2017 ACB Legislative Imparatives

By Anthony Stephens, ACB Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) is the nation’s leading grassroots consumer organization for individuals who are blind and visually impaired. With 70 state and special interest affiliates across the country, ACB is committed to promoting independence and opportunity for Americans who are blind, and ACB stands committed to advocacy that promotes our values.

Americans are currently at the start of a transformative time in history regarding blindness and vision loss. On one end of the spectrum, technology is making massive improvements toward augmenting the loss of sight for individuals who are blind; while at the same time, researchers and practitioners race the clock as the Baby Boomers live longer into retirement and changing demographics in our country all contribute to what will be a significant rise in the prevalence of blindness over the next 30 years. Therefore, ACB urges Congress to work with advocates, scholars, and policymakers toward crafting a long-term agenda that will secure independence for millions of Americans experiencing vision loss and blindness. The following legislative imperatives represent several key issues in the 115th Congress, which ACB believes will help us on our road to full independence and participation in our society.

Safeguarding Programs that Promote Independence & Inclusion:
ACB urges Congress to support six key programs and services that are of great value for millions of Americans who are blind and visually impaired. These programs not only promote independence, but also sustain literacy and foster community inclusion.

Understanding the detrimental effect the loss of these programs would have on our population, in addition to increased costs for those forced out of their homes into institutions and assisted living facilities, ACB strongly urges Congress to support these programs through recommended — or at minimum level funding — appropriations for FY 2017 and 2018.
• Independent Living Services for Older Individuals with Blindness
• Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf – Blind
• Defense Department Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program
• National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped
• Education Technology Media & Materials Program
• American Printing House for the Blind

Securing Independence for Medicare Beneficiaries:
For a decade now, Medicare has refused to cover the cost of low-vision aids, due to an eye-glasses 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 eye-glasses, it has had negative impact on those for whom using 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 independent in the home. Such personal independence can have long-lasting effects toward aging in place, rather than having to pursue costlier institutional or assisted living care.

ACB calls on Congress to pass the Medicare Demonstration on Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act, which would measure the various costs and benefits of removing the Medicare eyeglass exclusion. This piece of legislation, introduced as H.R. 729 in the 114th Congress, is awaiting introduction in the 115th Congress.

Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty:
In 2013, the United States signed the world Intellectual Property Organization Treaty, also known as the Marrakesh Treaty, which would allow for the international exchange of print materials in an accessible format. With only 5% of the world’s books available in an accessible format, this treaty would be a major global literacy boost for individuals who have print-reading disabilities like blindness. Americans would be able to gain access to internationally published works, and would no longer be burdened with the lengthy process it takes to receive American published works when studying or traveling abroad.

Currently publishers, libraries, and advocates have worked out an agreed upon instrument that would allow for the treaty to be ratified by the United States Senate, and ACB calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to submit the treaty package to the U.S. Senate for ratification, and for the respective Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees to move swiftly on its passage.

For questions or further information on the 2017 ACB imperatives, please contact Anthony Stephens, ACB’s Director of Advocacy & Governmental Affairs by email to astephens@acb.org or by phone to 202-467-5081. ACB greatly appreciates your support on these critical issues for 2017. Please contact your Congressional officials by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

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