The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #121496   Message #2666878
Posted By: GUEST,Mark D. Moss, Sing Out!
29-Jun-09 - 02:53 AM
Thread Name: Sing Out! vs. the blind
Subject: RE: Sing Out! vs. the blind
I'll make this as brief as possible ... I want to be thorough without needing to follow and get embroiled in yet another Internet BBS back and forth.

Several folks told me about this thread during the Old Songs Festival this weekend, I'm not a regular visitor to these pages. Please don't read anything into that, it's simply that there are too many resources and discussions out there on the Internet, and I figure that Sing Out! is plenty visible and available to anyone who wants direct and informed information about us.

The facts here are relatively simple: Greg Austin's *first* contact with us on this issue was an attempted posting to our YahooGroups listserv, wherein he accused us of intentionally ignoring his "repeated attempts" to ask us about the accessibility of the Zinio edition of Sing Out! Because this was THE VERY FIRST contact from him, I replied to him, off list, to explain that we had no contact with him prior to that message, and suggesting that he contact us directly about any issues or concerns he had. He replied, accusing me of hostility, an attempt to hide our disinterest in his concerns, and stated his intent to elicit the support of the National Federation for the Blind and the Department of Justice to take legal action if we didn't comply with his demands.

I replied, again, explaining that I was happy to try and help, but that I would not continue *any* discussion under threat. I explained that we were *already* attempting to find a way of making Sing Out! accessible, asked for constructive assistance, and reiterated that I was *not* trying to be argumentative, but that I wouldn't continue any discussion under threat. Austin ratcheted up his accusations, so I stopped responding.

I *did* however continue talking, researching and investigating with a wide range of people, INCLUDING folks at the NFB (mostly the president of the Philadelphia Chapter, Paul Anatacci, and the primary contact person in their PR department, Donna Hill). I also spoke with folks at Adobe's accessibility division, the department of Justice, The Hadley School for the Blind, American Scientific (creators of JAWS software), as well as, at least, a dozen other folks at schools and resources I could find on the web. With one exception -- Linn Sorge at the Hadley School -- NONE of these folks were able to provide me with any assistance in understanding what was needed to make the material we have available accessible ... unless we had the resources to hire someone to either create an "audio" file for each issue or to pay to translate the magazine into braille. (Unfortunately, Sing Out! is a folk music non-profit of meager means, struggling to stay alive. We simply don't have the financial resources to take hiring a studio or to pay for translation of the magazine.)

Linn helped us to, first, confirm that the pre-press PDF files we send to the printer (and to Zinio for the creation of that edition) *were* functionally usable with basic screen reader tools (in conjunction with Adobe's utilities) ... though all attempts to get information about how to properly tag the file to make it fully functional went unanswered (for Linn, for me, and for several other folks Linn asked to intervene on our behalf). At that time (mid-May ... some weeks before Mr. Austin continued forward with his boycott announcement), with advice and input from Linn, we added links to our accessibility page from our main home page, from the magazine info page, and from the Zinio edition info page.

About a month ago, Linn found a contact in her search who was willing to convert the PDF into a simpler RTF file, which we have been told would make the file easier and more universal to use. Once we had that new file (mid-June) and had it tested by several folks (including Linn) we updated the accessibility page and policy. At that time, we *also* submitted the file to the tech folks at the NFB's national headquarters (with direction from Paul A.), and are coordinating improvements to the file with the team that will be creating the accessible files going forward.

I'll close with two additional points:

I don't know Greg Austin, and can't speak for his issues or agenda ... but I can tell you that I have been assured by representatives at the NFB (at both the Philadelphia and the national headquarters) that they do not know Greg Austin, and have *never* had any discussions or intent to call for a boycott of Sing Out!, and that the National Association for Blind Musicians was a *defunct* sub-group that *had been* affiliated with the NFB, but to the best of their knowledge it was defunct. This past weekend, I *also* received several e-mails from the Chairperson of the Blind Musicians Group of the National Federation of the Blind (Linda Methinks) who specifically explained that that the NABM was defunct (except for a listserv titled "MusicTalk," and (I quote from her email) "Years ago, when we were a division, Greg accused me of abusing my power as president. I have no idea how he determined that, and believe that he just wanted to cause trouble. He eventually left the list, I think, or he was banned by the NFB list owner; I'm not sure which." She continued: "NABM no longer exists, and Greg is not the executive secretary, unless there is a group by that name in the ACB. He did not contact me, or anyone else in the NFB, as far as I know, and we do not support him in this endeavor." You don't need to take my word for any of this. The NFB has a web site with email contact info and phone numbers.

If ANYONE has ANY concerns that anything I write here is untrue, I only ask that you check it out for yourself before continuing to make suppositions or smear Sing Out! on this list. I *do* understand how this kind of thing can happen ... but it sure seems pretty pathetic to spew the kind of vitriol based purely on unsubstantiated assumptions, accusations and ignorance. (I'm betting that the guilty are too foolish to get that ... but this forum should be ashamed to have them in your midst. There's a HUGE difference between posing legitimate questions and making grand pronouncements about my work and intentions without bothering to even take a swipe at trying to find the full story ... and it saddens me to see that some folks who I considered friends participating in the discussion without coming to the horse's mouth, so to speak. Do you *routinely* let trolls malign and smear other folks and organizations here? Folks and organizations who are part of our community and have devoted decades to our music? I can certainly understand and respect folks not appreciating or liking the work I've done -- different strokes for different folks -- but a number of the posts here just make me feel ill. Maybe someone can explain to me why the accusations earn immediate credibility, with such a carefree assumption that Sing Out! is/was in the wrong without any benefit of the doubt?)

That said, if anyone reading this message has anything *constructive* to add to our efforts to make Sing Out! more fully accessible (or has ANY other questions about the sequence of events or our efforts thus far), I would welcome it if you would contact me directly at Sorry, given the overall tone, I'm not interested in participating here beyond trying to make sure that the lies and smears go completely unchallenged in your permanent archive. (Apologies in advance, but you will need to complete the challenge/response from Spamarrest. Though I *will* look for comments in my spam bucket to manually approve you! )

Mark D. Moss
Editor/Executive Director
Sing Out!