Lawsuit Follies

I sit, out of touch with most of the world for a few days, in a spot from where I had no intention of writing blog entries.  I had thought anything from the satire to human rights treaties to my more random entries could wait until I got home.  Then, I received the email, pasted in below from my friend, colleague and well known expert in blindness issues, Dena Shumila.  

A little background on Dena for those who want an idea of her qualifications as a spokesperson for us blinks.  Dena has worked in the disability groups at companies ranging from Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and SAP to Earle Harrison’s dealership to Serotek (author’s of Freedom Box) to DeWitt and Associates.  She has participated in the Access Forum and numerous other organizations on blindness and pan-disability groups.  She is also a close friend of mine and someone whom I trust implicitly and for whom I would provide a reference on her outstanding skills and even more outstanding character.  Dena currently lives in the suburbs of Minneapolis with her fiancé and guide dog but is often spotted elsewhere working for her numerous consulting clients.

In the email below, Dena describes a bizarre situation involving an unlicensed “guide dog school” based in Madison, Wisconsin.  As is typical for one as well educated and thorough as Dena, her open letter includes citations to sources that you can confirm yourself.

In Dena’s letter, pasted in its entirety below, she describes the highly unethical practices of the OccuPaws Guide Dog Association.  As far as I could find in my search this morning, OccuPaws has no licensed guide dog trainers on staff.  They also seem to train their animals in attack tactics and other non-standard practices for a guide dog school.  I could not find references to them in other more mainstream guide dog web sites and, as far as I can tell, they will, as Dena asserts, place trusting blinks in danger if they continue with their incredibly peculiar and unethical practices.

The mother of one of OccuPaws’ co-founders has, according to a quote from her in Dena’s letter, threatened to “contact “the DA and her personal attorney” to take action against Dena personally and search engines (google, Yahoo, etc.) for “defamation of character.”  Dena, to my knowledge, has no non-disparagement contract with OccuPaws, a non-profit organization based in Wisconsin.  I didn’t look up the OccuPaws tax status but I will assume they carry a 501(c)3public charity designation, the operative term being the adjective “public” modifying the word charity.  As a “public” institution which gathers tax exempt contributions from members of the public, they are not exempt from public criticism in the manner that a private individual might be so a case of libel or slander is ridiculous in this matter.  Next, all such “defamation,” slander or libel suits are matters of civil law, hence, a district attorney would only find a letter from said organization expressing a complaint annoying and, of course, frivolous.  Furthermore, if anyone should take legal action in this matter, I think Dena, on behalf of potential guide dog users who may be fooled by the dangerous claims made by OccuPaws, should take her information to the Office of the Wisconsin Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division to report an organization which may be placing its consumers into a highly dangerous situation.

If OccuPaws, its founders, board of directors or the individuals cited in Dena’s letter want to take legal action against me, they can have their lawyer write to me, Christian D. Hofstader, C/o  Disability Law Center, 11 Beacon Street, Suite 925
Boston, Massachusetts, 02108.  Please send such correspondence in both print and accessible formats so I can read it independently but also have a copy I can fax to the Internal Revenue Service, along with a number of other documents regarding the misleading statements made by OccuPaws on their web site, challenging their tax exempt status as public charities are held to a higher standard than typical corporations and I feel quite confident that OccuPaws doesn’t want to lose its 501(c)3status.

Finally, if they continue with a lawsuit against Dena, no matter how frivolous it may be, I will place a PayPal link on so people can contribute to her legal defense fund.  As such funds are difficult to set up in an official manner, it will not be a tax exempt charity but, rather, any donations will need to be “gifts” from those who choose to contribute so neither Dena nor I need to pay taxes on such monies.

As I describe in my article titled “August 2005,” I know exactly what it feels like to try to try to defend oneself against law suits while not in a financial position to afford high quality lawyers.  My personal situation was one of the most stressful of my life and I will not let any such frivolities be perpetrated on my friends or other blinks without helping out in some manner in the future.  So, if you know Dena, please send her a note to help cheer her up and, please, if OccuPaws, its founders, “staff,” board or any individuals associated with it do take legal action, send a gift that we can use to help defray the costs of defending Dena as, although I am 100% certain that she bears no liability, hiring an attorney to handle a defense in even the most frivolous cases can be very expensive.

