The importance of advocacy

Alongside education, inclusivity efforts are fundamental to Perkins’ mission

Kim Charlson speaks at a podium while Perkins President Dave Power looks on.

Kim Charlson oversees Perkins' Braille and Talking Book Library, home to more than 100,000 fiction and nonfiction titles and 1,500 audio-described DVDs.

October 24, 2018

This story appears in the Fall 2018 issue of In Focus.

The importance of a formal education cannot be understated. At Perkins, though, we believe it’s equally important to advocate for the blindness community outside of the classroom.

That’s why, in addition to leading Perkins’ Braille and Talking Book Library, I serve proudly as the first woman President of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Since being elected in 2013, I’ve led the organization’s efforts to improve the quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people. And I’m immeasurably proud of the work we’ve done.

For instance, we couldn’t have built our Perkins library collection of more than 1,500 commercially available audio-described DVDs without the passage of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Long supported by Perkins, ACB and myriad other advocacy groups, the legislation restored and expanded upon video description obligations previously introduced by the FCC for television programming.

And this past September, after years of encouragement from these same supporters, the Marrakesh Treaty passed over the legislative finish line. If ultimately signed into law, the sweeping, bipartisan bill would directly result in hundreds of thousands of books in accessible formats being made available to countless people around the world.

We relentlessly advocate for these types of proposals because, on top of being the right thing to do, they have an enormous impact on our own work.

These efforts enable us to further build out our library on campus, which is already home to more than 100,000 fiction and nonfiction titles on countless recreational and academic topics, published in braille, large print and audio format. They also give us the resources to promote works of particular interest to our community through our monthly Recommended Reads listing. Finally, they allow us to expand our reach globally, which is imperative to promoting lifelong learning for everyone, everywhere.

Yet for all the progress we’ve made in dismantling barriers, many persist. Because of this, as we champion efforts to create a truly inclusive world, we need partners in advocating for policy change. If we are to succeed in our mission of empowering blind individuals to pursue an enduring education, we need allies. We need long-term partners willing to get vocal.

For all the momentum we’ve established, we need advocates who know the real work is just getting started.

Kim Charlson is executive director of Perkins Library. In that role she, oversees its mission of promoting literacy and providing accessible reading materials to people who are blind or visually impaired in Massachusetts, across New England and around the world.