The State of the Law on Technology and the Blind: What It Is and What It Ought to Be

By Gashel, James | Information Technology and Disabilities, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The State of the Law on Technology and the Blind: What It Is and What It Ought to Be


Gashel, James, Information Technology and Disabilities


There ought to be a law! When during one of its annual national conventions the members of the National Federation of the Blind pass a resolution to address an inequity for blind Americans, a new piece of legislation may be the only way to comply with the resolution and the will of the members. The Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind is assigned the task of carrying out the work necessary. Having laws made, rather than having machines made, is often America's way of fixing things and solving problems. "Too many laws" is what many people say is wrong with our country. Perhaps that is so, but for those who are blind, the advent of modern and evolving communications technology virtually forces this response--"There ought to be a law."

Many observers have wondered about the success the National Federation of the Blind has had in changing so many laws over the years. The fact is, it has not been "luck"; but a combining of the American system of government and a citizen's right to "educate" elected officials in order to mitigate inequities, along with the sagacity and persistence of a series of hard working NFB leaders and members. According to long-time NFB members, the NFB's success comes about year after year because of several factors that they take care to make work together. The founder of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, blind university professor and author of books on the U. S. Constitution which are still used in law courses today. Leaders of the NFB learned how laws are made in the various states and in the U.S. Congress. When new leaders are elected, they are helped to utilize the legislative process.

Members take every opportunity to get acquainted with elected representatives when they are in their home districts. The success of many of the most important pieces of legislation affecting the lives of all blind Americans rests on the many grassroots members who take the time to stuff envelopes during local politicians' election campaigns, who go to political forums and participate, who invite officials to their homes for a coffee with blind constituents, and often attend the political fundraisers (with their white canes and guide dogs helping them to be noticed in the crowds). It is the personal contacts with elected representatives and the rapport that builds when "that blind woman" turns into Mary Jones, a mother of a blind son who can be trusted to know what she is talking about when she says her blind son is not getting a level playing field in his school because the new computers are not accessible to his software. This personal touch is often crucial when "We, the people" want to see change.

To educate legislators about the needs of blind Americans, the National Federation of the Blind holds an important legislative event each year called "The Washington Seminar." It takes place in Washington, D.C., over a weekend plus 3 week days at the end of January or the beginning of February, whenever the Members of Congress return to Washington for a new term. Members make formal appointments to meet every one of their own state's elected officials. Before this seminar takes place, the leaders of the NFB work out which two or three pieces of legislation are most needed by blind Americans--most often based on the resolutions passed at the July convention. Each of these resolutions contains a phrase which is taken seriously by NFB members, "Be it resolved by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled...." Occasionally some piece of legislation, legal decision, or bureaucratic maneuvering will have occurred in the interim which must be quickly addressed through legislation.

When other parties have an interest in a particular piece of legislation, such as the Association of American Publishers (AAP) with the changes the NFB recommended in the revision of the Copyright Law, then the NFB works directly with such parties to find common ground. …

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The State of the Law on Technology and the Blind: What It Is and What It Ought to Be
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