Everything that follows is Dena’s letter:

To Whom It May Concern
 I would like to provide the community of guide dog users with additional information about a newly formed non-profit organization. The agency, known as
the OccuPaws Guide Dog Association is located in Madison, Wisconsin. My hope is that a national organization for guide dog users will assist me in making
OccuPaws accountable for its inconsistencies and lack of qualifications (described below). I am deeply fearful that a prospective guide dog handler, with
Little knowledge about how guide dogs are safely trained will be physically or emotionally harmed if they are matched with an improperly trained dog.
I am also concerned about the generous individuals who might be persuaded to support an organization that does not employ the standards of quality and
Safety that characterizes a reputable dog guide school. 
 As one of OccuPaws’ original founders, I can attest to its lack of both organizational infrastructure and qualified training personnel. I have been a guide
Dog user for more than a decade, and am aware of the tremendous skill required to train such an animal safely. I also understand the unbelievable amount
Of time, effort, money, expertise and commitment it takes to run a successful guide dog training program. When it became clear that my co-founder did not
Wish to develop OccuPaws with the ethical and professional standards that are the foundation of well-established training programs, I ended my affiliation
With the organization. I could not, in good conscience, continue to support an agency that possessed such an unrealistic and cavalier attitude about the
Process of training a guide dog. I was nearly killed by a dog that should never have been given the responsibility of guiding a blind person, and I could
Not have lived with myself if my actions had caused someone else to experience that kind of terror and emotional devastation. 
 In late June of 2006, I published a letter that warned prospective students and donors about the unethical practices of the OccuPaws organization. This
Document appeared on several guide dog-related list serves, but can be viewed in the archives of the Yahoogroup that belongs to the National Association
of Guide Dog Users. Its content was based on excerpts from the OccuPaws Web site, as well as my own first-hand knowledge of the organization’s practices.
Today, however, even though it has been more than 90 days since this posting, I received an email from Patricia Schenck, an OccuPaws board member, and
The mother of the organization’s founder, Nicole Meadowcroft. This email threatens to sue me for defamation of character, unless I remove my statements
About OccuPaws from all public forums. When I reviewed the OccuPaws Web site, I discovered that much of the incriminating material that had been referenced
In my original statement had vanished. Clearly, the strategy of the OccuPaws organization was to read the letter outlining my concerns, attempt to erase
All record of their validity from the OccuPaws Web site, and then threaten to sue me (thinking that all proof to substantiate my claims had disappeared).
Fortunately, much of the original content from the OccuPaws Web site was cached by the various search engines, and it also appears in their organic search
result listings. In addition, many of the Web pages I reference, as well as emails from OccuPaws’ personnel, have been archived on the hard drive of my
Computer. I am happy to provide this documentation upon request.  
 Regardless of the motives that have been attributed to my public expression of concern regarding the practices of OccuPaws, and my questions about their
intentions, the facts are indisputable, and the facts are these. 

