Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Part Two of the Blind See Red

Howdy Comrades!
I am pleased to report to readers of “The Little Red Book” that the unfortunate lady with cancer who had her medical vouchers cancelled has gotten them restored. No one at Cap Metro is willing to admit to us who cancelled her vouchers or when this action was taken. One wonders, however, if her case had not come to our attention, would anything have been done? Moreover, how many STS users we don’t know of are having the same issues?
We may all be in the same boat some day because the Access Committee was recently informed that the goal of Cap metro is to eliminate the voucher program altogether as soon as they can work out how to do it. This is nuts! Even Metro admits that it’s cheaper to use cabs for trips that don’t require wheel chair lifts, and they can’t even handle the current requests for rides on the STS vehicles they operate. How in hell can we expect them to handle ten thousand or more additional trips each month? I predict Austenites will be forced to confront the awful spectacle of hundreds of sick, blind and elderly STS riders risking their lives trying to take regular fixed route buses or begging for rides from people they don’t know. How long will it take for some tragic event to occur? Already, we are seeing more Hybrid cars, silent as sharks, prowling Austin streets. Recently, according to NFB’s, Gary Wonder, a blind man in California was almost killed when one of these hybrid cars started to run him down as he was crossing a street. Thank God the man had a dog guide who saved his life by refusing to cross on command. Now we want to encourage hybrid cars, but until we get the auto industry to adopt measures that will allow us to hear them, more blind people will need to take cabs.
Some of my friends in ACB have asked me why we don’t go to the press with our concerns. My response is that we have attended all the public hearings Cap Metro has held about the voucher program and STS, but for whatever reason, the reporter did not meet with either ACB Reps or NFB Reps. Instead, quotes from Cap Metro dominate the coverage. Perhaps the reporter is confused because Nancy Crowther, Metro’s so- called Accessible Transportation Specialist,
is in a wheel chair and can see to zero in on the reporter. I know when I attended the UT School of Journalism, we were trained to seek out all sides of an issue. This is particularly important when a reporter is confronted with complex issues and the government has all the PR resources to make sure the coverage has the spin they want.
We must make our concerns known to the local media. We can’t let Metro con the public any longer. Stay tuned to the Little Red Book for further developments.

Regards, Chairman Mal
Power to the Peeps!

Afterward: On 17 February, the Austin Chapter of the NFB held its monthly meeting at which a standing committee on Transportation was established. Our primary focus will be to advocate for greater accessibility to fixed rout Cap Metro buses with innovations such as audible signs, and protecting our members that depend on the STS program. Other issues regarding the problem with hybrid cars and appropriate use of audible traffic signals will be handled by our national organization. We hope to have a collaborative rather than an adversarial relationship with Cap Metro. As one member of the Transportation Committee, however, I can say that we will not be muzzled or ignored by the Access Committee. If I have anything to say about it, we will take our concerns directly to the Cap Metro Board. We are weary of the games being played with Access and refuse to play on the Access Merry Go Round any longer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Blind See Red Over Cap Metro Abuse

