Blindness Group Asks States to Stop Sending People to Training Centers With Abuse Allegations

BY KAYLEE POCHE, Oct. 11, 2021

The American Council of the Blind is urging taxpayer-funded state agencies to halt sending blind and low-vision people to any blindness training centers where allegations of sexual abuse have taken place, specifically citing recent allegations at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

The Board of Directors, which passed the resolution at its Sept. 29 meeting, also asked the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration to take a series of actions aimed at preventing sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior at blindness training centers across the country.

“In recent months, scores of credible allegations have surfaced regarding sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature, as well as charges of bullying and demeaning conduct on the part of students and staff at the Colorado and Louisiana Centers for the Blind residential rehabilitation facilities,” the ACB resolution reads. The move comes many months after the height of the #MarchingTogether movement last winter and this spring, when dozens of members of the National Federation of the Blind and attendees of its affiliated training centers, including LCB and the Colorado Center for the Blind, reported abuse by both center staff and students dating back decades. In an internal report in July, NFB said it had received 69 sexual misconduct complaints since December.

NFB declined to comment on the resolution, which came from ACB members, or the board discussion.

In its recommendations, the ACB asks state rehabilitation departments and commissions serving blind people to “immediately suspend all approvals for consumers to attend any residential rehabilitation training center” with abuse and misconduct allegations until those departments and commissions determine the allegations have been addressed. Since December, people with ties to the National Federation of the Blind have formally submitted 69 complaints alleging sexual misconduct withâ¦

During the meeting, former board president Mitch Pomerantz said the resolution was one of the “hardest and most detailed documents” he’d helped write in his nearly 50 years in the organized blind movement. He and Margie Donovan also worked on a similar resolution at the California Council of the Blind.

“It is a document that will allow all of our affiliates who so choose to put their state agencies, their commissions on notice … that they can no longer send their students at taxpayer expense to residential rehabilitation facilities or to community rehabilitation programs where they are taken advantage of,” he said.

Among other things, the resolution also asks RSA to ensure that allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying are reported to State Rehabilitation Councils and to RSA itself. It also recommends RSA establish comprehensive codes of conduct for both residential training centers (where people live at the center), community programs and contractors. NFB’s three training centers, including the Louisiana center, are not run by the state, but people do receive money from the state to attend the center through Louisiana Rehabilitation Services. The problem of abuse at blindness training centers also goes beyond NFB-run centers, and incidences of misconduct have also been reported at state-affiliated centers.

Much of the debate centered around taking out language referencing allegations at LCB and CCB, but that amendment ultimately failed. And supporters of the resolution itself far outnumbered its critics who said they were concerned about the organization getting sued and impairing relationships with other blindness organizations. Board member Jeff Thom of California stressed that it was urgent for the board to take action now in an attempt to set an example on the issue.

“I really believe this is such a serious problem that if someone doesn’t lead the way on this in a rather almost draconian way, then nothing at all will happen,” Thom said. Pomerantz added that he’d talked to an NFB member who indicated he wasn’t satisfied with NFB’s response to abuse and misconduct allegations within the organization. “I did speak to someone who I believe is close to leadership in [NFB] and from his perspective, there’s been a lot of lip service paid, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter,” Pomerantz said.

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