list of 7 items
• No member of the OccuPaws organization is a certified guide dog instructor.
• No OccuPaws associate (including its founder) has ever trained a guide dog from start to finish.
• In spite of this lack of experience, the founder of OccuPaws has publicly advertised herself as a guide dog trainer.
• In spite of statements to the contrary, the founder of OccuPaws has publicly stated that the organization intends to graduate its first guide dog in
spring of 2007.
• The founder’s current “guide dog” is an in-tact male, who doubles as both a breeding stud and a personal protection dog.
• The founder of OccuPaws conducted formal harness training with a 9 month old puppy. This puppy was also kept in-tact, and was being trained in the practice
of bite work.
• In an attempt to keep me from asking difficult questions, a family member of OccuPaws’ founder has threatened me with legal action.
List end 
 NOTE: Because of the threats I have received regarding a defamation of character law suit, I have included a Reference section at the bottom of this document.
This Reference section includes Web page and email excerpts that support each of the above claims. 
 Without the assistance of other members of the guide dog community, I will be unable to continue with my efforts to prevent this organization from hurting
Someone. My hope is that other concerned individuals will assist me in asking the difficult questions that need to be asked, and expose the inconsistencies
that exist. I also hope that such intervention will either compel the OccuPaws organization to provide proof of its legitimacy, or require its personnel
to implement practices that are ethical, realistic, and safe.   
 If you have any questions about the references I have listed below my signature, or require additional documentation, please contact me at your convenience. 
 Reference Section 
 Reference 1 
No member of the OccuPaws organization is a certified guide dog instructor, and none of its associates has ever trained a guide dog from start to finish. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
When I recently challenged one of OccuPaws’ associates about the agency’s overall lack of guide dog training experience, and the absence of qualified personnel,
I was informed that the organization’s trainers would be attending a 2 day seminar with a “certified guide dog instructor” who “comes from a school in
California.” Apparently, after this brief exposure to training practices, these individuals, who have no additional guide dog training experience, plan
to begin training guide dogs on their own. The OccuPaws website also alludes to collaboration with a “certified guide dog instructor.” My intention is
to contact the 3 California-based guide dog schools, to see if, in fact, any of them has allowed one of their trainers to conduct such a seminar. My suspicion,
however, is that they have not. My speculation is that the “certified guide dog instructor” being referred to is an extremely accomplished and respected
trainer in the area of Schutzhund, but I believe that it has been over a decade since he formally trained a guide dog. 
 Email excerpts: 
(Email from Marlene Morga, September 27, 2006.) 
“We have a Certified Guide Dog Trainer coming Monday & Tuesday to work with us,  give advice and check out the dogs we have.     The Lab is almost 2 yrs 
old, and who will be working him is still in the air until after the Trainer talks to us and shows us what must be done.    He wants us to train several
dogs each as demos.    So nothing we have now will be put out with anyone.    Several years down the road……” 
 In the same email message, the following statement is made about the 2-year-old Lab mentioned above.  
“I found a lady that donated a young male that might just turn out to be the very first graduate …..” 
 Reference 2 
The founder of OccuPaws has publicly advertised herself as a guide dog trainer. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
The following 2 excerpts were taken from an article, which appeared in the DeForest Times Tribune, on August 22, 2006) 
 Article Excerpt 1: 
“Meadowcroft, a dog trainer, decided to train her own 3-year-old German shepherd to be her guide Dog…She was so successful with training her own guide dog
that she started her own company last fall.” 
 NOTE: I witnessed Admiral’s training first hand. Virtually all of it was done by another visually impaired guide dog user, and not by the founder, as she
 Article Excerpt 2: 
After a year in a puppy raising home, “the OccuPaws guide dog is then turned 
over to Meadowcroft and her instruction for final training…” 
 NOTE: It seems presumptuous that an individual with minimal guide dog training experience is publicly advertising herself as a guide dog trainer. 
 Reference 3 
The founder of OccuPaws has publicly stated that the organization intends to graduate its first guide dog in the spring of 2007. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
The following excerpt was taken from the same article, which was published by the DeForest Times Tribune, on August 22, 2006). 
 Article Excerpt 3: 
OccuPaws “hopes to start recruiting students for the graduating class of guide dogs by spring.” 
 NOTE: Alarmingly, in spite of the fact that it takes guide dog instructors an average of 3 years to gain the knowledge they need to train a guide dog,
this article indicates that OccuPaws intends to issue a dog to a blind handler in spring (when the organization will be approximately a year and a half
 Reference 4 
As the above excerpt establishes, in spite of its very recent statements to the contrary, the organization was actively recruiting students, even though
it employed no qualified instructors, and had no training methodology in place.  
 Web Excerpt 1:  
The following quotation appears as part of YAHOO!’s organic search result listings when the phrase “OccuPaws, if you are in need of guide dog assistance”
is queried. 
“If you are in need of guide dog assistance, please contact us 
today. …” 
 Web Excerpt 2: 
A copy of the OccuPaws Student Application was also cached by Google, on May 12, 2006. It can be found by searching “OccuPaws, Student Application.” 
 Web Excerpt 3: 
Interestingly, now that I have been threatened with the defamation of character suit, the Student Information page reads as follows. 
“At this time, the OccuPaws Guide Dog Association is developing a customized training curriculum for our guide dogs and our future students.  We are not 
actively recruiting students at this time.” 
 Reference 5 
The founder’s current “guide dog” is an in-tact male, who doubles as both a breeding stud and a personal protection dog. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
Web Excerpt 1: 
The Web site for the founder’s breeding kennel (