Howdy Comrades!
After I posted the last Cap Metro expose on Martin Luther King Day, my phone has been ringing off the wall with complaints and terrible stories of problems with the Special Transit Program. I have posted some of this comment, but many of the desperate STS passengers who have been calling me are too afraid of retaliation to allow me to publicize their individual concerns. I told these fellow members of Austin’s blind and disabled community that we cannot live in fear that Metro will “come after us” as some predicted. I can’t blame these good people for being terrified of retaliation, however, because it appears retaliation against “the complainers” has occurred and may be getting worse. One of the blind members of the Access Committee has been targeted for impeachment by the Accessible Transportation Specialist because she has been outspoken about the abuses and failures of Metro staff to do a decent job for the community. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that recently persons associated with “the complainers” are having trouble getting rides, even rides to the doctor for cancer treatment. This is totally unacceptable and unprofessional behavior on the part of STS staff, and we cannot allow the fear and seething anger that now exists to continue. Once the Austin community learns about the extent of this abuse and incompetence, I’m confident more blind and disabled users of Cap Metro Services will be emboldened to stand up for their rights without so much anxiety. Those of us with a platform to speak out on behalf of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our community must advocate for them. We are not afraid: We are angry and determined to take whatever steps are necessary to end the terror and incompetence that pervades the STS Program.
Recently one blind woman with high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer was abruptly and without explanation, denied taxi vouchers to and from her doctor. She suspects the action was taken because she dared to criticize Capital Metro’s performance and spoke against elimination of the voucher program. To deny seriously ill STS passengers a cab voucher to seek medical treatment is an outrage! Blind, frail and seriously ill passengers are having their lives disrupted, subjected to unnecessary stress that could exacerbate their medical problems, and ignored by heartless bureaucrats at Cap Metro. The Capital Metro Board should be ashamed of these staff. What happened to the core principle of “due process? Inherent in American law is the right to notice when government denies rights, property and life. This passenger should have been notified that the transportation to her physician was subject to change. She should have been granted the normal appeals process through an STS Advisory Board that truly reflects the community before any action was taken. We will not allow incompetent, inconsiderate Metro officials to callously ignore our rights. The STS Interim Director should be fired immediately and all actions to change existing policies and normal practice must be stopped. We will no longer accept changes by administrative fiat. The blind and transportation impaired of Austin cannot be ignored. The Press, our elected officials, the relevant Federal agencies and the courts can and will intervene. Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ask the Oracle . . .

Howdy Comrades!
By now, many of you have learned about the problem blind State workers in Texas have encountered when attempting to use new software from Oracle.  In an effort to get “a fair and balanced” viewpoint for this story, I checked out the Oracle Accessibility Website and the Luke Kowalski blog.  Mr. Kowalski wrote a remarkable post about his work with Google, and I was struck by his passion for what he and Oracle is trying to accomplish for its customers.  I did not find, however, any mention about working with Google’s accessibility unit. He sure seemed to cover all the other bases in meeting with Google, but again to be fair, I decided to give Luke Kowalski the chance to respond to my concerns.  Consequently, I left the following comment on the Luke Kowalski Blog:

Your close collaboration with Google is very instructive.  I am concerned, however, that you leave out any discussion of accessibility to Oracle Products by users dependent on screen reading software such as JAWS or Window Eyes.  I read on the Oracle Accessibility site that you have a commitment of providing inclusive products, but I just learned from an associated Press article that Oracle’s software is not accessible by some blind State of Texas workers.  Your partner, Google, has found ways to make web searches more accessible through Google Accessible Search.  Moreover, Google has made Blogger and other services more accessible by introducing Vocal Captcha for Blind users.  Where does Oracle stand with respect to the problem blind people are having here in Texas?

Shortly after posting my comment, I received an email from Luke Kowalski informing me that he is in Manila on business, but that he will address my concerns when he returns to the U. S. tomorrow.  Comrades, let’s give Oracle a little time to clear this up.  I suspect someone in State Purchasing was not clear about the access needs of blind employees.  I expect that Mr. Kowalski will take the bull by the horns and fix this problem immediately.  He can get help from his friends at Google should that be necessary.
(To be continued)
Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!
Afterward:  Hey, Hardhead, I mean, Hardball!  Didn’t you detect the subtle ironic tone of my post?  Jesus Heuristic Christ!  I’m sorry Mary Ellen; I’d better apologize to God for that remark.  You are a very sweet person, and you were among my most outstanding students.  Now that I’m aware of your blog, I can visit it whenever I miss church.  Ha!
With respect to the Oracle matter, it seems the Respondent did not respond to my post on the Oracle website As Dr. Phil would doubtless say, “I’m stupefied!”  Is that too subtle for you, Hardboil?  Critics . . .