by John Paré, Rose Sloan, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle
From the Editor: One of the most inspirational items to appear annually on our convention agenda is the report of the Advocacy and Policy Department, a primary component of which is our report on legislative action affecting the blind. Here is what our team said on Saturday afternoon, July 5, 2014:
John Paré: Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. This is such an exciting convention! This morning was historic. Dr. Maurer, I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from you and benefited from in my relationship with you, and I look forward to another ten or twenty or thirty years working with you. I look forward to supporting the new president, President-elect Riccobono. The other thing that really struck me this morning is that, Dr. Maurer, you have really done an incredible job of nurturing each one of us, but also nurturing an incredible board of directors. I’m just awed by the strength of the depth in the knowledge that we have in our leadership, and I’d like to give them a round of applause.
The advocacy and policy department is responsible for NFB-NEWSLINE, governmental affairs, and public relations. Here is a brief review of some of that activity:
NFB-NEWSLINE is the largest and most successful audio newspaper service anywhere in the world. It is available in forty-six states plus the District of Columbia. We have over 105,000 subscribers, 343 newspapers, forty-three magazines, TV listings, job listings, advertisements, and English- and Spanish-language content. Publications are available over the phone, through email, as an iPhone app, on the Internet, or for download on a variety of digital devices, including the NLS digital talking book player. Since the 2013 convention NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have enjoyed over 38 million minutes of news, made over 2.1 million calls, received over 2.2 million email messages, and accessed over 6.4 million newspapers.
At last year’s convention we announced a collaboration with AccuWeather to provide emergency weather alerts. The services been expanded to include a full weather forecast system. NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers now have the ability to get their full weather forecasts both on the telephone system and on the NFB-NEWSLINE app. The weather system also includes the time of sunrise, sunset, and other things such as the current temperature; wind speed; real temperature feel; air quality; and the air, wind, pollen, and grass indexes. Let’s hear it for Newsline!
Our public relations effort continues to expand our initiatives, programs, and policies. The National Federation of the Blind has been mentioned, featured, or spoken about in over 5,200 stories over the past year. Here are a few examples:
On July 15, USA Today published an article about our work in technology in higher education and the TEACH bill. USA Today is the largest circulation newspaper in the United States. On August 3, 2013, the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho’s iteration of the BELL program received a fine write-up in the Idaho State Journal. The article emphasized the improved Braille skills of the young students who participated in the program. On November 4, 2013, the Department of Transportation released its rule purporting to increase air carrier access act requirements for website kiosks, automated kiosks, and websites. This rule gives airlines three years to make their websites accessible and ten years to make only a portion of their kiosks accessible. Dr. Maurer wrote an incisive op-ed that was published in The Hill, explaining his tremendous disappointment in the weak rule. On April 23, 2014, The Atlantic published a story about the importance of the accessibility of mobile news apps. Chris Danielsen, the National Federation of the Blind’s director of public relations, was quoted throughout this article. We continue to work to expand the National Federation of the Blind’s social media presence and drive traffic to our website. Our Facebook fans have grown to over 3,700 and our Twitter followers had grown to over 5,000. Our Facebook content alone has reached over 250,000 people over the past year. I urge you to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
The National Federation of the Blind has launched a new effort to increase and expand our video content on our YouTube channel, NationsBlind. Our channel is devoted to content featuring the National Federation of the Blind and our members. As part of this effort we have created a special portal on our website for you to upload material to the Jernigan Institute. Our goal is to publish seventy-five new videos by next year’s convention. If you would like to learn more, please go to <www.NFB.org/media>.
The National Federation of the Blind has been advocating against Section 511 of the workforce investment act for the past three years. The original Section 511 would have increased the number of disabled workers being paid subminimum wages. Here is a review of some of that effort:
On July 7, 2011, we passed resolution 2011–17 demanding the removal of Section 511 from the Workforce Investment Act. On July 26, 2011, we conducted protests in front of twenty-six Senate office buildings demanding the removal of Section 511. I imagine many of you participated in those protests. We wrote letters, made phone calls, and had meetings. As a result of our advocacy the Workforce Investment Act faltered. We continued our advocacy, but Senators Harkin and Alexander did not listen. On Friday, July 19, 2013, the Senate released a new version of the Workforce Investment Act. We had one weekend to review hundreds of pages and to submit comments by that Monday, July 22. The bill had gone from bad to worse. Section 511 was still intact, and now the Senators proposed to move the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor. On July 29, 2013, The Hill published a trenchant op-ed by Dr. Schroeder entitled “Don’t Sabotage the Rehabilitation Act.”
