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 Claire Stanley or Clark Rachfal.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of March 24, 2020. Messages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 are new.
- New! ACB Board Moves to Hold 2020 Virtual Convention
- Information about the 2020 Census
- Information about the Coronavirus
- Public Comment on 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
- Challenges with Telehealth and E-Learning Technology?
- New! ACB Comments on Regulations Regarding Service Animals on Planes
- ACB, AFB Send Joint Letter to Congress on Protecting the Rights of Students with Disabilities
- A Look at the 2020 Legislative Imperatives
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Alexandria, Va. (March 31, 2020) — The American Council of the Blind (ACB) Board of Directors voted unanimously to forego its annual conference and convention in Schaumburg, Illinois, amidst the growing concerns about the novel coronavirus crisis. During a special meeting convened by the board on March 30th, the elected leadership moved to explore ways in which members, partners, and stakeholders can continue to meet virtually through an engaging and enlightening experience.
“The health and safety of our members continue to be the leading voice that has guided us,” said ACB president Dan Spoone. “I’m proud of the thoughtful deliberation each board member gave to this difficult decision and the hard work our team in Alexandria and Minneapolis undertook to assure that the interests of those we serve remain paramount.”
Nonprofits around the country have faced similar challenges these recent weeks, and such difficult decisions have brought forward a wealth of resources and strategies about holding effective virtual conferences. ACB staff and volunteers are committed to assure the experience will pull from these best practices in a manner that is both innovative and accessible.
“While some official business will have to be put on hold, we’ll continue to virtually provide many of the valuable programs and break-out sessions that make the ACB conference and convention the greatest gathering in our country for Americans who are blind and visually impaired,” said ACB executive director Eric Bridges. “The support from our leaders and corporate stakeholders has been overwhelming, and we can’t wait to have them join us for what will be an event that will be forever etched into ACB’s history.”
According to ACB’s constitution and bylaws, official business must be held in person. This means elections and other official matters will be put on hold until the 2021 convention in Phoenix. However, ACB’s convention planning committee is already exploring ways to hold virtual programming, exhibits, special-interest meetings and even door prizes through a variety of innovative formats. For more information on this year’s convention, visit www.acbconvention.org.
By April 1, 2020, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You will have three options for responding: online, by phone, or by mail. To view and listen to a PSA about how to take the census, visit https://2020census.gov/en/partners/psa-toolkit/how-to-take.html?utm_campaign=20191203msc20s1ccallrs&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
To fill out the census online, go to http://www.my2020census.gov. To take the census via phone, call toll-free 1-844-330-2020. The 12-digit code sent to your residence by U.S. mail is not necessary to complete the census by phone or online.
To get a hard-copy braille version of the census information, contact Kim Charlson at Perkins, (617) 972-7249.
The American Council of the Blind is closely monitoring information about the COVID-19 virus and its impact. After much thoughtful consideration, ACB has decided to close both offices and move our work to a virtual environment until further notice. This decision was made in order to ensure the continued health and safety of our employees and their families. ACB staff will continue to take calls and emails during this period. When calling ACB’s direct and toll-free office numbers, please use the recorded menu to contact our staff members directly.
The health and welfare of our members is of the utmost importance and we are actively working to confirm details and explore alternative options regarding our 2020 convention as the COVID-19 situation evolves. ACB will update our membership as soon as any developments are made. The ACB Board of Directors has scheduled a special meeting for March 30 to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 virus on ACB. A recording of the meeting will be available on ACB Radio and will also be listed under resources on this page: https://acb.org/acb-covid19-response.
We recommend that all affiliates follow CDC guidelines for any scheduled events. You can find the most up-to-date CDC guidelines here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html.
On March 2, 2020, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a Public Notice to invite public comment to help prepare its Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) Biennial Report to Congress, which is due to Congress by October 8, 2020.