) contains a link to the OccuPaws Web site, announcements about Admiral’s latest litters, and photos of his progeny. The Web page (

) describes Admiral and his various titles as follows. 
“Admiral vom Schenck…BH, AD, WH, FO, OB1, Guide Dog.” 
 Web Excerpt 2: 
The description below appears on several Web sites when the phrase “UKC titles, WH” is searched with Google. 
 “WH” is “a working title,” which refers to “Watch Hund (watch dog in English).” It is a “Schutzhund type title, related to protection work.” 
 Reference 6 
The founder of OccuPaws conducted formal harness training with a 9 month old puppy. This puppy was also kept in-tact, and was being trained in the practice
of bitework. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
I expressed concern when the founder of OccuPaws placed her personal “guide dog in training. I also witnessed her bitework training sessions. 
 Web Excerpt: 
The following excerpt was taken from the Google’s organic search engine listings, and appears when “OccuPaws, Halo” is searched. This quotation was included
in my original statement of concern. At the time my original letter was written, and the quote was retrieved from the OccuPaws Web site, Halo was only
9 months old. 
“Halo is currently practicing formal service / guide dog tasks and excelling with an A+. Halo will also be an asset to the OccuPaws ‘ breeding program.” 
 However, again, since I received the threat about the defamation suit, all reference to Halo has been removed from the Our Dogs in Training page of the
OccuPaws Web site. 
 Reference 7 
In an attempt to keep me from asking difficult questions, and exposing undesirable practices, a family member of OccuPaws’ founder has threatened me with
legal action. 
 Explanation and Proof: 
The following excerpts were taken from emails sent to me by Patricia Schenck, on October 4, 2006. 
 Email Excerpt 1: 
“Nicole was only practicing on Admiral and Halo.  It was never her intention of using these dogs as guide dogs.” 
NOTE: See the above references that outline proof to the contrary. 
 Excerpt 2: 
“I am giving you one week to remove your comments regarding OccuPaws and my daughter Nicole from the website, otherwise I will be forwarding your comments
to the District Attorney’s office and my lawyer for defamation of character, etc.” 
NOTE: The Web site being referred to is the list serve archive for the National Association of Guide Dog Users’. 
 Excerpt 3: 
“You have 10 days to have this information removed or I will be taking additional steps to hold you and the search engines liable for defamation of character
and accusations of fraud.” 
NOTE: The word “fraud” appears nowhere in my NAGDU message.  
 Reference 8 
 Miscellaneous Excerpts of Concern: 
The following excerpts were taken from the same series of emails, which were sent by Patricia Schenck, on October 4, 2006. 
Email Excerpt 1: 
“OccuPaws will only require two experienced dog guide trainers, no facility, and no administrators.” 
NOTE: A guide dog school with no administrators and no facility? And, where will these 2 “experienced dog guide trainers” come from? Especially in time
for the advertised spring 2007 graduation.  
 Email Excerpt 2: 
“OccuPaws dogs will have more one on one training with the guide dog trainer than the dogs receive at guide dog schools.  The trainers at the schools handle
15 dogs and are limited to the number of hours they can work with a dog each day.  Nicole will have one fully trained Labrador guide dog that has gone
through the complete process by a certified guide dog trainer.” 
NOTE: Again, which certified guide dog trainer? And, it seems unbelievable to me that it has been implied that the dogs produced by OccuPaws will somehow
be superior to ones issued by well-established schools, who have strict quality and safety measures in place.   

