by Ronald E. Milliman
Whenever we ask people to step up and do something for ACB, like contribute to the Monthly Monetary Support (MMS) Program, we invariably get a few individuals who ask the somewhat shocking question: "Why should I? What has ACB done for me?" Here are just some of the many benefits each of us receives from being a member of the ACB and one or more of its affiliates and contributing to the sustenance of the ACB and its affiliates by participating in the Monthly Monetary Support (MMS) Program.
"The Braille Forum"
"The Braille Forum" is ACB's flagship publication. It is one of our most important sources of information about blindness, and the many issues that impact us as blind and low-vision people. It offers an uncensored vehicle for us to express our views on important concerns and to share with each other information about new technologies and effective methods for coping with our blindness. To make this vitally important communications medium available to us in various accessible formats requires a substantial investment to produce each issue. Your contributions to the MMS Program contribute to the lifeblood of "The Braille Forum!"
Annual National and State Conventions
ACB organizes and provides an outstanding national convention each year for its members and guests. This convention brings together blind and low-vision people from every corner of the world. It provides the means for sharing new technology, all kinds of coping strategies, thousands of products and services available to make our lives easier, more convenient, and even more fun. Perhaps best of all, it inspires camaraderie and togetherness. We are able to meet our many old friends and make new ones, and it gives us an opportunity to explore new areas of the country that we might otherwise never experience. As one can readily imagine, such a massive undertaking requires considerable funding.
Also, many of our ACB state affiliates convene each year in their own local conventions. Like the national ACB gathering, these state affiliate conventions bring blind and low-vision people from all around their respective states together to share technologies, issues of concern and coping methodologies much like the national convention, but on a smaller scale. These state conventions play a major role in keeping our state affiliates and their various chapters united and strong. Your contributions to the MMS Program contribute to the lifeblood of these vitally important gatherings!
Both ACB national and many of its affiliates provide scholarships to individuals to further their education. We realize that one way of combating the high level of unemployment among blind and low-vision people is to encourage them to pursue advanced educations, especially in areas of high demand. Educated blind people have successful careers in areas such as lawyers, professors, teachers, social workers, psychologists, engineers, computer programmers, information technology specialists, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, writers, editors, broadcasters, among many others; all from developing their knowledge and skills through higher education. Many of these people received scholarships from the ACB national organization or one of its affiliates or both. Your participation in the MMS Program contributes to these scholarships!
Grants and Loans
At the national level, we have such ACB grant programs as the First- Timers Award, paid out of the Durward McDaniel Fund, to pay expenses for attending an ACB national convention. Additionally, many of our ACB affiliates sponsor various grant or loan programs of their own. Again, your participation in the MMS Program contributes to these kinds of grants.
ACB and Affiliate Web Sites
ACB and many of its affiliates provide information-packed web sites for our benefit. Do you want to know more about ACB? Do you want to know more about the status of current legislation impacting us as blind people? Do you want to find something contained in a back issue of "The Braille Forum," or do you want to find the contact information for one of ACB's many affiliates? Are you looking for a job? Are you seeking some helpful resources, perhaps some books and leisure reading materials, or maybe some braille paper, or a source for getting your braille writer repaired? You can find it all on the ACB web site. In like manner, many of the affiliates also provide web sites packed with information about their affiliate, more resources, and pertinent information of interest to blind people associated with that affiliate's areas of interest. Contributions to the MMS Program help to make these benefits possible!
ACB and Affiliate E-mail Lists
To further promote the timely exchange of information and ideas, ACB and many of its affiliates provide various e-mail lists such as the ACB-L list and the kentucky-acb list. The former is one of the more active ACB lists, while the latter is an example of just one of the numerous state affiliate lists available to which you can subscribe and participate. Often individuals meet and become friends from interacting on such lists, and then, it is really fun and interesting to actually meet in person at one of the national or state conventions. Participating in such lists is one of the best ways of keeping abreast of the most current and fast-breaking news affecting blind people. There are still indirect costs associated with maintaining these lists, e.g. computers, servers, etc., and your participation in the MMS Program helps to make it all possible!
ACB Radio is one of the most exciting applications of contemporary computer technology. It offers a wide variety of programming by blind people for blind people. It is an outlet for our many blind and highly talented musicians. It is an opportunity for our budding and aspiring broadcasters. You can connect to ACB Radio Mainstream for the talk of the blind community, or visit the ACB Radio Caf‚ to enjoy the creativity and talent of blind musicians, or dip into the ACB Radio Treasure Trove to savor vintage drama and comedy, or check out ACB Radio Interactive for lots of fun and interesting live and unpredictable experiences! Again, there are costs associated with keeping up with this technology, hardware, software, and the like. Your participation in the MMS Program helps to make this vital resource possible!
