by Kim Charlson
Much of the work of the organization isn’t the moments of success with press releases and passage of legislation, but rather the day-to-day work advocating, writing letters and testimony, and developing and supporting our ACB infrastructure to ensure that we have the financial resources to work on our mission. Areas where ACB has made progress in support of our work is with planned giving, grant writing, online donations, corporate and foundation grant support, the Monthly Monetary Support program, and the ACB Mini Mall, just to name a few.
Earlier this evening, we hosted our Annual Giving Society’s Reception. This year, we had 200 individual donors and 40 corporate donors. These supporters are the backbone of our fund-raising and provide the means for ACB to recognize all of their great support, which allows us to accomplish our valuable work. We also have our Legacy Society, which is part of an effort to be more proactive, honoring and recognizing individuals who have included ACB in their estate plans via a bequest or another type of planned gift and have communicated their intentions to ACB. This allows us to recognize and honor those individuals while they are still with us rather than only acknowledging their generosity after their passing. These initiatives all go far toward making it possible to support ACB’s organizational work and advocacy. I’d like to ask all of the members of our various giving societies who are present this evening to stand up and be recognized for your support of ACB.
One example of our expanded capacity is due in large part to the generosity of JPMorgan Chase, who supported ACB being able to bring eight Leadership Fellows to this conference and convention. These individuals have been identified as up-and-coming leaders in their affiliates and will be participating in many aspects of the convention, learning and growing their knowledge and leadership skills. You will meet them all later this evening.
JPMorgan Chase has also sponsored the production of a short, informational public service announcement called Spotlight On, which is about ACB and our work that will be airing over the summer on over 350 public television affiliates across the country.
ACB Radio continues to be the pre-eminent radio broadcasting system run and operated by ACB and our broadcasters. The Mainstream channel is the flagship of ACB’s information broadcasting, and its Main Menu program, with new hosts Jason Castonguay and Randy Rusnak, and the dynamic Main Menu program team, are bringing hundreds of new listeners to the program each week. “Affiliates in Action,” produced by Debbie Hazelton, is one of our newer programs that features news from our affiliates. A guide dog program and a new student program are offerings that I am looking forward to hearing following convention. ACB Radio now has several program offerings as podcast feeds in iTunes and available for sign-up from the ACBRadio.org website. The latest feed is ACB Events, which contains archives from affiliate conventions and other special events that have been streamed on ACB Radio Live.
ACB Radio Interactive has also been recognized as a featured station by the Stardome Digital/StreamLicensing Team from well over a thousand other Internet stations. This is a great accomplishment, and it stands as proof of the hard work and dedication to this craft by our ACB Radio team, and is recognition from industry peers of our accomplishments. If you miss a favorite program, ACB Radio Interactive now has its shows available on demand.
ACB Radio continues to be available on the telephone system at (605) 475-8130 – where you can listen to the seven ACB Radio channels, including this convention. You can also listen to “The ACB Braille Forum” and “The ACB E-Forum” by calling (605) 475-8154.
In December, ACB and Microsoft entered into a very productive partnership to advance the accessibility of information technologies. Through this partnership, ACB and Microsoft are working together to make sure that planned updates to various Microsoft products are accessible and meet the needs of persons with visual impairments.
Microsoft has demonstrated its corporate commitment to delivering effective solutions for people with disabilities with their overall focus on accessibility, which is central to their culture and is an integral part of how they are now designing and building Microsoft products. By working with ACB, Microsoft is gaining valuable insights about user experiences. This level of support will help Microsoft to deliver more powerful assistive technology as well as more inclusive experiences with the technology we are using. The partnership is also providing a more consistent flow of information and dialogue between Microsoft and ACB. We are very pleased to build on the previous engagements we’ve had with Microsoft, and we are enjoying and benefitting from working more closely with the teams to review and test new features and upgrades.
Last year, ACB’s Volunteer Hours Reporting Program collectively logged a total of 9,230 volunteer hours, worth $212,936 of in-kind contribution value to ACB. This effort shows funders our commitment to our mission, and documents the hours of work contributed by our hundreds of faithful members in all capacities. Thank you again for all you do!
Since our last convention, ACB announced two structured negotiation settlements on accessible prescription labels and medication information. These settlements were a result of collaboration with The Law Office of Lainey Feingold, and Linda Dardarian of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian and Ho.
