The National Federation of the Blind is a powerful voice for advocacy, opportunity, and equality for blind Americans. Each year, we travel to Washington D.C. to meet with our Congressional representatives in order to educate them on issues of critical importance to the blind of the nation. We are also hard at work in our home state ensuring that legislation that benefits blind children and adults is passed.
Join us at the Capitol!
To learn more, please read the legislative issues that are currently being presented to our representatives in Congress.
In the picture above, back, left to right: Ryan Stevens, NFBNJ Legislative Coordinator; Congressman Donald Norcross (District 1); and Alice Eaddy, president of the Deaf-Blind Division of NFBNJ. In front: Vee Gaspa, president of the NJ Association of Blind Students.
THE 2017 WASHINGTON SEMINAR ISSUES
By Ryan Stevens, Legislative Coordinator
Reprinted from The Sounding Board
Hello yet again, my fellow New Jersey Federationists. During the last week of January, NFB held another successful Washington Seminar in our nation’s capital. Members from around the country, including 13 from our own affiliate went up on Capitol Hill to talk about the most pressing issues concerning the blind with our Congressional representatives. This time, we addressed four issues, two of which were carried over from last year. Here is a brief rundown of each topic.
The first issue from last year concerns Accessible Instructional Material in Higher Education, or AIM-HE, legislation. Much of the material used by university and college faculty to teach their courses is available to students only electronically or online, and a good portion of these tools are not accessible to blind and print disabled students. While the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws mandate full accessibility in the classroom, there are no guidelines for institutions of higher education and manufacturers of these materials to follow to ensure compliance. AIM HE would establish these guidelines for users and creators of such software. It would also give legal protections to those who follow the guidelines.
The other topic from 2016 which we again presented on the Hill is the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty, if ratified by a two thirds vote in the Senate, would greatly expand access to books and other printed material to blind and print disabled people throughout the world. It would allow a person from one country to get a book in non-visual format from another country rather than waiting for his or her home country to create its own non-visual version. It also makes it easier to acquire material in multiple languages. With this treaty pending in a new Congressional term, we are making an even stronger push to get ratification.
One of the new legislative issues we are pursuing is the Access Technology Affordability Act. Access technology enables blind people to participate in today’s connected world and to perform tasks that they were once unable to accomplish themselves. Today, the blind most often acquire this technology through their state blindness agency or through their employer as reasonable accommodation. The problem with going through the state agency is the long time it takes to receive the equipment. The drawback of receiving it from an employer is that such requests can make the company wary of hiring blind people because of the expense. Unfortunately, the cost of access technology also prevents most blind people from purchasing it themselves. The Access Technology Affordability Act would help to alleviate this burden by providing a tax credit to the blind person when he or she purchases equipment. There is already a similar tax credit for businesses as an incentive to hire blind people. The individual tax credit would take some of the burden from the state agencies and employers and allow blind people to acquire equipment more quickly and to be more active at work, in school and in the community.
Our final item this year is a request for an appropriation to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) for refreshable Braille displays. This appropriation will save money and lead to the proliferation of critically needed Braille material for blind Americans. Blind Americans rely on NLS to distribute Braille materials across the nation. Currently these are hardcopy offerings, but new, low-cost displays (known as refreshable Braille displays) can produce electronic Braille, saving money and paper, and providing a small device where formerly multiple and large volumes were required for just one book. A one-time appropriation of $5 million would allow NLS to purchase 10,000 of these refreshable displays and provide them to patrons. Blind readers could then load books in electronic format onto these displays. This would allow more people to read Braille on a regular basis and save NLS $10 million a year in embossing, storage and shipment costs for hardcopy Braille books.
Editor’s Note: With the exception of the Marrakesh Treaty, there are currently no bills in either the House of Representatives or Senate for any of these issues.
For more details and the full fact sheets for each of these issues, go to https://nfb.org/washington-seminar
As I have pointed out in the past, while going to DC and addressing these important issues directly with our elected officials is certainly important, it is only the beginning of our legislative agenda. Also, there will be other concerns that will arise during the year. We cannot ignore any of these until next January. All of us need to make an effort to help all blind Americans live the lives we want.
To contact your member in the House of Representatives or the US Senators from New Jersey, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. To find your House member, you can either contact your local public library or go to www.house.gov and enter your zip code.
Call to Action: Opposition to H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017
As you know, we ask members from time to time to contact their representatives in Congress in support of legislation that would benefit the blind community. But today I am calling upon all Federationists to contact their representatives in opposition to H.R. 620. The phone number for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121. From there, simply ask to be connected with your representative. In addition, please call the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Robert Goodlatte, at (202) 225-5431.
Here are some brief talking points to share with the offices of your representative and Chairman Goodlatte:
- the ADA was enacted in 1990, so covered entities have had ample time to learn about and comply with the law;
- the ADA already contains an “undue burden” provision to protect covered entities when the costs of making facilities accessible are too high; and
- Title III of the ADA (which applies to public accommodations) does not allow monetary damages for noncompliance.
The National Federation of the Blind has joined with 216 other allied civil rights organizations in opposing this bill. You can read our joint letter at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/sign-on-letters/comments_on_hr620_03162017.pdf. If you want to know how this bill would affect us, consider internet access guaranteed under the ADA and our comments filed with DOJ last October (https://nfb.org/ada-title-ii-internet-regulations-joint-sanprm-comments as just one example.