The Public Notice invites public comment on the following issues:
1. Compliance with the accessibility requirements for telecommunications and advanced communications services and equipment, and Internet browsers built into mobile phones;
2. Whether accessibility barriers exist with respect to new communications technologies; and
3. The effect of the CVAA’s accessibility recordkeeping and enforcement requirements on the development and deployment of new communications technologies.
ACB will file comments with the FCC by the comment deadline: Monday, March 30, 2020.
Interested parties may file comments by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings. All filings must reference CG Docket No. 10-213. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments online at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.
For general information about the CVAA, visit https://www.fcc.gov/general/twenty-first-century-communications-and-video-accessibility-act-0. For specific questions, please contact Darryl Cooper, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, at (202) 418-7131 or Darryl.Cooper@fcc.gov. Individuals who use videophones and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) may call the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line at (844) 432‐2275. TTY users may call the FCC’s TTY number at (888) 835-5322.
Advancements in technology now allow people to receive services remotely from almost anywhere. One does not need to travel to a doctor to receive health advice; one can talk to a doctor over the Internet. Similar technology is being used in a myriad of ways. For instance, universities now offer a plethora of classes online. Such entities use software to provide online lectures and chat programs to talk to students or patients.
Now, in light of the coronavirus, such technology is more appealing than ever. Universities, for example, have completely shut down and classes are only being offered online. If someone needs healthcare, instead of going to a doctor’s office where he might be at risk of contracting the disease, he can utilize telehealth services.
However, many of these online programs are inaccessible to the blind and visually impaired community. Commonly used software programs cannot properly interact with screen-reading software such as JAWS or VoiceOver.
ACB is watching closely to find out about such challenges. Please let Claire Stanley and Clark Rachfal know if you have experienced such inaccessibility. You can call the office at (202) 467-5081, or email them at email@example.com. They will reach out to such providers and investigate how to make such services accessible to blind and visually impaired users.
On Tuesday, March 31st, ACB submitted the following comments to the Federal Register for the NPRM regarding service animals on airplanes. We strongly encourage you all to submit comments. Feel free to use any of our language to draft your own comments. The NPRM, and instructions on filing comments, can be found at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0068. Comments must be received no later than Monday, April 6th.
The Department of Transportation should align the definition of a service animal within the Air Carrier Access Act with that of the Americans with Disabilities Act; 29 U.S.C. 794 and the subsequent regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice; 28 C.F.R. 35.136. The proposed definition of a service animal by this notice of proposed rule-making more closely mirrors the definition provided by the ADA. ACB urges DOT to fully borrow from the ADA and move away from the differing definition of the ACAA. Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, numerous laws have borrowed from the ADA definition. Furthermore, the ADA borrowed its definition from the pre-existing Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ACAA should follow suit. Adopting the ADA definition of service animals would make the legal requirements for airlines and their employees less complicated and more succinct. In doing so, public entities would better understand the presence of legitimate service animals; no ambiguity would exist.
The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform a task, or tasks, to assist a person with a disability. If this definition is adopted, additional forms or paperwork would be unnecessary. Under the ADA, a public entity is permitted to ask a patron if the person utilizes a service animal because he or she has a disability, and what task, or tasks, was the animal individually trained to perform. If a person can adequately answer the permitted questions under the ADA, and provide verbal attestation, then written attestation is superfluous. This procedure is adequate for ADA purposes and should be adequate for airline procedures.
ACB supports the reclassification of psychiatric support animals as service animals along with other service dogs, such as guide dogs. Again, the person with the dog must be able to answer the above designated questions as dictated by the ADA. If the person can explain that the dog is trained to perform a specific task, or tasks, to assist with his or her psychiatric disability, the dog should be seen as a service animal, and should not be designated as its own separate class of animals.
