With a new administration in Washington promising sweeping change, many wonder what the prospects for legislative success are in the rapidly evolving political environment. Throughout our history, the National Federation of the Blind has worked with political leaders of both parties to craft public policy that helps blind Americans live the lives we want, and our goal is to continue to do so. Judging by the outstanding success last week of our 2017 Washington Seminar, there are plenty of partners willing to work with us and champion our issues, presenting ample and exciting opportunities to make positive change.
This year's Washington seminar featured an unprecedented level of involvement by members of the United States Congress. At the Great Gathering In on Monday, January 30, we were addressed by US Representative Dr. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the champion of our Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HE) legislation. Ten members of Congress attended our congressional reception the next day and addressed the gathering. These included four senators and six members of the United States House of Representatives. Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Senator Dean Heller of Nevada both spoke of their determination to see that all blind veterans, as well as other veterans with disabilities, receive the benefit of the Space Available program and other important benefits that they have earned. Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi pledged his continued commitment to ending the practice of paying subminimum wages to workers with disabilities. Rep. David Young of Iowa used his turn at the podium to announce that he would introduce our proposed Access Technology Affordability Act.
At noon on Tuesday, January 31, Federationists who were not meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill turned Upper Senate Park into a rally space, where students spoke about the need for equal access to instructional materials and education technology. Nearly thirty blind college and graduate students told their stories of struggling to complete their education in the face of artificial barriers created by delayed or denied access to their textbooks, inaccessible online course management systems, unusable university websites, and other technological barriers that need not exist. Over a hundred Federationists gathered from across the nation pledged their support for these students. If you were unable to attend the rally, you can still help by taking a moment to sign the Change.org petition calling on Congress and President Trump to support the AIM HE Act.
Of course, there is still the work of following up from this successful event with members of Congress and their staff. Stay tuned for continued developments throughout the 115th Congress. Together, with love, hope, and determination, we will turn our priorities into legislation that will help transform the dreams of blind Americans into reality.