Reaching out to the Lions
By Tony Swartz and Sue Lichtenfels
Reader’s Note: The following article was written to educate members of the Lions Club about PCB’s work, in order to begin a dialogue that focuses on partnering in our common efforts, rather than the stereotypical model of “the blind” looking for or needing handouts. Made up of intelligent, independent adults, PCB and its chapters are urged to begin developing mutually beneficial relationships with local Lions Clubs. This article shares ideas for working together. It was printed in the April-May-June 2014 issue of their statewide magazine, “PA PRIDE.”
The Pennsylvania Council of the Blind (PCB) is a grassroots advocacy organization of and for people who are blind or visually impaired. PCB’s mission is to provide mutual support to individuals who are experiencing limited vision and to advocate on issues affecting individuals with impaired vision. Those of us who have some degree of vision loss, and our families and friends, make up the majority of the membership of PCB. Our organization includes sixteen chapters throughout Pennsylvania and at-large members located in areas of the state distant from existing chapters. Established in 1936, and a state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, we are the voice of the blind and visually impaired population of Pennsylvania.
Why is it that the blind and visually impaired require our voice? Though organizations for the blind may serve the blind, only organizations of the blind may determine and represent our interests. The committees in our organization meet each month to work on projects, determine policies, and plan the actions and events of the organization. Among other organizations, we maintain a working relationship with the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, and the two Pennsylvania Libraries for the Blind to ensure the appropriate provision of blindness services. Over the last several years, working with our national organization, PCB has helped to bring about a number of governmental and legislative initiatives. These include reaching an agreement with the Social Security Administration to communicate with SSA recipients in accessible formats, such as braille and digital formats; the 21st Century Communications and Video Act, which mandates that manufacturers of communications and telephone equipment make their products accessible to the blind, and that the producer of television programming provide accompanying video description; and an agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department to begin producing tactually discernable paper currency by 2020. Our current advocacy imperatives are the passage of The Alice Cogswell & Anne Sullivan Macy Act, which provides for specialized educational services for children who are blind, and the Medicare Demonstration of Low Vision Devices Coverage Act, which would establish a pilot program to have Medicare cover the expense of magnifiers and low vision devices. The aim of all of our actions is to further encourage an environment that allows individuals who are blind or visually impaired to live more independently, and actively participate in our communities.
Can PCB and the Lions Clubs of Pennsylvania be of service to each other? Certainly PCB and the Lions can be a resource for one another. The PCB website at www.pcb1.org can provide Lions Club members with timely news about issues and topics of interest to people who are blind or visually impaired. PCB chapters and members are happy to serve as that first point of contact with individuals in your local communities who are losing vision. Once you put them in contact with PCB, we will help them navigate the services available to them and provide mutual support. PCB’s chapters welcome the opportunity to provide blindness awareness training to your members or at your community events. We offer an activity sheet/placemat which offers blindness awareness geared toward children and young adults. These sheets are great for community luncheons, spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, and presentations to youth. On the other hand, the Lions can be a resource for PCB by becoming involved with the PCB chapter near your community. Take the time to learn about local advocacy efforts and how the Lions can assist. Write letters or make calls to legislators in support of blind-friendly legislation. If possible, provide transportation to PCB members for chapter meetings and/or help a newly identified person with vision loss to attend a PCB chapter meeting for the first time.
We welcome this opportunity to tell you about our organization and to explain our mission. A number of our members are Lions as well, so feel free to call upon them to further acquaint your club with our work. Please contact our state office to inquire further about ways to develop a working relationship, or to locate a chapter near you. Call us at 717-920-9999, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, 931 N. Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102.