Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind. The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office. If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Claire Stanley or Clark Rachfal.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of April 11, 2019. Messages 1 through 4 are new.
- New! ACB Supports the ABLE Age Adjustment Act of 2019
- New! ACB Submits Comments to FCC on Video Description
- New! White House Proposes Budget for 2020
- New! An Update on Airlines and New Service Animal Policies
- Section 503 Study
- Senators Brown and Casey Oppose Social Media Monitoring by SSA
- ACB’s Legislative Priorities for 2019
- ACB Supports the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
The American Council of the Blind supports the reintroduction of the ABLE Age Adjustment Act in the 116th Congress.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act allows certain individuals with disabilities the opportunity to save resources in a tax advantaged savings account (an ABLE account) which can cover disability-related expenses such as education, housing, transportation, employment support and other support expenses. An individual’s resources saved in an ABLE account are exempt from determining their eligibility for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
As introduced in the 115th Congress, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act would:
- Increase the eligibility threshold for ABLE accounts for onset of disability from up to age 26 to up to age 46.
- Allow approximately 6 million more individuals to open ABLE accounts.
- Provide long-term stability and viability of the ABLE program.
To learn more about whether an ABLE account is right for you, go to www.irs.gov and search for “ABLE accounts.”
On Monday, April 1, the American Council of the Blind and ACB members submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission in response to a public notice on recent developments in the video description marketplace.
Video description is audio-narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements. These descriptions are inserted into natural pauses in the program’s dialogue. Video description makes television programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
To inform a report to Congress, the FCC sought comments including, but not limited to, the following areas:
- The amount and types of programming described, including children’s programming and specific examples of what is watched.
- The extent to which household members, both visually impaired or not, watch described programming.
- The ease with which consumers can access online guides, and how well the networks inform you of their described programming.
- How well are networks making available Video-On-Demand of previously described programming?
- Are there any data points that quantify or otherwise capture the benefits of video description for audiences?
To learn more about video description, go to www.fcc.gov/general/video-description.
The White House released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2020. Many in the disability community expressed concerns regarding program eliminations and spending cuts. It is important to keep in mind that our government is a system of checks and balances. One check that Congress has over the whims of the executive is the power of the purse, as laid down in the U.S. Constitution. A president’s budget proposal is as much a political messaging document as a policy document. We anticipate the newly elected Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, where all funding bills must originate, to view many of the executive’s policy recommendations with a healthy dose of skepticism. Along with our allies in the cross-disability community, the ACB national office is monitoring the actions of the administration and Congress very closely, and we will alert our membership of any significant developments. That said, below is a list of the budget proposals with the potential to directly impact ACB members.
The White House budget proposal would reduce Medicare spending by $575 billion over the next ten years by reducing wasteful spending, provider payments, and lowering prescription drug prices.
The White House budget proposal would reduce Medicaid spending by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, would implement work requirements, and create $1.2 trillion block grants for the states. The net reduction in value for Medicaid is projected to be $777 billion.
The White House budget plans to reduce Social Security Disability Insurance spending by $10 billion over the next ten years.
Department of Education
Programs authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are level funded.
Vocational Rehabilitation Programs
- Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants would receive $3.61 billion, a 2.5% increase from FY 2019.
- Supported Employment State Grants is zeroed out, a $22,548,000 decrease.
- Services for Older Blind Individuals would receive $33,317,000, level funded.
In addition, the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults would receive $10.3 million, a 23.7% decrease in funding from FY 2019.
Under Special Institutions for Persons with Disabilities:
- American Printing House for the Blind would receive $25.4 million, a 16.53% decrease in funding from FY 2019.
- National Technical Institute for the Deaf would receive $70 million, a 9.68% decrease from FY 2019.
- Gallaudet University would receive $121.3 million, a 9.72% decrease from FY 2019.
The budget proposal also proposes to eliminate 29 programs for an annual savings of $6.7 billion. Those programs include:
- Special Olympics Education Programs, which were funded at $17.6 million.
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which were funded at $1.22 billion.