Representation on Capitol Hill and in State Legislatures
An extremely important benefit of being a member of and a contributor to ACB and its affiliates is you and your rights are represented on Capitol Hill in Washington and in the state legislatures across the country. Our ACB representatives are extremely knowledgeable about the many critical issues that impact our lives, whether it be SSI, SSDI, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Randolph-Sheppard related legislation, the recent broadband/telecom bill, the FCC issuing orders pertaining to closed captioning, or any number of other serious issues. How many of you are expertly knowledgeable of these critically important issues, enough so you could represent other blind people, or even yourself, before the U.S. Senate or Congress or the FCC? Even if you have knowledge of some of these issues, do you possess the skills and expertise to go before these esteemed bodies and influence the passage or defeat of major legislation? ACB and its many affiliates provide such representation on our behalf. Without that representation, we would not have the special earnings benefit we enjoy with our SSI and SSDI coverages. We would not continue to have the special "blind exemption" on our federal income tax. We would not have the benefit of the ADA or the requirement of providing accessible formats or the right for guide dog users to be allowed into any public place, whether it is an elegant restaurant or a taxi. Providing this kind of representation on our behalf requires considerable financial support to maintain. Your participation in the MMS Program also contributes to these important efforts!
On your behalf, ACB has also been extremely active in working to overcome new technology barriers such as digital devices that are accessible only if one can see to read the screen or see the touch-sensitive buttons that are totally visual. In like manner, ACB has been working diligently to make web sites accessible that use the printed captchas, little pieces of graphical text used to thwart computerized search robots but make it impossible for blind users to access without sighted assistance. We have worked with such organizations as Google and Sirius Communications, with excellent results, but there is much, much more to be accomplished in this area. We need financial support to conquer these kinds of immense challenges. Your contributions to the MMS Program go a long way in supporting this important work!
Our ACB national organization, affiliates, and our lawyers have done considerable work on the issue of web accessibility and information access over the past several years. Furthermore, all of the settlements identified here were reached through the collaborative process of structured negotiations, without the costly and drawn-out process of litigation. This includes negotiated settlements with Bank of America, Bank One, Fleet Bank, and Washington Mutual, and agreements with Sovereign Bank, Citizens Bank, LaSalle Bank, and Union Bank of California. Such settlements gave us accessible bank web sites, the availability of talking ATMs and printed materials in accessible formats.
The structured negotiations process was also used in a combined effort by the American Council of the Blind, the California Council of the Blind (CCB), and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) with Wal-Mart to reach the first national settlement on the need for tactile keys on point- of-sale devices. In like manner, an agreement was reached with Safeway. Safeway announced that it has begun installing equipment to protect the privacy and security of Safeway shoppers with visual impairments. The new devices plug into existing point-of-sale payment machines and have tactile keys arranged like a standard telephone keypad. They will allow Safeway shoppers who have difficulty reading information on a touch screen to privately and independently enter their PIN, telephone number, and other confidential information. This development is likely to affect blind and low-vision people across the country, because Safeway operates stores across the United States under the banners of Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Genuardi's, Dominick's, Pak 'n Save Foods and Carrs. Every Safeway store in California has already been equipped with several of the devices, and they will be installed across the country over the next 12 months (1). Such negotiated settlements take time and money, and your contributions to the MMS Program certainly help us to win these extremely important battles!
Similarly, as a result of the collaborative process, the nation's three major consumer credit reporting companies unveiled a comprehensive program to provide improved access to important credit information for people who are blind or visually impaired. The initiative will help protect the credit information of individuals who cannot read a standard print credit report. Further, Equifax (NYSE: EFX), Experian (EXPN.L), and TransUnion have begun working to make online credit reports and related information accessible through their jointly operated web site, AnnualCreditReport.com, the official site to help consumers obtain free credit reports. Accessible credit reports for people with visual impairments will be available online by October 31 of this year. By the end of the year, the companies will also make credit reports available in braille and other formats at no charge to qualified individuals who cannot access print information. Once again, your participation in the MMS Program goes a long way in making these kinds of really major achievements possible!
Occasionally, when all else fails, we are left with no other alternative than to file a lawsuit to win the battle. As a result of such legal action taken against our own federal government's Treasury Department, it looks like we are going to benefit by forcing the U.S. government to make our paper currency accessible to blind and low-vision people. This is a major achievement, but it takes time and money to accomplish these gains, and your contributions to the MMS Program definitely help facilitate these achievements for all of us!
I hope this article answers your questions about why to participate in MMS, and what ACB does for you. It reminds me of the often-quoted statement by President Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country!" So, I say to you, ask not what ACB can do for you. Ask what you can do for ACB, and in turn, ACB will, through its efforts, present a united front to fight for all of our rights, plow new frontiers, and fight our battles.
(1) The material pertaining to structured settlements was summarized from information provided by Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian, Law Office of Elaine B. Feingold, 1524 Scenic Ave., Berkeley, CA 94708.