by Kim Charlson
How many of you recognize the phrase: “Blind Businessmen and Businesswomen Building a Better America.” This is the powerful motto of RSVA — the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, one of ACB’s largest special interest affiliate. RSVA is committed to improving economic opportunities for blind vendors by promoting participation in the Business Enterprise Program. RSVA works to expand opportunities, better working conditions, and actively negotiates more favorable merchandise pricing from suppliers for blind vendors. In many states, blind vendors have joined together to form state affiliates that carry out the objectives and programs of RSVA. RSVA supports advocacy efforts at the local level helping individual members needing assistance or legal support, and it works on legislation to expand and improve the programs in states like Louisiana, and with legislation currently pending in Oregon.
As background, the Randolph-Sheppard Act was enacted into law in 1936 and has been amended several times since, with the most significant amendments being passed in 1974. The intent and end result of the legislation is the gainful employment of individuals who are blind through the operation of vending facilities in federal, state, county or municipal buildings. Vendors work in a variety of settings including vending machine routes, snack bars, and/or cafeterias.
On Jan. 20, 2012, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum — Federal Support for the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program. Here is a brief excerpt:
“Thousands of Americans who are blind have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit that helps define our Nation as a land of opportunity. Through the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program administered by the Department of Education, talented and creative individuals who are blind have acquired the management training and business skills necessary to realize the American dream — a lifetime of economic opportunity, independence, and self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.
“For 75 years, blind business managers have successfully operated food services and commercial ventures at Federal, State, and private buildings and locations nationwide. We honor and celebrate this program's historic achievements. We also trust that the Randolph-Sheppard Program will continue to be a leading model for providing high-quality entrepreneurial opportunities for blind individuals. From a simple snack shop, to tourist services at the Hoover Dam, to full food-services operations at military installations, blind entrepreneurs have provided exceptional customer service to Federal and State employees, the Armed Forces, and the general public. With proven ability, they have challenged preconceived notions about disability.
“The Randolph-Sheppard Act created the Vending Facility Program requiring qualified blind individuals be given a priority to operate vending facilities on Federal properties. This program is responsible today for providing entrepreneurial opportunities for over 2,500 individuals who are blind. In turn, these business managers have hired thousands of workers, many of whom are individuals with disabilities. Every American, including persons with disabilities, deserves the opportunity to succeed without limits, earn equal pay for equal jobs, and aspire to full-time, career-oriented employment.
“Continued support and cooperation are needed from executive departments, agencies, and offices (agencies) to extend the Randolph-Sheppard priority to qualified blind managers through the State licensing agencies that implement the program. Therefore, I direct all agencies that have property management responsibilities to ensure that agency officials, when pursuing the establishment and operation of vending facilities (including cafeterias and military dining facilities), issue permits and contracts in compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard Program and consistent with existing regulations and law. I further direct the Secretary of Education, through the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, to submit a report to the President on agencies' implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard Program not later than 1 year from the date of this memorandum. … BARACK OBAMA”
ACB and RSVA have been working collaboratively to improve our working relationship with the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) office that administers the Randolph-Sheppard program nationwide. We are very pleased that RSA is considering funding a marketing campaign to encourage more people who are blind to enter into the vending program as a positive, productive and lucrative career option. We further urge RSA to complete the report to the President on agencies' implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard program that was called for in the presidential memorandum by the spring of 2015.
February is an important month for RSVA, as blind vendors gather in Las Vegas for the Sagebrush conference. From Feb. 9-13, 2015, exhibitors and speakers will enlighten and inform blind vendors on developments in the marketplace and the program overall. If you are unable to attend, try listening to RSVA’s live coverage on www.acbradio.org/live. This coverage is provided by Brian Charlson and Rick Morin — veteran ACB Radio broadcasters.
My congratulations to RSVA for a successful conference, and to all of your programs and services to promote employment for men and women who are blind in this country. Keep up the great work!