2015 Advocacy Summary

By George S. Holliday, Chair

The 2015 ACB Legislative Seminar was held in February. Seven members from PCB attended the seminar and visited Congressional offices. The imperatives discussed were:

Imperative I: H.R. 729, Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2015. As of Friday, November 27, there were twelve cosponsors with Robert Brady, being the only cosponsor from Pennsylvania. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Health. This bill would allow reimbursement for certain low vision devices that cost five-hundred dollars or more as durable medical equipment.

Imperative II: The Reintroduction of the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act
Recently, it was introduced as H.R. 3535 with Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and David McKinley from West Virginia as sponsors. The bill had thirteen cosponsors as of Friday, November 27. It was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act will improve the delivery of appropriate special education and related services to all students who are blind or visually impaired as well as students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Imperative III: Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.
The Marrakesh Treaty will allow for the international sharing of accessible books and materials across national borders. Adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the treaty will facilitate access to printed material for individuals who are blind.

As you can see, we have much to accomplish in order to get the majority of Pennsylvania’s representatives to sign on as co-sponsors. The archives of the seminar and the imperatives can be found at www.acb.org.
During the week of Monday, June 22, our committee invited PCB’s members to join us in contacting and encouraging our representatives to sponsor H.R. 729, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2015. Prior to June 22, PCB members received documentation with the list of Pennsylvania’s representatives to Congress, along with their local office addresses and telephone numbers. Everyone also received talking points for discussion. Approximately sixty members contacted me informing me of their conversation with their legislator’s office. This was approximately seventeen percent of PCB’s membership.

Did you listen to the 2015 “Talking Advocacy & Government” (TAG) episode? This issue of TAG went behind the scenes with advocates working for a more accessible Netflix. You can listen to this edition and previous ones by clicking on the “Talking Advocacy & Government” link at pcb1.org/spotlight-on-advocacy.

For the past few years, the AGAC has been entertaining you with funny yet meaningful skits. In each instance the purpose was 2-fold: 1) to demystify advocacy for our members who thought that it was scary or too hard for them to accomplish; and 2) to demonstrate what your life as a person challenged by vision loss might be if there were no advocates. This year, it seemed like we should put the concept of demystifying into action, hence the advocacy challenge we called, “Get in the Game”. A list of fifteen challenges was distributed to all chapters and at-large members. Samples of the challenges were: request your prescription with accessible instructions, such as Braille, Large Print or a talking prescription bottle; obtain a free talking bill identifier; inquire about audio description from your media provider; request your Social Security correspondences in an accessible format; request a bank statement or utility bill in an accessible format; and attend a public hearing, council meeting or other such event within your community. The point the committee wanted to make this year was to speak to advocacy which most personally affects each of us. The thinking was that if you began to see that by advocating you could make a difference in your own day-to-day life, perhaps that sense of accomplishment might rev up your advocacy engine.

so with gusto. The winners were: Second Place, Hank Bloomberg Chapter which has 13 members, 6 of whom participated; and First Place, York Chapter with 15 members, 8 of whom participated.

In preparation for the convention, the AGAC crafted a resolution to address the depletion of funds in the Social Security Disability Trust Fund. This resolution called PCB and ACB to action in advocating for a solution to avoid the depletion of the SSDI Trust Fund. The depletion would have resulted in a nineteen percent reduction of monthly financial benefits to SSDI recipients, including many members of PCB and numerous individuals with vision loss across the nation, thus impacting their lives dramatically. This meant that someone who previously received$1,000 in monthly cash benefits would lose $190 per month. The resolution passed unanimously. Fortunately, shortly following the conference U.S. Congress addressed the issue with a temporary fix.

In closing, I would like to thank the AGAC members for their hard work throughout the year. The committee consisted of: PCB President Tony Swartz, Director of Community Affairs John Horst, Mary Ann Alexander, Jacqueline Wissinger, Jule Ann Lieberman, Mary Anne Cowfer, Joe Wassermann, Rodger Simmons, and Thomas Reid.

Since we are now entering the holiday season, I want to wish everyone a joyous holiday season. I want to leave you with something to think about though. As you heard earlier, a very small percentage of the membership took the time to contact their legislators for H.R.729. Less than fifty percent of the chapters participated in our advocacy challenge. If Congress hadn’t address the Social Security issue, I wonder how many of us would have stepped up and been heard. PCB is a great advocacy organization. Let’s begin 2016 by each of us strengthening and supporting the advocacy efforts.

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