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Termination of Contract (Satire)


From John D. Human, Spokesman, Human Species
To: God, Manufacturer Human Beings
Re: Termination of Contract

Dear God,

I regret to inform you that the human species has elected to seek designs for and bids on the manufacturing of human bodies, a contract to which you have been the soul provider for quite some time.  It is a difficult decision to make, given the very long relationship between yourself and our species but the number of complaints we have received, the vast number of bug reports and the overwhelmingly large number of defects resulting in the death and dismemberment of members of our species forces us, after the numerous requests we have made through prayers to correct these problems that have gone unresolved, to seek alternatives.

To wit:

  • An independent group of our own engineers have reviewed your design and have concluded that said design, although nearly infinitely improbable, is massively over complicated.  In the RFP for a new design, one major aspect of the specification is that the Homo Sapiens 2.0 use far less complicated parts and be easier to repair in the field.
  • One requirement will be that the human reproductive system in the female version of the body will be better suited to a biped and cause far fewer deaths and injuries when in use.  We have sent you; via prayer (the form of communication you suggested as your preference) numerous requests for such an engineering change for tens of thousands of years now but your lack of responsiveness in this matter disturbs us greatly.
  • We also will insist in the RFP that Homo Sapiens 2.0 be dramatically less fragile than the current design.  While we can admire the design of the human body for its sheer beauty and have, for most of our history, celebrated its form in art, word and song, the actual units require such tremendous maintenance and have such a huge field failure rate that such must be remedied in the next revision as our global costs in this area is starting to bankrupt a number of our societies, not to mention causing great discomfort for many members of our species.
  • The human mind, including my own, is also ridden with bugs that cause tremendous failures.  The RFP for Homo Sapiens 2.0 will require that the next revision not include:

  • The tendency for white men to enter classrooms and murder grade school students of our species.
  • The tendency of humans who rise to leadership positions to order the killing of individuals, groups or other classes of humans.  In this case, one of your rules delivered to Moses, “Thou shall not kill,” is disregarded by both individuals and leaders with such great frequency that it has grown to be regarded as part of the nature of humans.  Your own son taught us to love and pray for and not kill our enemies, that we should “judge not, lest we be judged,” that we should turn the other cheek and that only those without sin should cast a stone at another human whom we perceived to have sinned in a manner we, as a society, find less acceptable than the sins we forgive, but, nonetheless, with these lessons and those sent through other peacemakers who, according to your own word are blessed, humans continue to kill each other on a minute by minute basis.  
  • Humans have, in complete disregard to your son’s story about Samaritans, a tendency toward xenophobia.  The result being that virtually every self designed group on Earth feels it is superior to all other groups and even to subgroups within each group have this tendency toward superiority which, those with greater power have, throughout history, as described in item B, enforced through violence.  This tendency to fear and hate other members of the species will not be permitted under the new specification.
  • Humans allow, with great disregard, others to starve to death.  While your son told us that the poor will be among us forever, he did not suggest that we should ignore poverty nor did he suggest that we should permit huge numbers of children (also considered blessed according to your own word) to die from starvation as part of an inequitable distribution of resources largely enforced through violence (see item B).  Thus, the RFP for 2.0 will insist on a greater propensity toward altruism while also (as in item B) a dramatically lowered tendency toward violence perpetrated against other humans.
  • Homo Sapiens 2.0 must also have a dramatically reduced tendency toward suicidal behaviors, including but not limited to avoidance of poisoning the beautiful planet which your own grace and design provided us with as an outstanding well designed home.
  • The RFP will also include an appendix listing the tens of thousands of bugs reported in different units of human minds which we feel should be remedied in the upgrade.
  • Many other forms of what we describe as “human suffering” must also be eradicated from the new design.  This will be listed specifically in the RFP.

