By Tony Swartz
Members, with another cold and stormy winter behind us, we look with anticipation towards spring. What was I thinking last fall, when I said that we couldn’t possibly have a repeat of last winter’s weather? Next fall, I’ll keep my meteorological prognostications to myself. Spring is also PCB’s season for regional meetings. I urge all of our members to attend our regional conferences, and I especially invite our at-large members to make the effort to attend the nearest regional meeting to your home. Here is the 2015 schedule of PCB regionals, together with the host chapter president’s contact information and the location of the regional.
Saturday, April 25: Southwest Region
Host: Washington County Council of the Blind
President: Karen Rockey
Location: North Franklin Township
Volunteer Fire Company
565 Sylvan Drive, Washington
Saturday May 2: Central Region
Host: Capital City Council of the Blind
President: Sandy Marsiglia,
Location: Hoss’s Steak & Sea House
743 Wertzville Road, Enola
Saturday May 9: Southeast Region
Host: Philadelphia Metro Council of the Blind
President: George Holliday
Location: The Marriott Courtyard Hotel
21 North Juniper Street, Philadelphia
Saturday May 16: Northeast Region
Host: Monroe County Council of the Blind
President: Thomas Reid
Location: Pocono Medical Center, Brodhead Conference Room
206 East Brown Street, East Stroudsburg
For those of us who champion the need for advocacy, as we proselytize, we are often reluctant to mention one particular frustration: the reversal of our successes. A case in point is the Lehigh Valley Chapter’s recent experience with the City of Allentown. I was particularly involved with an effort that led to the installation of accessible pedestrian signals (APS) along the center city portion of Hamilton Street in the heart of Allentown’s business district. When I worked in downtown Allentown, I monitored the state of the signals and kept in regular contact with Allentown’s Department of Public Works. Recently, Allentown’s business district has undergone a major renaissance, which has included the construction of the PPL Center, a ten thousand seat arena, several mixed-use multiple story buildings, and new traffic signalization along Hamilton Street. Prior to the commencement of the various construction projects, I contacted the city’s then Manager of Public Works, who assured me that there were plans for additional APS, particularly at Seventh and Hamilton, the location of the arena. This past December, just after the opening of the arena, I walked along Hamilton Street to evaluate the installations. To my dismay, not only were no new APS installed, but the APS which had been in place had been removed. How could this have occurred?
I began by contacting the Interim Director of Public Works, who passed me through to the supervisor, who dealt directly with traffic signalization. When I began to explain my concern, his first question was, “Where are all the blind people?” I was almost drawn into arguing the point with him, but in time realized that he wasn’t involved in developing the city’s policies, so arguing with him was pointless. Fortunately, I had developed a relationship with a former City Councilman who has just been elected to the State Legislature. He interceded on my behalf, and I am now involved in negotiations with the City’s Managing Director who is committed to restoring and adding additional APS, but I’m sure that it will take some time.
There are three lessons to be drawn from my experience. First, and specifically to this incident, I should have more closely monitored the state of signalization during construction. But more generally, we should never assume that once we have achieved a successful outcome that the redress is permanent. We must remain vigilant, monitoring the political and economic climate. We live in a world of competing interests, including those counter to our own. Lastly, developing and maintaining relationships with public officials and legislators is not only vital to a current advocacy effort, but is beneficial in the future in ways that are unpredictable. John Horst, PCB’s Director of Community Affairs, is my model. When visiting a state or federal legislator, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been asked whether I know of John. When I have answered in the affirmative and mentioned that we belong to the same organization, I have sensed a greater willingness on the part of the legislator to engage. This is because John has made it a lifelong habit to visit legislators and public officials, not just to resolve a specific issue, but often to maintain a relationship.
Along with the Chair and two additional members of the Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee, I attended and participated in the 2015 ACB Legislative Seminar. Chair George Holliday will review this year’s legislative imperatives in his report, but I would like to draw special attention to one imperative. The American Council of the Blind played a part in the negotiations, which in October 2013 led to an international agreement that will provide for the sharing of accessible books and materials across national borders. The Marrakesh Treaty, adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), facilitates access to printed material for people who are blind or have other print reading disabilities.
All nations signing the treaty will agree to:
- The reproduction of works by an authorized entity — for example, in our country, NLS — for the purpose of converting these materials into accessible copies exclusively for the use of individuals with a print disability.
- Will provide for the distribution of these accessible materials exclusively for use by individuals with a print disability.
- Will allow the export of accessible materials produced in their country, making them available to individuals with print disabilities in other countries.
- Will import materials in accessible formats produced in another country, in order to make them available to their citizens with print disabilities.
In practical terms, this means that libraries, and other organizations that produce accessible format copies of works for distribution to people with print disabilities, will be able to share those works with each other, ultimately freeing up resources that are currently used to make multiple copies of the same work, so that more publications can be put into accessible formats. The treaty contains provisions that protect both the rights of copyright holders and those who want to gain access to their copyrighted works. The treaty has, of course, received broad support from blindness organizations, but also, remarkably, from publishers and copyright law experts throughout the U.S. and around the world.
The U.S. constitution assigns the responsibility for ratification of treaties to the Senate. At present, Pennsylvania’s senior senator, Robert P. Casey, has indicated that he will vote in favor of ratification, but my concern with Mr. Casey is that he is susceptible to considering broadening the language of the treaty to include sharing or publishing of materials which have nothing to do with accessible materials. Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Patrick J. Toomey, has not committed to ratification and historically has opposed the idea of the United States entering into international treaties. The Marrakesh Treaty does not include a provision which has made Senator Toomey reluctant to affirm international treaties in the past: international monitoring within the United States. Mr. Toomey will serve as my personal barometer as to whether the treaty has a chance of being ratified by the U.S. Senate. I ask every member of our organization to contact the offices of both of our senators, requesting that they vote to ratify the treaty as it is currently worded. See the senators’ contact information below.
Efforts of advocacy can sometimes be complex and require great effort. On the other hand, there are the instances when advocacy can be as simple as placing a phone call or two. Surely, every one of us can commit to placing a call to the offices of our senators to urge ratification. Advocacy is why we are!
Senator Robert P. Casey
Pittsburgh office: 412-803-7370
Erie office: 814-874-5080
Bellefonte office: 814-357-0314
Scranton office: 570-941-0930
Allentown office: 610-782-9470
Harrisburg office: 717-231-7540
Philadelphia office: 215-405-9660
Washington, D.C. office: 202-224-6324
Toll-free for PA Callers: 866-802-2833
Senator Patrick J. Toomey
Pittsburgh office: 412-803-3501
Harrisburg office: 717-782-3951
Scranton office: 570-941-3540
Allentown office: 610-434-1444
Philadelphia office: 215-241-1090
Erie office: 814-453-3010
Johnstown office: 814-266-5970
Washington, D.C. office: 202-224-4254
Toll-free for PA callers: 1-855-552-1831