We continued our advocacy, but on July 31 the Workforce Investment Act, S 1356, was favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. This was a sad day for disabled Americans. Despite all of our letters, emails, phone calls, tweets, meetings, and op-eds, the Senate refused to listen. They refused to acknowledge that we know what is best for blind Americans. They refused to acknowledge that extending subminimum wages for disabled workers is wrong, discriminatory, and immoral. They told us that the deal was done and that there was nothing we could do. But, did we listen? [No] Did we relent? [No] Did we give up? [No] We doubled down on our efforts. We sent more letters, made more phone calls, and had more meetings. On December 22, 2013, an op-ed written by Michael Barber, the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa ran in the Des Moines Register. The op-ed demanded the removal of Section 511.
Then we had a breakthrough. George Miller, the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, after meeting with Anil Lewis and Rose Sloan, said that he was opposed to Section 511, and he instructed his staff to work with the National Federation of the Blind to develop new language. As a result the objectionable language contained in Section 511 and the language moving the Rehabilitation Services Administration was removed. This language will now preserve the rehabilitation system and, while not eliminating subminimum wages, will make it more difficult to track disabled youth, blind youth, into subminimum wage jobs. This was a tremendous victory for the National Federation of the Blind. We could not have done it without all of you; our passion, our persistence, and our teamwork paid off. I would also like to give special thanks to Anil Lewis, the new executive director of the Jernigan Institute, for all of his tremendous leadership.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us. Barriers to our success are created by society’s low expectations, but we do not accept these low expectations, and that is why we fight and speak out. No matter how many times we are told that our opinions and our aspirations do not matter, we will not give up. No matter how, we will live the lives we want. This is what we believe, and this is what we will do. We will not let anyone, including the United States Senate, give up on our dreams.
Now I want to introduce Rose Sloan to talk about the President’s executive order and subminimum wages.
Rose Sloan: For those of you who have not yet had a chance to meet me, I started my job at the National Center this past September. Five years ago, when I began my undergraduate program in social policy at Northwestern University in Illinois, I knew I wanted to be an advocate for policy at the national level. Attending my first Washington Seminar in 2011 only sealed the deal for me. Going to Washington and talking to members of Congress is fun. Nine months into the job and I still love it, and I plan on loving it for a very long time.
My favorite part of the job is when I learn that yet another member of Congress has decided that he or she is going to sign on as a cosponsor to HR 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. Now I have gotten this information in many different ways. Sometimes it is as simple as getting an email from a legislative aide. Sometimes I check Thomas [a source for information about bills and other federal information] and am pleasantly surprised to see that the number has increased. But my favorite way to be informed that yet another member of Congress believes that it is unfair for people to be paid subminimum wages is when you, the Federationist, email me and let me know that your member of Congress is going to be signing on to HR 831.
Let’s take a step back for a second. I really did say that right now, in 2014, people with disabilities can be paid less than the minimum wage, but we’re going to change that. We have introduced HR 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. This will repeal section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This antiquated law says that entities can pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. HR 831 will phase this out over a three-year period. We, the National Federation of the Blind, have been working toward fair wages for blind Americans for many years. I am honored that I have been handed the reins on this very important issue, and I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to express my appreciation to the role models who set the stage for me. Specifically, I would like to thank Mr. Anil Lewis for being my go-to person on this issue. His passion for the topic is contagious, and there is no question he can’t answer regarding this issue. I would also like to thank Dr. Maurer for offering me this opportunity. Finally I must say thanks to Dave Meyer, Patti Chang, and the entire Illinois affiliate, who have been my cheerleaders and my rock from the beginning. Thank you.
When I started back in September, I hit the ground running. On my third day in the office I was already making appointments to visit with members of Congress. In the next week Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington declared that she was going to cosponsor HR 831. Soon after, the chair of the Rules Committee, Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas, also declared his support. It is no coincidence that these two members signed on to HR 831. Along with our sponsor, Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi, they all have children with disabilities. They understand in a real way that they don’t want their children to be paid less than the minimum wage, and they wouldn’t want to see any other American be paid less than the minimum wage because they have a disability.