While we are officially discontinuing your contract on the design and manufacture of human beings, we will welcome a proposal from you that meets with the requirements designed in the RFP to be publicly distributed within the upcoming weeks.  We will, of course, continue using your services until we have chosen to either select a replacement or to continue under your new design.

We will also take this opportunity to remind you that you have a 25,000 year agreement not to compete with, disparage or disclose any secrets involving the design, sale, manufacturing, behavior or virtually anything else involving humans.  Thus, if we elect to go with another designer/manufacturer we will assume that you will follow the terms of this contract and will not, in any way, do anything that violates it lest we will need to take action in the appropriate venue.

John D. Human

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First Human Rights Treaty of 21st Century

In August 2006, the first human rights treaty of the 21st Century entered the books of the United Nations.  The treaty, signed by a nearly unanimous collection of member nations, addressed the rights of people with disabilities and is the first international treaty of its kind.  The United States, the only notable nation who refused to join as a signatory, claimed that it already has ADA and, therefore, didn’t need to join.

Perhaps, the Bush Administration and its UN pit bull, John Bolton, actually realized that the new human rights treaty for people like us reached further and afforded far greater rights, rather than just laws and regulations under ADA, than those provided by the very ambiguous language in ADA.  Our law, which surely should be celebrated as it is the best thing we have in this country has seen much criticism when compared with similar laws and actual constitutional guarantees embedded in the laws of Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.  

Simply put, the weakest portion of the ADA are the words “reasonable accommodations” which, without a definition for “reasonable” can mean almost anything a court may want it to.  The Supreme Court and a number of other Federal Courts have ruled that it doesn’t apply to state governments (Alabama), that it doesn’t apply to people with HIV and some, but not all, other diseases and in a decision I support, it doesn’t apply to people who can have 20/20 vision if they wear glasses or contact lenses.  Possibly the least reasonable portion of the various court rulings have decided that, although the law states that it applies to, “all places of public accommodation,” (the operative word being “all,” it does not, according to case law, require that all places of public accommodation make accessibility changes prior to a complaint being filed by a person with a qualified disability.  Thus, if a student with a vision impairment enrolls in a public school, there is no guarantee that JAWS, OpenBook, Braille or audio texts or anything be available on the day they arrive.  In some notable cases, this has meant that the student had to study without any assistive technology for months on end while, following the court rulings, the backwater school system took their sweet time finding the tools the student required, sending out for bids, finding someone cheap enough and with the knowledge of how to install such things to come to the schools and, finally, providing the student with something to use.  Then, getting the student any training on such products might take months more.  All of this is acceptable under decision of the Federal Courts.

Thus, the definition of “all” as in “all places” actually means “all places where a person with a disability and the strength and wherewithal to file complaints must provide reasonable accommodations” for as long as the person with disability doesn’t get frustrated enough to find a more accommodating situation.  Thus, “accessibility” is not a right but, rather, a legally mandated set of things that a person with a disability can force a “place of public accommodation” to perform.  You have a right to free speech but, under US Federal law, a set of regulations that you can, sometimes with great effort and expense,  employ to push an uncooperative society into providing the accommodations you, as a person with disability, need to perform activities everyone else takes for granted.

Many states have passed their own local versions of ADA and some of these reach further than the Federal law.  Massachusetts provides one of the widest reaching sets of state laws in the nation.  Massachusetts also provides the rights for its gay citizens to get married and, likely, provides basic rights considerably further reaching than most other states.  Wyoming, a state that celebrates the rights of individuals, has no provisions for the rights of people with disabilities, gay people and many other classes of human who they do not believe need such rights.  Alabama, due to a direct ruling by the US Supreme Court, is, along with any other state that chooses to behave in a backward manner, specifically exempt from requiring its state government to provide “reasonable” accommodations to its employ; hence, blinks need not apply for government jobs in the state of Rosa Parks and the Selma church bombings.  As George Wallace, prior to his reformation said as governor of Alabama, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”  In Alabama, little changes over time.

