by Paul Edwards
Over a decade ago, the American Council of the Blind created a task force that was originally set up because schools for the blind throughout the country seemed in danger of going away. Its first chairman, Ray Campbell, convened meetings to look at what ACB could do. As the threat to schools receded, or appeared to, the task force broadened its perspective and became the Special Education Task Force under the leadership of Debbie Grubb from Florida.
I have had the honor of working with Debbie on many projects in the past, and I believe that her accomplishments in ACB deserve to be seen as nothing less than monumental. She started her work in Maryland, where she was one of the driving forces that got that state’s braille bill passed, and where she also worked on cross-disability legislation. She and her husband Frela moved to Florida in 1998, and she has become a leader in our state affiliate. She served as president of our state affiliate and, during her administration, we made huge strides forward in our confrontation with the state over its failure to assure that its web pages are accessible. She also led the way on voting rights, where she championed the right of Floridians to vote privately and independently despite everything the legislature could do to make that difficult.
Debbie has, for the last decade, chaired our public education committee, and every year she makes sure that we have appointments with every single one of our 30 or more representatives in Washington when we take to Capitol Hill during ACB’s legislative seminar. Important as these ongoing activities are, her work has left enduring footprints at the national level as well. I worked with her to develop and edit the voting rights handbook, which contained information on all the then-available voting machines. It was a resource that states used to evaluate and choose what we wanted our machines to do and how we wanted to organize to make private and independent voting happen. She spent some time working to make things better for guide dog users through her work with GDUI, and she was only just beginning her contribution. She became chair of the environmental access committee and persuaded most of the leading experts in the field of pedestrian safety to work with her to produce the definitive work that still constitutes the best single resource on pedestrian safety ever created.
It should be no surprise then that, when she took over the Special Education Task Force, she wanted it to produce work that would help all children with disabilities and their parents understand how to get the most out of a legal and regulatory system that is intimidating and complex.
At first, the task force worked to prepare convention programs that would offer help but, as she told me in an interview, “There are so many things going on at convention that it’s difficult to get people to come. We would have these great speakers and the room would be almost empty.” I could tell that Debbie was frustrated. As she said: “Special education is so important. We have to find ways to give parents and teachers information they can use to be sure that kids who are blind get all that we can help them to get out of a system where they don’t often know what their rights are! We have to talk to parents in language they can understand, and have to speak about not just children who are blind but also to parents of children who have other disabilities along with visual impairment.”
After the 2017 convention, then, the Special Education Task Force decided to produce a podcast presentation that could be used by affiliates to train their members on special education, but which could also be used by parents or teachers who were trying to navigate the school environment. Many of the presentations were made by members of the task force who are professors or teachers or social workers who are blind and who work on these issues every day. In addition, the American Foundation for the Blind provided two presenters.
By January of 2018, the 3-hour-long presentation was ready to fly. Each part of the presentation was an MP3 file and it just needed to be put together. Then it could be advertised and perhaps broadcast on ACB Radio. The work was done, but it took real support and actual commitment to work above and beyond what might have been expected to get the technical work done by Tony Stephens, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs, to make the presentation ready for prime time. With his help, the podcast is now on ACB’s web site. It is available for download at www.acb.org/education. You will find some additional notes there, too. Up ‘til now, as far as I know, there has not yet been a presentation of this material on ACB Radio, but I hope there will be. Perhaps as we start a new school year, it could be advertised and presented on one of our special channels.
So many of our committees and task forces meet at convention but don’t produce resources that everyone who needs them can use. “There are so many families who don’t get training,” Debbie says. “What we have put together is a start, but there’s so much more that needs to be done!” I am convinced that, under Debbie’s leadership, we will hear much more from this eight-member task force. You can find out who the current members of the task force are by looking on ACB’s web site under Committees. If you have questions or suggestions, I know the task force would love to hear from you. In the meantime, check out the podcast and let others know that ACB and the Special Education Task Force have created a resource that can help change the lives of children who are blind!