In October I had the opportunity to attend the Vermont Conversion Institute. While there I was introduced to many different organizations that train people with even the most severe disabilities on how to be productive citizens. I learned about a man who has an intellectual disability and who uses a wheelchair and is illiterate. Yet he is still being paid the minimum wage because he loves to shred paper. It’s a win-win situation. He has a micro-business in which businesses hire him to shred their paper, and the businesses are happy because they no longer have to waste time shredding their own paper, and their employees can focus on other tasks. This is just one example.
As we rolled into November, we had many affiliates participate in the delivery of our change.org petition to Goodwills throughout the nation. Our petition has over 170,000 signatures. We got the point across. Newspaper articles were written about the event. Goodwill executives throughout the country repeatedly told us that it is a local decision whether or not to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages, and guess what: two-thirds of Goodwills actually pay all of their employees the minimum wage or more. We are especially encouraged by organizations such as the Goodwill of Northern New England. Its website says, and I quote, “The Goodwill of Northern New England supports public policy initiatives that align with our commitment always to meet or exceed minimum wage for all workers.”
We’ve been taking other steps too. We’ve not only been gaining cosponsors on HR 831, but I’m happy to report that we have over seventy-five other organizations who agree with us that 14(c) is absolutely wrong. As many have already said, but it is definitely worth repeating, on February 12, 2014, President Barack Obama announced that he would be issuing an executive order, and in this executive order all federally contracted service providers would be receiving $10.10 an hour starting on January 1, 2015, and this includes people with disabilities who used to be paid under 14(c). I thank each of you who wrote President Obama and Secretary Perez and told them how important it was for us to be included. We did this, guys—this was us, so well done.
This executive order gave Ms. Cari DeSantis the courage to speak out. Ms. DeSantis is the CEO of an organization called Millwood, a community rehabilitation program that employs over seven hundred people with disabilities. She said, "When I became the organization's CEO almost a year ago, I ended the practice of paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage despite the 14(c) certificate program." Millwood was able to transform its business model in just a year. HR 831 gives nonprofits three years to transition. Even though Millwood had the 14(c) certificate, it has decided that it is wrong to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. This is just one example of entities doing the right thing, but we can't count on all 14(c) certificate-holding entities to do the right thing, and that's why we need to pass HR 831.
In the spring a resolution was dropped in the California legislature that urges the United States Congress to phase out and eventually repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. I am happy to announce that this resolution has already passed out of the assembly in the California legislature and has since moved on to the Senate. On June 25 it passed the relevant committee in the Senate of the California legislature, and we are eagerly awaiting it to get to the floor of the Senate. Congratulations, California.
As outlined by this report, we are making great strides to ensure that Americans with disabilities are paid the fair wages we deserve. I thank each and every one of you for allowing jobs such as mine to exist, and I also thank each of you who've contacted your member of Congress in some way, shape, or form. I can email and visit the offices of national legislators, but only you, the constituents, can truly make legislators care about the issues that you care about.
At the beginning of this report I mentioned that gaining new cosponsors is my favorite part of the job. I have experienced this ninety-four times. We have ninety-four cosponsors on HR 831. Now this is good, and every once in a while it's good to give ourselves a pat on the back, but we need more. We have to get more, and I challenge you to get this bill up to one hundred cosponsors by July 26, the anniversary of the ADA. Six more, let's do it! Who's with me? [Convention hall erupts with applause and shouts of support]
When you email your members of Congress, when you email their legislative aides, please copy me on those emails. I ask you to do this because then we can have a dialogue between you, me, and the legislative aide, you being the constituent, me being able to answer any questions that they may have, and the legislative aide having the power to get the member of Congress on the bill. If you ever have any questions, email or call me. I look forward to hearing from you. No one does it like us. Together we will pass HR 831, and we will ensure that we too are insured the economic independence that every other working American enjoys every day.
Lauren McLarney: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to start out by saying that I'm so glad Rose is on the team, partly because she's really smart, and also because it's a little easier to share clothes with her than it is with Jesse because he's so tall.