If the United States, the “freest nation in the world,” according to our leaders, chose to sign the treaty, it would, like other treaties (except perhaps the Geneva Conventions) have to follow the language within the treaty.  Thus, when the WTO ruled that US law banning the import of fish that was caught using nets that cause the death of sea turtles, the US had to abdicate some of its sovereignty to the WTO because its environmental laws were trumped by the treaty.  In the case of the Human Rights for People with Disabilities Treaty, it would have to force Alabama, Wyoming and other piss ant backwaters to provide rights for people with disabilities.  As the US has roughly 25 “blue” and 25 “red” states, one can use the electoral map to find the states without local laws providing protections to people with disabilities.  Can you guess which color wins?

To really hammer this point home, one should take a look at the list of nations that did sign the treaty.  They include nations so poor that most people still need to gather water from wells and carry it home on their heads, countries where the average income is roughly $100 per day, countries where electricity is considered a “big city” luxury, dictatorships of all sorts, nations which have no right to free speech or laws against torture, nations which, when we hear them mentioned on the news, we need to go to wikipedia to find out on which continent they reside.

So, now that international lawyers in and outside of the US have started pouring over the treaty, what might it mean to people with vision impairments in and out of the US, the technology we use and access thereto?  Everything I can say here comes from conjecture on my part, that of various international law experts to whom I have spoken and of a handful of CEO types from AT companies to whom I’ve spoken in the past couple of weeks about this topic.

First, one thing that the lawyers and some of the AT CEOs and, to some extent, my brief reading of a synopsis of the treaty caused me to believe is that mainstream products may be required to include accessibility in some native form “out-of-the-box” at no extra charge to its consumers.  Today, the automobile industry cannot charge extra for a version of a vehicle that would work better for blacks or woman as, effectively, such a version of the automobile would be no different from that sold to the majority of the population.  A vehicle adapted for use by a person without legs, the controls mounted on the steering wheel, etc., may now be something that the motor vehicle manufacturers will need to eat as part of the cost of doing business rather than charging extra – in all countries that signed the treaty and not, however, in the US.

This kind of universally accessible feature set will likely apply to computers and operating systems as well.  Companies like Microsoft and Apple, especially, and Sun to some extent will be asked by signatory nations why they cannot provide truly accessible solutions and, more aptly, why these big companies point to little ones with expensive adaptive products to solve their big time accessibility issues.  Sun and IBM are both working on their open source screen readers for gnome but neither has gotten too far and gnopernicus, the only precedent in this arena, turned into such a failure that Sun had to scrap it outright and start over so this model has no real history of success.  Microsoft and Apple now include no cost “screen readers” in their operating system distributions but the XP version of Narrator, according to its own documentation, cannot truly function as a replacement for a “real” ” screen reader but, word around the campfire says that the Vista version demonstrates profound improvements.  I’ve written before about the fraud Apple perpetrates by calling VoiceOver, its pathetic excuse for a screen reader, a truly accessible solution (come on Gabe, post your comment defending the poison fruit but do so with a feature matrix comparing it to JAWS or Window-Eyes or even the alpha of the IBM GNU/Linux screen reader and see what real accessibility means)..

So, if presented with, “You can’t sell your operating system in this country unless it provides a no cost universally accessible solution,” how will Microsoft and Apple respond?  Apple will state that VoiceOver does such and the very tech savvy European accessibility experts will laugh them off of their shores.  Microsoft, generally more politically smart than Apple, will probably respond in any number of ways.  They could acquire Freedom Scientific or GW Micro, which would make those of us who own stock (or options to) in those companies very happy.  They could release Narrator as an open source product, letting the community of hackers take responsibility for its future while also subsidizing universities and blind consultants to ensure further developments of the software.  Finally, Microsoft could hire an army of attorneys to fight accessibility in world governing bodies but this would probably buy very bad press and cost more than either of the other solutions.

