Marlaina Lieberg and Ken Metz: Advocates Extraordinaire

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This is a post about Marlaina Lieberg and Ken Metz.  They each died in May, 2018.  Both were people who did a lot for the blind community in their home states of Washington and California and across the United States.  Ken and Marlaina helped in many Structured Negotiation cases.  Structured Negotiation is a legal strategy that focuses on solution and avoids lawsuits.  Marlaina and Ken helped in negotiations with many big companies including Weight Watchers and Walgreens.  Marlaina was quoted in Lainey Feingold’s book about her role in Major League Baseball’s work on making its website and mobile app easier for disabled people to use.

Ken Metz

Marlaina Lieberg

The past two months have seen too much loss in the blind advocacy community in the United States. In April I wrote about the death of Sue Ammeter, the blind activist behind a successful Structured Negotiation with the American Cancer Society. Then in May came news that Marlaina Lieberg and Ken Metz had died within days of each other. Both were committed advocates and Structured Negotiation champions.

Structured Negotiation Depends on People like Marlaina and Ken

Structured Negotiation is a client-centered way to resolve legal disputes, with useful tools for anyone seeking to encourage a change in behavior. A ‘first principle’ of Structured Negotiation is that disability civil rights legal claims are about people. Ken Metz and Marlaina Lieberg were two people involved in many successful Structured Negotiation efforts.

A quick look through my emails finds Marlaina or Ken involved with the following cases:

  • Weight Watchers (accessible website, mobile app, and print docs)
  • Equifax, Trans Union and Experian (accessible credit reports on line and on paper)
  • Walgreens (talking prescription labels)
  • Major League Baseball (accessible websites and mobile app)
  • Bank of America (talking ATMs)
  • Safeway (accessible website and mobile app)

Marlaina and Ken’s involvement in these cases included providing feedback on new technologies, talking with company representatives, reporting bugs and post-settlement mishaps *and* letting us know what companies were doing right.

Ken and Marlaina were both very involved with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and its local affiliates in California (Ken) and in Washington State (Marlaina). Their participation in Structured Negotiation was often in the role of ACB member or officer. Both did what they thought was best for the organization and for blind people everywhere, without concern for personal credit or the limelight.

In my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, I quote Marlaina talking about her role in the negotiation with Major League Baseball:

Marlaina Lieberg, an American Council of the Blind officer and a loyal Mariners’ fan, participated in many of those calls [with MLB staff]. “I never felt there was an adversarial relationship with MLB,” Lieberg says. “The MLB guys were just wonderful; they were honest, and asked good questions. By participating in those meetings I felt that I put a face on blindness for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a clue.” Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, page 209

Once the negotiations with Major League Baseball were over, Marlaina was quoted in the 2012 MLB press release announcing accessibility of the sports giant’s mobile app for iPhone and iPad. (Positive press once a solution is reached is a hallmark of Structured Negotiation. MLB became (and remains) a champion of accessibility and rightfully deserved positive press!)

Eleven years earlier, as chair of the Environmental Access Committee of the Washington Council of the Blind, Marlaina had been quoted in Union Bank’s Structured Negotiation press release announcing the first Talking ATMs in Oregon and Washington State.

Marlaina Lieberg captured the essence of Structured Negotiation in a quote I used to kick off Chapter 7:

One of the reasons I like to be involved in Structured Negotiation is that everyone comes away learning something. Everyone feels like a winner. Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, p. 73

Ken and Marlaina on the Radio

Both Ken and Marlaina both hosted radio shows. Ken’s show was “Access Unlimited” on Pacifica radio station KPFK. Marlaina had a long-running interview show on ACB Radio.

Their audiences were lucky to have the insight, humor, and committed voices of these leaders. I was lucky to have been a guest on both shows.

Learn More

Marlaina Lieberg and Ken Metz became more than clients to me. They were colleagues and friends who taught me so much about both blindness and advocacy. They were tremendous supporters of Structured Negotiation as an advocacy strategy, yet were never hesitant to hold my “feet to the fire” when needed. I will miss them both.

I invite you to read more about these two committed activists:

Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, which includes stories of the cases Ken and Marlaina were involved with, is available in accessible formats for readers with print disabilities from Bookshare and the National Library Service BARD program. It is on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats, and available through the publisher in both a print and ePub version. Use code LFLEGAL20 for a 20% discount when the book is purchased from the publisher.

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