ACB strongly opposes the development of Department of Transportation (DOT) forms that airline passengers would be required to procure, fill out, and provide to airlines when traveling. This requirement would pose as an undue burden for guide dog users. First, the paperwork would have to be procured ahead of time. If a person were traveling on short notice, i.e., last-minute travel for work, taking advantage of airline fare sales, or for a family emergency, the traveler would not have adequate time to procure health forms from the passenger’s veterinarian. If this were to occur, the person would not be able to travel with their service animal. Thousands of blind and other disabled Americans rely on their service animals to travel independently. This imposition would significantly impede on blind consumers’ ability to travel. Second, obtaining health forms from veterinarians poses another undue burden. Visiting a vet can be costly. Most guide dogs do not have medical insurance, and a simple visit to the vet can be extremely expensive. This would be another fee for a person with a guide dog to pay that non-guide dog users don’t need to pay to travel.
Furthermore, a signed form attesting to a guide dog’s behavior is unnecessary. As discussed previously, if, as seen under the ADA, a guide dog handler can provide verbal attestation by answering the two allotted questions under the ADA, a written attestation form is unnecessary. The guide dog handler can remain in a restaurant, movie theater, etc. by answering the two permitted questions. This procedure should be sufficient. Thus, a written attestation is unnecessary, burdensome and redundant.
ACB opposes the proposed requirement to have service dog users arrive at the airport earlier than other passengers. Requiring a guide dog handler to arrive at an airport an hour earlier than other airline passengers acts as another undue burden. Air travelers are already required to arrive at an airport far before the take-off of their flight. Requiring a person with a disability with a service dog to come even earlier is discriminatory. This requirement would single them out and add undue anxiety to an already stressful environment. Furthermore, because the need for extra paperwork is unnecessary, there is no reason for the passenger to arrive before other passengers. Passengers with disabilities should not be singled out because they travel with a service dog.
ACB opposes the DOT form limiting specific breed(s) from the definition of a service dog. As noted above, the definition of a service animal should mirror that of the definition of a service dog under the ADA and subsequent DOJ regulations. Under those regulations, a service dog is not limited to a specific breed. As long as the dog is trained to perform a specific task, or tasks, a breed should not be prohibited.
It is permissible to ask a person to remove their service dog from a place of public accommodation if the dog poses a direct threat to employees or other passengers. This again echoes the language used by the ADA under the DOJ regulations. Under the ADA, a service dog is permitted to be in public venues unless the dog poses a direct threat to the welfare of others.
In short, ACB supports the DOT adopting the same definition of a service animal in the ACAA as promulgated by the DOJ under the ADA. The alignment of the two laws would simplify the distinction of what a service animal truly is. Furthermore, the definition currently used by the DOJ under the ADA is successful in protecting the rights of legitimate service dog users. With such an adoption, people with psychiatric service dogs could more easily bring their individually trained service dogs on planes, and service dog users would be able to easily and appropriately answer the two necessary questions to identify their animal as a service dog. Furthermore, adopting the ADA service animal definition would ease the enforcement burden for airlines and their employees.
On Friday, March 20, 2020, the American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind sent the following letter to congressional leaders opposing language in the pending COVID-19 stimulus package that would allow the Department of Education to request waivers of requirements contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). What follows is the text of the joint ACB and AFB letter opposing waivers to IDEA. To call your senators and tell them that no waivers to IDEA should be allowed, please contact the U.S. Capitol switchboard and have an operator connect you with your senators by dialing: (202) 224-3121.
March 20, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker
United States House of Representatives
1236 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Leader
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy, Leader
United States House of Representatives
2468 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Charles Schumer, Leader
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Congress Must Protect the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leaders McConnell, McCarthy, and Schumer:
The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind actively work to advance educational opportunities for people who are blind or have low vision. We are writing to express our concern with provisions included in the CARES Act, S. 3548, that would allow the Department of Education to waive civil rights protections for students with disabilities, specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) waiver report provision included in Section 4511(d)(3).
Students who are blind or have low vision must have access to the same education opportunities as every other student and to the specialized services necessary to develop a full range of blindness skills. We are concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak will have a uniquely negative impact on the education of students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities, and granting waivers to the civil rights protections within IDEA will only serve to exacerbate the current challenges. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students possess a right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE); waivers to the law will wear away at the free and appropriate components of students’ education.