We must also consider countries like Brazil, which choose to use GNU/Linux systems for national security and cost reasons.  In this case, the open source programs from IBM and Sun have a leg up in that, while tragically incomplete at this late point in time, do have something that consultants can start pounding on if subsidized by wealthy nations, corporations and other groups if they grow frustrated with a lack of progress from Microsoft or Apple.

All of this remains purely conjecture and I hope to spend a little time in the coming weeks reading the treaty in its entirety, calling friends in government roles in nations who actually signed the document, read the email from friends who will respond to this item and comments posted here and likely reform my own opinion on the matter a few times.

As I have written here before, I think the optimal results come today from the AT companies.  I truly believe that JAWS is the best screen reader in history and that Window-Eyes is also very, very good, especially when compared to the sad excuses provided on the GNU/Linux and Macintosh graphical desktops.  Some theorists in this area will argue that the text based GNU/Linux screen readers provide the best accessibility and that, instead of trying to square peg a blind friendly user interface into a graphical world, programmers should take graphical programs and create a text interface for them and, consequently, provide 100% accessibility to all of the features in all of the programs; this idea is probably the best but I don’t believe that, outside of a perfect world, this will actually ever be able to provide a collection of applications as broad as that in the mainstream.

So, what do you think?


Blind Confidential declares that the day this treaty language found agreement (August 25) to be a new holiday.  I will suggest the name, Helen Keller Day, as, to my knowledge, she is probably the most well known advocate for people with disabilities in history.  Franklin Roosevelt already has an international award named for him and he did his best to hide his disability.  I must admit, that I can’t think of too many advocates for people with disabilities outside of the US but I am fairly sure that most people with any sort of education around the world have probably heard of Ms Keller.  To celebrate this holiday, I suggest that all people with a disability take a day off with pay from their job and do something to celebrate our rights as human beings as described in this treaty.  People with disabilities in the US should take the day off in protest and, if their employers refuse to pay them for the day, make sure they spend a day at work shirking so they get paid for a day in which their cheap bastard employers refuse to acknowledge their rights as human beings as now recognized in the rest of the world.  Yes, folks, I am suggesting a general strike among people with disabilities beginning on August 25, 2007 and continuing on every August 25 until Helen Keller Day (or something with a different name but same intent) is officially acknowledged by all employers in all states in all nations.  Yes, I know that inciting a general strike is officially illegal under United States Federal laws and is probably illegal under Florida Labor laws as well so, to quote President Bush, “Bring it on!”  I dare any employer or agent of a government, domestic or foreign, to take action against me for calling for this strike.  I double dog dare any AT company on Earth not to start celebrating this holiday when they publish their holiday calendars for 2007 without removing a single other holiday.  It is, now and forever, a holiday because Blind Confidential declared it so.

I ask that that our readers forward this edition of BC to all of their friends and so on.  I will ask my friend Daryl how to start an online petition like he did in the google case to demand that the United States join the treaty and, a second one, to demand that all nations add August 25 as a holiday celebrating the human rights of people with disabilities.  In nations where, for some reason, August 25 is already a holiday, another day should be chosen for this purpose.  

According to United Nations there are more than 635 million people with a disability worldwide.  We represent the world’s largest minority.  Bush and Bolton may work against our interests but we can work for our own revolution.  As the BPP says, “Blinks of the World Unite, You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Canes!”

To any of you weenies who want to criticize me for bashing the soft portions of ADA, the state of Alabama or President Bush (whose Justice Department has taken the side against the person with disability in every case that reached the Supreme Court during his administration) please do so with an explanation of why most of our proud veterans who have returned from Iraq have found gainful employment but less than 10% of those with a qualified disability (VA statistic, not mine) has not.  This means that our patriotic soldiers who sacrificed part of their body fighting for our nation at President Bush’s bequest is less likely to be employed than all other people with disabilities, let alone people without, in this nation.  This statistic, in and of itself, should make all Americans feel tremendous shame.


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