by Christopher Gray
As I sit down to write this message, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are just around the corner. Two weeks ago, Marvelena and I made and put a plum pudding aside in preparation for holiday feasting. Marvelena has hung decorations everywhere and we have hit the holiday season with full force. Last weekend, we prepared and canned jars of pepper jelly for holiday giftgiving and more feasting throughout the winter. In addition to preparations at home, this is a time of year when local organizations hold holiday parties for fun and fellowship, adding the dimension of friendship, goodwill and camaraderie to the season. We have enjoyed several such events at the local chapter level and are planning to attend a couple more before the season is over.
Despite hurried lives and busy schedules, this is one time of year we take one another less for granted. What happens to those around us seems more important and poignant than at other times of year.
During this past week, the ACB advocacy services committee has been dealing with an issue that would be significant at any time, but it seems to have particular import during this season. It concerns one of our members whose child must have very serious heart surgery this week in Baltimore, Md., less than 12 days before Christmas. It is virtually impossible to imagine the emotion within a family that such an event causes. When, as in this case, discrimination against a blind parent is interjected as well, a difficult situation is made even worse.
This is the unfortunate situation in which this family finds itself just days before what should be a season of goodwill and tranquility. In addition to the emotional strain such an event inevitably creates, there are
often severe financial ramifications for families facing major health crises. For this reason, organizations have been formed to assist families in such circumstances. One of these is well-known to us and has centers all over the United States known as Ronald McDonald Houses. Their purpose is to assist in providing affordable short-term housing for parents or other close family members of children who are in the hospital facing serious, life-threatening situations. The service these houses provide is a tangible and wonderful example of the American spirit of helping one another in times of need. What we in the American Council of the Blind have been learning in the past week is that such goodwill and assistance, while available to many, is not available to a parent of a child when that parent uses a guide dog. Unbelievable as this is, it is the situation faced this week by the mother of this child and borne by the entire family. Despite our best efforts, it is a situation that ACB has been unable to resolve in the time available. Rather than the $15 per day this family might have spent if permitted to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, they will be required to pay full hotel prices in order to be near and provide support to their child.
It is little short of amazing that such a situation should be occurring within a service organization despite the decades of work and accomplishment of the American Council of the Blind. It is a sad reminder of how much work remains to be done to protect our right to independence and self-sufficiency. As hard as we are working, there is still so much more we must do.
Rest assured, my friends, it is work which we will continue doing with constant and renewed resolve. It is work we must continue as long as blind people are treated in ways that others are not, for reasons that are discriminatory to their very core, for reasons that are based not in rationality, but in groundless fears and suspicions about the disability itself.
Writing about such issues and about the future work we must do was not what I had in mind originally for this article. I had thought to write of our successes and triumphs during 2005. Nevertheless, this situation is so
troubling and so wrong, I could not simply put it aside and submit an article of pure optimism with such an event in progress.
It is, however, equally true that we have had many successes during 2005. It is because of such successes that we can have confidence that the situation with this family can, in time, be resolved in a positive manner
that may help them, and will certainly help other similar families in the future. Our record speaks for itself and we will continue speaking out until the issues surrounding this and similar situations can be resolved.
At this same time last year, ACB and its California affiliate were able to keep a family united despite Child Protective Services' attempt to take a newborn child away from his parents, only because they were blind. This case and the positive media attention it generated has brought forward a whole series of other cases in which blind parents have faced potential discrimination as they try to raise their children as well as to blind people who work with children. ACB continues its work to assist in such situations.
We should all be proud of the work done by ACB and its affiliates in providing assistance to those affected by the many hurricanes that devastated parts of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Our affiliates and the national organization have provided badly needed advocacy assistance, information and referral services, and financial aid. The Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America and the Alabama Council of the Blind have led the way in providing financial clearinghouses for those in need and have jointly distributed over $60,000 to individuals and families in serious need, with more to come.
In the past year, ACB has witnessed a renewal of its legislative and governmental affairs program through the tireless efforts of our staff and of so many of you who have been in touch with your Congressional delegations. We have secured meetings which could lead to a new and sound basis for rehabilitation programs. We have not seen the demise of the Social Security safeguards, carefully built into the base laws and so carefully designed and advocated for by the founders of our movement.
We have worked in partnership with our many friends within the blindness community such as the American Foundation for the Blind and National Industries for the Blind. Early this month, the American Council of the Blind, along with individual complainants, completed a settlement with Wal-Mart stores in which Wal-Mart has agreed to discontinue the use of inaccessible point-of-sale machines. These machines required individuals to divulge their personal identification numbers to Wal-Mart personnel due to inaccessible touch screens. This paves the way for ACB to approach other users of such inaccessible technology such as Safeway, Albertsons, and other grocers. This is a great victory for the entire blind community as well as for others who have found the use of such machines difficult or impossible due to physical impairments.
ACB has continued to play an active and vital role in assisting blind people throughout the world as well. We have provided support for braille publications in Sri Lanka. In partnership with the American Printing House
for the Blind, we have provided braille slates, styluses and paper to school children in Ethiopia. These children will cherish the gift of literacy throughout their lives.
We can and should be proud of these successes and of many others that have and will continue to be shared with you in the pages of "The Braille Forum." We know from these things that it is the American Council of the Blind that represents blind people at the grassroots level both here and abroad.
In closing, please accept Marvelena's and my best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy holiday season. We wish you a happy and prosperous 2006.