen and grow ACB in order to nurture this democratic legacy.

My vision for ACB's future is based upon our history and heritage which upholds the twin ideals of true democracy and an abiding belief in the individual abilities and capabilities of blind people. The American Council of the Blind stands poised on the threshold of real greatness as the pre- eminent consumer voice of all blind and visually impaired persons, not just of a fortunate elite. I trust you will agree that this is a vision worthy of ACB and that you will help to promote this vision whenever and wherever possible, and to everyone you know. Thank you, and take care.

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