By Tony Swartz
A book which I’ve recently read and referred to at several of our regionals this spring has raised questions for me on the future availability and opportunity for higher education of blind students. Available from Bookshare, The End of College, by Kevin Carey, first provides a clear and concise analysis and prediction of why the present system of higher education is about to undergo massive change and the college and university hierarchy about to implode. Among other reasons, he states the system of higher learning will, in the not too distant future, find itself struggling with economic sustainability. He posits that the system of higher education will soon evolve to the digitally based online learning model of what he refers to as the “University of Everywhere”. Many current institutions of higher learning will fail financially and those remaining will educate the majority of students seeking higher education through online tools. If this is indeed the case, we need to be particularly aggressive in our efforts to advocate for the total accessibility of online learning technologies. It is a trend which teachers of the visually impaired and administrators and counselors of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services need to pay particular attention to and plan for rather than wait to react. I would also suggest that our Education and Employment Committee monitor the trend closely and work with and offer guidance to our Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Do you receive Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits? Do you understand that if the Congress does nothing to address the shortfall in the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, beginning in January of 2017 you will see a 19% reduction in your benefits? That’s almost one-fifth of the amount of your check. If Congress does nothing by November to address the situation, the Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee will plan a call-in day for you to call your local member of Congress and our Pennsylvania Senators to urge them to take immediate action by participating in the development of a permanent funding solution for the disability trust fund. This issue needs to be addressed before the next presidential election. I urge you to be prepared to call. Information for the call-in day will be provided through our listserv and to all of our chapter presidents.
Often when I urge others to get involved in their communities, attend community government meetings or apply to serve on a board of a local agency or authority, I receive the response, “Why bother, nothing comes of it?” Sometimes such participation provides us an opportunity to enlighten which we couldn’t have anticipated. For the past eight years I’ve served on the board of my local transit authority. In my first few meetings I felt awkward and alone, kept my mouth shut and just listened. But over the years I’ve had the time to learn a good deal about local and national transit and paratransit issues and have slowly built my credibility with other members of the board and the transit authority staff. Last fall I played a substantial role in the selection process of the authority’s new executive director and presently I’m making a number of contributions to policy as the authority implements the Ecolane Software for our paratransit system.
All this is well and good but for the most part a reasonable result of staying involved. However, my real moment to enlighten unexpectedly arose a few weeks ago. The Authority’s executive director happened to send me a copy of a job announcement for the position of Customer Relations Specialist for our paratransit division. In the job description under qualifications I found “Must have a valid driver’s license from state of residence.” I asked, “Why? What does having a driver’s license have to do with customer relations?” I wondered if he realized that such a requirement would immediately eliminate every individual who, for whatever reason, does not drive? He said, “That is so obvious,” and the light went on. The requirement was, of course, removed from the job description and the position reposted. More importantly, all authority job descriptions were then reviewed– reviewed with enlightened eyes. You just never know when an opportunity to teach will come along.
In my summer message, I wrote of the efforts of the Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee to have the Attorney General’s office investigate what we believe are questionably implied claims of service to Pennsylvanians made by Heritage for the Blind in their nationally aired commercials. I advised you as to how you could assist PCB by calling Heritage for the Blind requesting service, keeping a log of your contacts, and reporting the results to our state office. While through the years I’ve heard many complaints from members regarding the Heritage for the Blind commercials, at this writing the office has not received a single call. If as a membership we are unwilling to do the work, do we really have the right to complain?
Also in my summer message I reported that our state’s junior Senator, Patrick Toomey, had not indicated that he would be willing to support the Marrakesh Treaty. After a few letters were exchange between PCB and the Senator’s office, Senator Toomey has agreed that if there is no substantial change in the current language when the treaty goes before the Senate, he is willing to support the treaty. This is quite a concession on the Senator’s part, given his prior stances against treaties negotiated through the United Nations. Also, in one effort to contact the Senator’s office I found his internet contact form to have an inaccessible captcha which prevented me from filing my post to his office. I contacted his office by phone and explained the issue. Within 24 hours the captcha was removed and the issue resolved. In the past I have been critical of some of the Senator’s stances on issues which opposed our own interests. Now I would ask you to do as I did, to take the time and call the Senator’s office to thank him for his future support of the Marrakesh Treaty, and for the quick work of his staff, responding to our request to remove the inaccessible captcha from his contact form. To contact the Senator, I would suggest that you call his Washington office at 202-224-4254.