Therefore, we do not support the provisions included in Section 4511(d)(3). Congress must ensure that students continue to receive the full rights afforded to them by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Congress may support schools by further investing in students with disabilities. We urge Congress to uplift our students and give schools the resources they need to provide innovative solutions that meet the needs of all students. Congress may do this by including provisions in the COVID-19 stimulus package that would fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
We deeply appreciate the leadership of Congress in responding to student needs during this pandemic. Should you have any questions or wish to discuss the concerns raised in this letter, please contact Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 467-5081, and Stacy Cervenka, Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind at email@example.com or (202) 469-6832. Thank you for taking the time to consider these concerns.
American Council of the Blind
American Foundation for the Blind
cc: The Honorable Lamar Alexander, Chairman
The Honorable Patty Murray, Ranking Member
The Honorable Steny Hoyer, Leader
The Honorable Bobby Scott, Chairman
The Honorable Virginia Foxx, Ranking Member
We are excited to welcome ACB members to the legislative seminar on February 24, 2020, as well as the related trip to Capitol Hill on February 25, 2020. Below are the three specific topics that we will be focusing on in the coming year. Two of the three imperatives touch on transportation.
These topics will be discussed in greater detail at the conference. Other issues will be highlighted as well.
Imperative 1: Autonomous Vehicles
Numerous automobile and technology projects are beginning to develop and test the use of autonomous vehicles. This may provide significant opportunities to the blind community. However, Congress must first address the questions that may arise from the new industry. The AV START Act was introduced in the 115th Congressional session in 2019. The law would play a role in making autonomous vehicles safer for both passengers and pedestrians. Although that bill did not pass, similar legislation continues to be discussed. A bicameral, bipartisan committee has worked with several disability advocacy groups, including ACB, to draft language for a bill similar to the AV START Act. ACB is optimistic that this new bill will be introduced to Congress in 2020.
Attendees of the 2020 ACB legislative seminar are encouraged to discuss the bill with their representatives and senators to stress the positive impact autonomous vehicles will have on the blind community.
Imperative 2: The Surface Transportation Bill
By the fall of 2020, Congress must reauthorize the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. With this reauthorization, ACB hopes to include several key elements to improve transportation safety and access for blind and visually impaired Americans. These provisions will include measures to improve pedestrian safety and environmental access, as well as improve the timeliness, reliability and functionality of paratransit service.
We recommend attendees share personal anecdotes about how pedestrian safety and transportation reforms will improve security, independence, and quality of life for all Americans living with vision loss.
Imperative 3: Low Vision Aid Exclusion
In November of 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated a regulation that has had a detrimental impact on the lives of countless individuals who are blind or visually impaired. To the dismay of the blind community, the Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) Competitive Acquisition Rule contains a provision entitled “Low Vision Aid Exclusion” which states that all devices, “irrespective of their size, form, or technological features that use one or more lens to aid vision or provide magnification of images for impaired vision” are excluded from Medicare coverage based on the statutory “eyeglass” exclusion. ACB is well aware that this extremely restrictive reading of the “eyeglass” exclusion has resulted in the denial of vital assistive devices for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries who may have disabilities. The expansion of the eyeglass exclusion has prevented access to devices such as handheld magnifiers, video monitors, and other technologies that utilize lenses to enhance vision.
However, in the summer of 2019, a bill was introduced in the House by a bipartisan group of representatives. ACB is also working with a number of senators on a companion bill. This new introduction of the bill is exciting but must be pushed to keep momentum.
Attendees should discuss this issue with their representatives. They should stress the importance of these materials to maintaining their independence at home.
If you have any questions on the issues listed above, please come ready to discuss them at the legislative seminar. Personal research is always encouraged. If you need more information, contact Clark Rachfal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Claire Stanley at email@example.com.