Humana and Rite Aid have started offering talking prescription labels, braille, and large print labels to customers who are blind or visually impaired through mail order service for Humana, and in-store and mail order in-store pickup for Rite Aid. Both are using the accessible label system provided through En-Vision America’s ScripAbility program. Rite Aid is also using the Talking Pill Reminder solution for an immediate in-store option. En-Vision America can be reached at 1-800-890-1180. The Humana and Rite Aid initiatives augment previous work by ACB with CVS Health, CVS Caremark, and Walgreens, making accessible prescription labels available for customers who are blind. Ensuring that all of our members have access to important information about their prescriptions is a critical component toward allowing people to independently manage their health care needs.
Further on the legal front, ACB and our attorneys Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, in conjunction with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, reached a landmark settlement with the General Services Administration (GSA) on behalf of three blind federal contractors and ACB. The settlement benefits all blind federal contractors. It requires GSA to make significant changes to SAM.gov that had prevented blind individuals from accessing the web site and maintaining their status as federal contractors. Following GSA’s implementation of the agreed-to changes, the website will undergo review by another independent accessibility expert. In addition, the agreement creates a process by which members of the blind community will continue to test and provide feedback on future changes to SAM.gov.
This case sets an important precedent, to reinforce that the Internet is part of our daily lives, and being unable to access any web site — much less a web site that is essential to doing business with the federal government — puts members of the blind community at an economic disadvantage. It is unfortunate that it took the filing of a lawsuit to bring about meaningful change, but we thank GSA for working collaboratively with ACB and our attorneys to make SAM.gov accessible.
In my report at last year’s convention, you may remember I shared the audio of a taxicab sting operation conducted by a team of investigative journalists from WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. regarding access to taxis by blind individuals using guide dogs. I am pleased to report that three weeks ago, executive director Eric Bridges and ACB reached an agreement with four D.C. taxi companies: Yellow Cab Company of D.C., Inc., Grand Cab Company, Elite Cab Association, and Pleasant Taxi Club LLC, to carry out an Accessibility Initiative to ensure that blind and visually impaired individuals accompanied by guide dogs have full and equal access to taxi services in the District of Columbia, including street-hailed taxicab services.
The accessibility initiative, pioneered by these four companies, is available for any D.C. taxicab company or driver wishing to voluntarily promote equal access for a contribution of only $15 per cab. As part of this accessibility initiative, the taxi companies have agreed to collaborate with ACB and contribute to a testing fund overseen and administered by ACB. ACB will monitor training, education effectiveness, and compliance by associated drivers with their legal obligations to provide street-hail taxicab services in D.C. Contributions to the accessibility initiative will be used to fund this monitoring and a third-party testing program to ensure that blind and visually impaired individuals with guide dogs are successfully able to hail taxis on D.C. streets. Additionally, in a joint letter, all four companies recommended needed changes to D.C. Taxi Commission policies and rules to promote and safely provide street-hail taxi services in Washington, D.C. to the visually impaired.
Our thanks to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and the talented attorneys from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee who supported ACB on this case. I commend ACB executive director Eric Bridges for his leadership and commitment to following this very strong case through to its conclusion. All of this positive system change would not have happened without his dedication and determination for justice.
On the legislative front, Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) introduced the bipartisan Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (H.R. 3535), named for two pioneers in the education of deaf and blind students. This landmark legislation will dramatically improve educational results for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind.
The Cogswell-Macy Act will amend and modernize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to address the largely unmet unique needs of students with sensory disabilities. The bill will: ensure that students with vision and/or hearing disabilities are properly identified, evaluated and served, especially when they may have additional disabilities; guarantee that students with sensory disabilities are provided with the full array of special education and related services they must have to truly receive a free and appropriate public education; promote and support teachers and associated professionals who are critical to the delivery of such services; and hold all levels of our public education system accountable for these expectations.
An estimated 350,000 students are deaf or hard of hearing, and upwards of 100,000 are blind or low vision. Yet less than one-third of those students are reported as having those needs under IDEA. That is completely unacceptable. There is definitely still more work to be done in this area, and we need to ensure that students with these disabilities have the same opportunity as other children to learn and gain useful life skills.
ACB continued to work on H.R. 729, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2015. This bill seeks to expand coverage of low vision devices for Medicare recipients.
Both of these pieces of legislation will most likely require re-introduction in the next Congress — but given the unpredictability of Congress, maybe not. ACB stands ready to work with supporters to reintroduce these bills in the 115th Congress that begins in January 2017.