I am here to give a TEACH Act update, and for starters can you remind me what the TEACH Act stands for? Yes, it is Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education. What does the bill do? It creates guidelines. The bill calls on the access board to create voluntary accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials used in postsecondary education and incentivizes colleges and universities to use only technology that conforms to those guidelines with a safe harbor from litigation.
The reason we need this bill is that the overwhelming majority of electronic instructional materials, learning management systems, lab software, PDFs, ebooks—I could go on and on—but these are mostly inaccessible, even though it is easy to make them accessible, and the law calls for schools to use only accessible things. We know that the reason for this disconnect is that there is no criterion in the law to facilitate that. This bill creates that missing criterion, and it does it in a way that stimulates the market, facilitates the mandate, reduces costs of lawsuits, and does all of that without creating any new requirements for schools or any mandates on technology companies.
There's nothing to dislike about this bill. I said it at the Washington Seminar, and I'll say it again: there are no cons to this bill. It's a no-brainer.
Consequently, we have forty-eight cosponsors in the House which, for a new bill, is very good. We have Republicans like Coffman from Colorado. We have McAllister from Louisiana. We have Representative Jolly from Florida, who will be here to speak to you tomorrow. We have Don Young from Alaska, who is the most senior Republican in the House, and we even have Paul Ryan from the Senate, who was once a vice presidential candidate. He wrote on change.org that he publicly supports the bill. Speaking of change.org, I want to tell you something. Thanks to your advocacy, the change.org petition for the TEACH Act has over 160,000 signatures from across the country and is one of the most successful legislative campaigns that site has ever had.
We've had the same kind of success in the Senate. We have six cosponsors, and I know that sounds small, but they are one great combination of people. We have Senator Hatch from Utah, who is a senior conservative; Senator Warren from Massachusetts, who is a freshman liberal; Senator Ayotte from New Hampshire; and we have Senator Bennett from Colorado. Recently everybody has been saying that people from Capitol Hill can't get along, but at the same time we got two new cosponsors: Senator Markey from Boston and Senator Marco Rubio, the Tea Party darling from Florida—and those two people came on at the same time, so that tells you something about how popular this bill is.
Just two weeks ago Senator Harkin's staff contacted us. Two years ago I showed them this bill, and they said, "You guys have to go back and rework this bill because it's not strong enough, and it doesn't do enough." Two years later they contacted us; they wanted us to come in and take a look at the Higher Education Reauthorization draft. They took the TEACH Act verbatim and put it in that bill and dropped it last week.
We've gotten press in USA Today, op-eds published in the Boston Globe, on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune, and in Inside Higher Ed, and we have support from every major disability group in the country. We have AAPD, MAD, Nickel, Hearing Loss, ACB, AFB, our partner AAPD—even the Home School Legal Defense Association, the same group that tried to defeat the CRPD [the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] officially endorses the TEACH act.
So you might be asking, why isn't it law yet? Why hasn't it passed if it's so great? Well, number one, this is a Republican Congress, and there is a stigma against education issues. It's mostly based on misunderstanding, so, if we can get to those offices, we can win them over, and we're doing that, but we need to do it better. A lot of the Republicans in Congress are new, and we need to build relationships with those offices before going to sit down in front of them and get them to see how great the bill is.
Second, sometimes people just object for the sake of objecting. Some people are just difficult. I know it's a shock that politicians may be difficult, but some of them are. They give all sorts of goofy reasons and questions such as, “What do the schools think? Would this inconvenience them? We've heard that they might not like it.” My favorite line is, "We have decided not to cosponsor at this time. We ask that you please bear with us." Another of my favorites is "We are still reviewing." Ladies and gentlemen, this is only a four-page bill.
No matter how frustrated we get, the bottom line is that we have to have patience and win them over. But what we really need more than patience is persistence and passion. Because the truth is that, no matter how good this bill is, this bill will not pass itself. Every time an office asks if this inconveniences schools, they are basically saying that they are okay with inconveniencing blind students. They are saying that you should settle for a so-so accommodation, that you should settle for partial access. Every time they fail to cosponsor and don't give you a reason, they are saying that they are okay with things as is and that they want you to settle for the status quo, settle for just getting by, settle for mediocre expectations—and we don't settle—that's not what this organization is about.
