by Mitch Pomerantz

As I did last year at this time, I'd like to devote the next couple of columns (three actually) to excerpting my report to the membership given during the ACB national convention.

Ladies and gentlemen: members of the American Council of the Blind are once again gathered in convention assembled -- this year at our 48th annual national convention in Orlando, Fla. -- to learn, to deliberate, and to practice the principles established by ACB's founders.  This is my second report to you as president.  This past year has presented a unique set of challenges and opportunities to me and to the other leaders comprising the board of directors.  

Since being elected president almost two years ago, I've determined that there are three interrelated, yet somewhat different aspects or components of the job.  Each is important to the functioning of ACB.  In offering my report to you on our activities since the last national convention, I thought I'd do so in the context of these three aspects of the ACB presidency.

Briefly, these three aspects are: 1. overseeing the day-to-day work of the ACB executive director and other national office staff; 2. addressing internal organizational matters including committee staffing and projects, affiliate relations, and communications with members; and 3. facilitating working relations with entities outside ACB including agencies and organizations of and for the blind.

To a great extent, the officers and directors also participate in the aforementioned responsibilities.  I rely heavily upon board members and with very few exceptions, each has come through when asked to take on a particular task.  Nonetheless, the buck stops here, as that old saying goes.

The first aspect of the president's job is overseeing the day-to-day activities of our national office staff.  Overall, we're fortunate to have dedicated, knowledgeable personnel working on our behalf.  Activities such as ACB's legislative and regulatory initiatives, managed by Eric Bridges; "The Braille Forum," edited by Sharon Lovering; fundraising efforts, handled by Dena Wilson; and management and supervision of staff and office activities, overseen by Melanie Brunson; all require a high level of professional expertise.

Since ACB's tremendous victory a year ago May in the D.C. Appellate Court, Judge Robertson (the district court judge who originally decided in our favor) issued his final order requiring the Treasury Department to work expeditiously toward a means of making currency fully accessible.  As it turned out, Treasury did not appeal.  The order required Treasury to have had a report in hand by the end of February from the consultant who surveyed many of us in Louisville about our identifiable currency preferences.  However, that report wasn't finalized until mid-June, apparently because that consultant had some new accessibility options he wanted to test.  We still don't know what that report recommends, but we were just informed that it will be made public sometime later this month.

As I reported at last year's convention, ACB previously achieved an initial victory in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Social Security Administration.  SSA, despite numerous requests from blind and visually impaired beneficiaries, refuses to provide correspondence and other written information in accessible formats.  Last September, the judge certified blind and visually impaired persons as a class for purposes of litigation and possible damages.  In March, Melanie Brunson was deposed by Social Security attorneys in preparation for the trial which has now been scheduled for mid-September.

On the legislative front: ACB is once again supporting the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, H.R. 734.  This bill would have the Transportation Secretary conduct a study to be completed within two years which will establish a standard setting forth the minimum sound information necessary to be conveyed by quiet cars to blind pedestrians.  H.R. 734 now has approximately 120 co-sponsors.  Recently, this proposed legislation was introduced in the Senate as S. 841 and has four co-sponsors.

In March, perhaps anticipating passage of the aforementioned legislation, ACB was asked to join a group established by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), to participate in a similar research project, one which is supposed to be concluded by January.  Eric and Melanie are handling these meetings on ACB's behalf.  We must address, once and for all, the growing hazard that hybrid and electric vehicles pose to the safe and independent travel of blind and visually impaired people, either through the legislative or the regulatory process.  The approach doesn't matter, so long as we prevail.  

I am pleased to announce that on June 25, Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced H.R. 3101, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.  This legislation will restore the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) modest requirements for production of video description to prime time television and extend them to digital TV and the Internet; require non-visual access to on-screen emergency warnings; and require all devices that receive and play back video programming to employ accessible user interfaces.  Eric Bridges continues to ably represent ACB on the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), which is also a prime mover behind H.R. 3101, as well as for full accessibility to television and the Internet for blind and visually impaired persons.  Dare I say here, stay tuned?  

More next month.  Take care.

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