As many among the disability community begin to gather or head for the conventions this week we should all take a moment to remember the advocates that have gone before. They are too numerous to mention without the risk of leaving someone out. The pantheon of advocate leaders is remembered by each of us in our own way. We know the trials they faced and those we have yet to face.
As I head off myself this week I will be mindful of those disability and civil rights leaders who have trod the same ground. First to Nashville and a meeting hosted by Deputy Governor Jim Henry to discuss accessible poll books and check in systems for the election process in Tennessee. This is the next step in more accessible elections. The exciting part comes next in ST Louis.
Then on to ST Louis for the American Council of the Blind (ACB) convention. There I will participate in the demonstration of the VOTEC Welcome Voter Kiosk which is the leading accessible check in system for the election process in polling places. We hope also to see the ACB pass a resolution in support of accessible check in at the polling place which are being brought forward by the California and Florida Councils of the Blind.
The developers of technology for people with disabilities take a significant risk and often are not shown any gratitude by the people their technology is helping. Recently a technology developer asked me if people with disabilities cared about access? I did my best to explain that sometimes people do not understand the big picture even when their leaders show it to them.
Do people with disabilities care about accessible communications,
education, elections, information technology or websites? Of course, we do, but the average person does not care until a lack of access effects them or someone they love directly. These are long term problems that take long term efforts to get to long term solutions. That is the job of leadership.
People with disabilities need to care and show it when something is not accessible, and/or a modern technology or process comes on the scene to direct access to a new area of employment or community life. It is not just about supporting leadership or the developers of modern technology or methods. We all must get involved and lean into the process of advocacy in our own way.
In a room of disability leaders here in Tennessee Deputy Governor Jim Henry stands out. Seldom have I met a more committed public servant and dedicated advocate for people with disabilities then him. We have all been in meetings where people of title breeze through the room, say all the right things and then move on to the next room full of people and another issue. Not Deputy Governor Henry. This was a sit-down discussion and strategy session about bringing accessible check in poll books to Tennessee. It is true as Deputy Governor Henry said, “Tennessee leads”.
As a longtime advocate for people with disabilities who has worked at the local, state and national level I am often dismayed at the lack of willingness of various disability rights groups to work together. That is clearly not the story here in Tennessee. There is no thought of credit or issue of who comes first among the shoulder to shoulder leaders leaving the room. Today is my sixty first birthday and I could not have had a better gift then listening to the foremost disability leaders in Tennessee collectively take on the task of advancing the concept of accessible check in to gather more support across the states disability and political communities., to benefit all citizens with disabilities. “Tennessee leads”.
The Union Station Hotel in ST Louis is a grand old monument to a time when the pace was slower and great named passenger trains roamed the nation from coast to coast. They delivered family reunions, war time homecomings, the glitterati, rich, famous and infamous into the history of many Union Stations across the nation.
This ST Louis Union Station is home to the glitterati of the American Council of the Blind for the next week and it is safe to say that the layout of the hotel itself will challenge the mobility skills of dog and cane users alike. Never fear though the hotel staff and volunteers have things well in hand. Built at a time when the blind dared not go charging about the country all on their own and apparently remodeled without much concern for ease of access for anyone. We take it as a challenge to be overcome and bragged about.
I love trains and their history, so I love the ST Louis Union Station Hotel. It was an excellent choice and the difficulties that the structure creates are more than made up for by the hospitality of the staff and management. This is a gathering that will long be remembered, and it has not even really started yet. The excitement is building with each arrival as old friends from around the nation gather to make a difference in the lives of Americans who are blind or visually impaired.
Unfold those tables and lift those displays, hang those signs and put out those braille table top cards. You know you people that make the exhibit halls are the best. The who’s who of the blind and visually impaired vender world are setting up their booths and getting ready to show off all that is new. The building is a test for attendees and exhibiters alike, but we all love a challenge.
A visit to the local ST Louis gambling casino was fun even without an accessible slot machine anywhere to be found. Do not go without a sighted guide. So, I did my bit to contribute to the local economy and came away with a voucher for a few dollars that guarantees my return before leaving this fine city. We returned to Union Station’s 77-foot bar and the hourly different light and music show that gets the blood pumping every time from 5 till 11 pm in the cavernous lobby.
With the gathering of the American Council of the Blind at the Union Station Hotel in ST Louis the massive lobby is taking on the sound and feel of a jousting tournament with all those cane wielding experts crisscrossing the paths of guide dogs all while avoiding the ornate open stare cases, furniture luggage carts, hotel staff and god bless the sighted guide volunteers. A first blush curiosity though, the volunteers are not allowed to guide blind attendees through the labyrinth of halls that protect the location of the rooms from the guests. Only the two few hotel staff can do that. “It’s for security reasons.”
At the American Council of the Blind convention in ST Louis held at the Union Station Hotel the exhibit hall kicked off with a busy first day. The miracles of modern technology alongside the reliable standards in the blind community vied for attention in a great room where the fashionable of ST Louis society once cued up to board powerful named trains leaving for the coasts.
The California Zephyr, The Super Chief, The City of San Francisco, and countless other trains with no names thundered through where advocates at the American Council of the Blind convention are making their mark today. On the first day of the gathering in ST Louis VOTEC’s Welcome Voter Kiosk met with rave reviews as convention goers are about to consider a resolution calling for accessible check in at voting locations across the nation.
At a midnight meeting the resolutions committee of the American Council of the Blind is scheduled to review and vote on a list of resolutions that will stake out the organizations position on a host of topics including calling for accessible check in systems at polling places across the nation. Brought forward by the California and Florida state affiliates the resolution goes into the meeting with what appears to be great support. I hear that train a coming, its coming around the bend!


Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.