- Alaska Native Education, which was funded at $35 million.
- American History and Civics Education, which was funded at $4.8 million.
- Arts in Education, which was funded at $29 million.
- Comprehensive Centers, which were funded at $52 million.
- Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, which were funded at $190 million.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which were funded at $840 million.
- Full-Service Community Schools, which were funded at $17.5 million.
- Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, which was funded at $5 million.
- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, which were funded at $360 million.
- Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need, which was funded at $23 million.
- Impact Aid Payments for Federal Property, which were funded at $74.3 million.
- Innovative Approaches to Literacy, which were funded at $27 million.
- International Education and Foreign Language Studies Domestic Programs, which were funded at $65.1 million.
- International Education and Foreign Language Studies Overseas Programs, which were funded at $7.1 million.
- Javits Gifted and Talented Education, which was funded at $12 million.
- Native Hawaiian Education, which was funded at $36 million.
- Promise Neighborhoods, which were funded at $78.3 million.
- Ready to Learn Programming, which was funded at $27.7 million.
- Regional Educational Laboratories, which were funded at $55.4 million.
- Statewide Family Engagement Centers, which were funded at $10 million.
- Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, which were funded at $32.3 million.
- Strengthening Institutions, which were funded at $99.9 million.
- Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which were funded at $1.17 billion.
- Supported Employment State Grants, which were funded at $22.5 million.
- Supporting Effective Educator Development, which was funded at $75 million.
- Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, which were funded at $2.055 billion.
- Teacher Quality Partnership, which was funded at $43.1 million.
The ACB national office has received calls regarding concerns over some airlines’ new service animal policies. Such policies require travelers to perform certain tasks, such as providing a signed letter by a physician before they can board a plane. These requirements are inconsistent with the Air Carrier Access Act. In response to such policies, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently drafting an interim policy statement that will come out this spring clarifying the department’s stance on these issues. This statement will help travelers better understand current policies and what is required of them.
Then, this fall, the FAA will issue a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) where all Americans can provide comments to the FAA. ACB will post the notice on its listservs, on the website, on social media, and in the Washington Connection. When the time comes, and the NPRM is made available, ACB encourages all members to submit comments to stress the concern of all guide dog users. ACB staff members will be available to assist members in submitting their comments.
If you do experience a situation where you are denied access because of your dog, asked to provide paperwork, etc., the FAA asks that you file a complaint immediately. You have 60 days from the event to do so. To file the complaint online, go to https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint. Or you may file a complaint by phone at (202) 366-2220.
To file a complaint by mail, please send your correspondence to: Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590.
In the meantime, ACB encourages all air travelers to be vigilant when flying, and to advocate for themselves in light of such policies.
ACB received a request from Marco Tarantino, NIB’s Policy and Employment Fellow working out of the Envision Research Institute in Wichita, Kansas. His fellowship project is focused on the Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503) regulatory changes that took effect in 2014 and understanding how they have affected employment outcomes for blind and low vision individuals. He is recruiting blind or low-vision participants for unstructured interviews conducted through telephone, over video call, or in person, lasting approximately 45 minutes. Interview questions will pertain to the various situations that blind and low vision applicants/employees face in the employment cycle related to Section 503. All information discussed regarding an individual will be deidentified and used solely for the purpose of research. To participate, contact him by phone at (316) 440-1524, or visit www.envisionus.com/research.
ACB Advocacy and Outreach Specialist Claire Stanley sits on the Social Security Task Force with the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. The following issue is one of many issues the committee is keeping its eye on.
Senators Brown, from Ohio, and Casey, from Pennsylvania, recently drafted a joint letter to the Trump administration in opposition to new steps being taken alongside the Social Security Administration. In the letter, the two senators ask the administration to answer a series of questions on a new program that would use social media accounts to learn more about new Social Security applicants. The letter came after the New York Times reported in March on the new practice being carried out by the administration. Under the new program, the Social Security Administration will monitor the social media accounts of individuals applying for or receiving Social Security benefits. The program is supposed to prevent Social Security fraud. Basically, the monitoring of social media accounts will enable government employees to determine whether a person is in fact disabled.
