By Sue Lichtenfels
Each year our parent organization, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) kicks off its legislative advocacy efforts in the Washington D.C. area with a one-day legislative seminar and a day visiting lawmakers on Capitol Hill. ACB’s state and special interest affiliates send members from across the country to participate in these events. This year the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind was able to participate with five attendees: Darlene Barton, Christine Hunsinger, Roberta Simmons, Jackie Wissinger, and me. I was honored to advocate with these very passionate, intelligent ladies at my first-ever ACB Legislative Seminar.
During the seminar meeting, leaders from both ACB and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) addressed the importance of the four legislative imperatives: Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act (HR 729); Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (HR 3535); The Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind; and ADA Website Accessibility Guidelines. Each of these issues is explained in detail at the end of this article including the call to action on each. Also presented at the seminar were updates from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on implementation of the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act and the Department of Transportation on updates to and enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act. The entirety of the seminar can be listened to via the ACB Radio archives at: http://acbradio.org/midyear2016.
One of the most helpful discussion topics was how to share your story and the stories of others when speaking to legislators about how important certain legislation is. It was useful to talk through each imperative with our tablemates to get others perspectives on the impact of each issue. For example, even though it may be hard for you to relate to the present challenges of special education, others may have current stories of challenges being faced today because they are a teacher, or they work in a blindness agency and have seen issues first-hand, or they are a parent with a child not getting appropriate services. While we are the “life experts” on living with low and/or no vision, there are still many people and stories we can learn from to bolster our credibility even more. As you read through the imperatives at the end of this article, consider who else’s stories you could be sharing with legislators. Take time within your chapter meetings to discuss each imperative; looking for those stories. Think about how many baby boomers are beginning to lose sight as they age that could benefit from a low vision device demonstration project: lives could be saved; funds for assisted living and nursing homes could be saved; jobs could be saved and work life prolonged. Find those stories in your hometowns and communities and then share them with your Congress members and our U.S. Senators.
On Tuesday, March 1, armed with a variety of stories to illustrate the need for our legislative efforts, our group made visits to twelve of Pennsylvania’s twenty lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In most cases we spoke with legislative aids that noted our initiatives and passed them on to the elected official. In three cases, though, we were fortunate to meet directly with the Congressmen: Ryan Costello, Chaka Fattah, and Tim Murphy. Since our visits, Congressman Murphy has signed on as a co-sponsor for both H.R. 729 and H.R. 3535.
I encourage PCB members living in the districts of Tim Murphy and Robert Brady to reach out to them in thanks because they are the only two Congressmen from Pennsylvania who have cosponsored our top two imperatives. Congressman Matt Cartwright should be applauded for sponsoring H.R. 3535, but he needs to be approached to sign onto H.R. 729. Constituents in Pennsylvania’s other fifteen districts should read through the imperatives and please contact your representative to discuss why these legislative efforts are important. Moreover, all of us need to get on the phone to Senator Toomey and Casey’s offices to make sure they know how important cross-border sharing of accessible books is to us by way of ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty.
If you are unsure of who your Congressman is, or how to contact him, visit www.house.gov to search by zip code or contact the PCB office for assistance. Please read on for information about the four imperatives as prepared by the ACB office.