Washington Connection 5/16/2017

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 Tony Stephens.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of May 15, 2017. Message 4 is new.
·       ACB Radio by Phone, Forum by Phone Have New Phone Numbers
·       ACB Welcomes Reintroduction of Medicare Demonstration Bill
·       ACB Action Alert Regarding Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act
·       New! Window-Eyes to JAWS Migration
·       ACB Response to Berkeley Webcasts Removal
·       SSI Recipients to Get Slight Increase in 2017
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
ACB Radio by Phone, Forum by Phone Have New Phone Numbers
AudioNow has given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (605) 475-8130.
To listen to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “E-Forum” and “ACB Reports,” dial (605) 475-8154.
ACB Welcomes Reintroduction of Medicare Demonstration Bill
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2017 — The American Council of the Blind (ACB) commends Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) on reintroduction of the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low-Vision Devices Act of 2017 (H.R. 2050). This legislation will establish a national demonstration/research project tasked with identifying the impact to Medicare and Medicare recipients who are prescribed low-vision devices over a certain threshold cost.
“As more and more older-age Americans encounter significant vision loss, it’s critical that government seek out pathways that can sustain independence in the home,” said Kim Charlson, president of ACB.  “The more we can sustain independence for daily living, the less reliant individuals with significant vision loss will be on more costly alternatives like assistive living.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ruled almost a decade ago, through an eye-glasses exclusion, that Medicare would no longer cover low-vision devices.  The rule raised great concerns among blindness advocates, who argue the significant rise in visual disability among the Baby Boomer generation requires measures that will help them age in place, rather than find themselves on a pathway toward costly care-giving services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its Vision Health Initiative, has identified blindness and vision loss as a serious health concern for the United States over the next three decades.
“Through this demonstration, eligible participants could be prescribed assistive low-vision devices through a licensed eyecare physician,” said Eric Bridges, ACB executive director. “These are the types of devices that might be too costly for someone on Social Security, but the kind of things that could have dramatic improvements in their daily life, like being able to read their mail, keep track of their medications, or fill out important forms with personal information.”
As Congress seeks out ways to improve health care costs, ACB urges the House of Representatives to support H.R. 2050, and move toward expanding greater independence for the millions of older Americans with severe vision loss. To learn more about this important issue, visit http://acb.org/PR-reintroduction-medicare-bill.
ACB Action Alert Regarding Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act
Greetings ACB Affiliate Leaders,
Earlier today, ACB sent out a press release on the reintroduction of the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act of 2017 (H.R. 2050). We are extremely thankful for the work Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and her staff have given to this important issue, and we are also thankful that Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) has joined again as a co-sponsor, in addition to a new lead co-sponsor, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). While their commitment to expanding independence for older Americans with vision loss is a step in the right direction toward meeting the needs of Americans with vision loss covered under Medicare, they cannot walk this path alone. Each state affiliate leader and local affiliates are urged to contact their members of Congress, requesting they sign onto H.R. 2050. Local Congressional offices and contact info can be found at www.congress.gov. For those affiliates who met with Congressional staff during our mid-year conference, please take time to contact them directly, notifying them of the bill’s reintroduction. 
You can access details on the legislation at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2050?q=%7B%22search%22:%5B%22medicare+demonstration+coverage+of+low+vision+devices+act+of+2017%22%5D%7D&r=1.
For more info on this issue, visit http://acb.org/content/2017-acb-legislative-imperatives.
ACB’s national office would appreciate any information you garner through contact with your local congressional offices. Feel free to forward me any news as it comes available.
Window-Eyes to JAWS Migration
To read this article online, go to https://www.aisquared.com/news/window-eyes-jaws-migration/.
This morning we received the following announcement from Ai Squared:
We regret to announce that we are ending the sales of Window-Eyes, effective immediately in the United States and Canada. Users outside of the United States and Canada should contact their local distributor for options.
We understand how important a screen reader is to you and are offering JAWS® for Windows 18 as a replacement. We are committed to providing a smooth transition and will honor existing Window-Eyes product purchases and software maintenance agreements. For complete details, visit http://www.gwmicro.com/window-eyes/migrate.
Note: The free Window-Eyes offer for users of Microsoft Office version is not part of the conversion program.
ACB Response to Berkeley Webcasts Removal
WASHINGTON (March 15, 2017) – The American Council of the Blind (ACB) raises concern over the University of California-Berkeley’s recent response to an August 2016 settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the nation’s leading public university, following a determination that the university was publicly posting inaccessible online lectures.
Starting today, Berkeley will no longer provide content via popular open-access learning channels like ITunes-U, and will begin moving over 20,000 videos onto a password-protected platform reserved for only individuals with university credentials.  The university, in a statement released March 1st, cited cost as the driving factor for its inability to make the publicly available lectures accessible.
“It’s deeply troubling that a university such as Berkeley, renowned for its spirit of inclusion and advancement of disability rights, would choose to build a wall behind its publicly available lectures, rather than find a means toward making their content accessible for all,” said Eric Bridges, ACB executive director. “Advancements in accessible technology have made significant strides in finding alternative means to make online media accessible, raising the question if the university exhausted all possible options for accessibility before pulling the plug on its open-access content.”
The complaint settled by DOJ was brought by two students at Gallaudet University. The investigation focused on media produced by the university and made available through its website free of charge. The settlement did not include material created for use by students at the public institution, who are directed to contact the office for disabled students regarding accessibility needs. Berkeley has committed toward making all future media accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or for individuals who are blind and visually impaired.
“ACB stands with the students at Gallaudet and all others with disabilities who desire nothing more than full inclusion to online media content,” added Bridges. “It sends a strong negative message when one of the world’s leading providers of freely available online course content takes such a drastic measure as to remove tens of thousands of learning opportunities for everyone.”
ACB urges the university to find innovative solutions that make accessible media publicly accessible for all, securing equal access at the same time as it promotes the spirit of free and open knowledge.
SSI Recipients to Get Slight Increase in 2017
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 65 million Americans will increase 0.3 percent in 2017, the Social Security Administration announced today.
Under SSDI, the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level goes up to $1,950 a month for blind individuals, $1,170 for non-blind workers. The Trial Work Period (TWP) amount goes up to $840 per month.
The 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin in January 2017.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2016.
Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $127,200.
For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.