However, Sens. Brown and Casey believe it will unfairly scrutinize applicants. They go on to argue that the use of social media fails to allow for due process and violates people’s privacy rights. Furthermore, the use of social media may lead to problems such as inaccuracy, undue costs of training monitors, and the strong chance of abuse.
Before such a program begins, the two senators stress that the Trump administration along with the Social Security Administration must answer numerous questions and allow for transparency throughout the process.
At the legislative seminar on February 25, 2019, ACB rolled out its three imperatives the national office will focus on over the next year. The three imperatives are briefly described here.
First, for a decade now, Medicare has refused to cover the cost of low-vision aids, due to an eyeglasses exclusion that prohibits the purchase of any durable medical good with a lens. While the regulatory exclusion was seen as cost saving by not covering eyeglasses, it has had negative impact on those who, through the use of special low-vision aids, could significantly increase their independence in the home. ACB believes that simple adaptive low-vision aids can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to remain in their own home longer, rather than needing to pursue costlier institutional or assisted living. Therefore, ACB calls on Congress to re-introduce the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act, which would measure the various costs and benefits of removing the Medicare eyeglass exclusion.
Next, we are now at an exciting technological place when it comes to transportation. The potential for the use of autonomous vehicles for people who are blind is closer than ever. Such vehicles are already being tested in multiple cities. However, it is critical that these cars remain fully accessible, and that individuals who have the most to gain through such technology are not forgotten. In the 116th Congress, blindness organizations and the auto industry supported legislation that would establish working groups to focus on accessibility and prevent discrimination in operating such vehicles based on disability. ACB is calling on Congress to move forward with similar legislation that will continue to drive this technology forward.
Finally, advancements in health technology have resulted in a watershed of durable medical equipment (DME) that monitors vital health activity and conditions such as diabetes, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. However, a failure by the DME industry to make devices accessible has raised serious health concerns by those living with such conditions who are blind and visually impaired. For instance, DME such as glucometers have notoriously been a challenge for diabetics who are blind. This can all change through the development of accessible DME interfaces like smartphone apps and other devices capable of using nanotechnology that can incorporate simple accessibility solutions. Congress can play a role in assuring that such DME technology adheres to the latest software technology standards such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation, Act and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide assurances that accessible DME devices make their way into the hands of individuals who are blind and visually impaired.
ACB has begun to write draft language for legislation to ensure that all DME is made accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. The law would push manufacturers to make the devices accessible at the time of purchase, instead of users having to find ways to make them usable. ACB urges the 116th Congress to explore new law to make DME accessible for all Americans.
On Friday, March 8, ACB’s executive director, Eric Bridges, sent the following letter to members of Congress in support of a bill to responsibly eliminate the practice of paying people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage.
Dear Representative Scott, Representative McMorris Rodgers, Senator Casey, and Senator Van Hollen:
On behalf of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), I am writing to thank you for introducing the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, and for your commitment to ending the legal practice of paying Americans with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. ACB supports this bill.
ACB is a leading national consumer organization representing Americans who are blind and visually impaired with the mission to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people. In 2013, the approximately 70 state chapters and special-interest affiliates that comprise ACB, who represent a diverse range of groups within the blind community, approved a resolution (Resolution 2013-13), which stated that any elimination of the Section 14(c) certificates must also include “specific safeguards, such as a phase-in period for implementation, to protect those individuals working under 14(c) certificates from losing their jobs.”
ACB supports your conclusion in the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, that the elimination of the Section 14(c) exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act cannot occur in a vacuum. We acknowledge the specific safeguards that are contained in this legislation, such as a phase-in period and transitional grants for states and organizations to responsibly move toward competitive, integrated employment. With your leadership, ACB believes that we may eliminate the archaic practice of subminimum wage compensation for people with disabilities while protecting those employees through the transition to competitive, integrated employment.
If ACB may be of further assistance with your efforts to restore the dignity of work to Americans with disabilities, please contact Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs: email@example.com, or (202) 467-5081.