I think it's really easy for some of these people to say that you should settle because they've never lived it. The truth is that I haven't lived it. I don't know what it feels like to get to college and not be able to use the materials. I know what it feels like not to use them—but not to be able to use them—I haven’t experienced that, and that's the problem faced by every single blind student in this country—they have experienced it, and they’re asking for decisions from those who have not. We have to tell them that we're not going to settle for so-so accommodations, we're not going to settle for partial access, because we know that blindness is not what holds us back. We know that just enough is never acceptable. We are not going to settle for anything less than living the lives we want.
I want everyone to understand that, as good as this bill is, it is not going to pass itself. There is a song by a country group called SugarLand, and they talk about not settling. I think it says it all—about what we need to feel. If you are a college student and taking classes, please stand up. If you are in high school, it is likely you will go to college, so you, too, should stand. I'm going to tell you the lyrics, and I want you to repeat them because this is the message that needs to be in your head and your heart if we're going to pass this bill, if we're going to get through college, if we're going to get through life without buying it when people tell us we have to settle. Please repeat after me:
I ain't settling for just getting by.
I've had enough so so for the rest of my life,
Tired of shooting too low, so raise the bar high.
Just enough ain't enough this time.
I ain't settling for anything less than everything!
Jesse Hartle: Good afternoon. I want to take a quick moment on behalf of the Advocacy and Policy Team to note that Rose, John, Lauren, and I have the opportunity to come before you every year, but I want to recognize the members of our team who don't have that opportunity to speak to you: Scott White, Nijat Worley, Bob Watson, Bill Jacobs, Carylin Walton, Chris Danielsen, Jessica Freeh, Mya Jones, and Lorraine Rovig. All of these people deserve your recognition for the work they do. [Applause]
"I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.” This is the pledge of the National Federation of the Blind. Two words make our pledge more than just words on a page. Those two words are “participate actively.” The National Federation of the Blind stands up and actively participates in changing what it means to be blind in America. Fifty years ago Dr. tenBroek spoke during the banquet at the national convention, and he described what Federationism means. In part he said:
Federationism is an indispensable means of collective self-expression, a megaphone through which the blind may speak their minds and voice their demands—and be assured of a hearing. Federationism is a source of comradeship, the symbol of a common bond among the blind. Federationism is a tool of political and social action, an anvil on which to hammer out the programs and policies, projects and platforms that will advance the mutual welfare and security of the blind as a group. It is the restoration of pride, the bestowal of dignity, and the achievement of identity, and an opportunity to demand for the conferral of rights too long withheld and hopes too long deferred. Federationism is a dedication, a commitment of the mind and heart, an act of faith, and an adventure of spirit, which issues a call to greatness and a summons to service on the part of all of those who volunteer to enter its ranks.
Dr. tenBroek's words describe the essence of the Federation philosophy. Those in this room hold that philosophy, and we know it to be true, but there are many not in our ranks who don't know that the blind speak for ourselves. Many of those find themselves in the halls of Congress. Some of those members of Congress believe that they know better than the blind what we need. Still other members take no stand on our issues. An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by another object. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an object of greater force. Lauren, Rose, and I need the full power of the Federation to act as that force which will redirect those members who think they know what the blind need and to energize those members who are inactive to follow the voice of the blind, that is, the voice of the National Federation of the Blind.
The right to access information is a fundamental right, however, most often permission by rights holders to reproduce published works in accessible formats has traditionally been denied or has taken far too long to acquire. Today in the United States of America blind people are denied access to published works around 95 percent of the time, and yet we are a leader throughout the world. For blind people in developing nations access to published works occurs less than 1 percent of the time.
The National Federation of the Blind began to work with the World Blind Union to develop treaty language that will solve the book famine around the world. Scott LaBarre has carried the torch of the Federation philosophy, taking on those who challenge the need for such a treaty. On October 2, 2013, the United States of America became a signatory of the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works to persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. This treaty will allow for the cross-border sharing of materials in accessible formats. Currently the State Department and the Patent and Trade Office are working to develop the treaty package that will be transmitted to the Senate to begin the ratification process. Once this takes place, it will be up to us, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, to secure the sixty-seven Senate votes needed for ratification of this important piece of equality.
But I thought you should know what others are saying about our chances to succeed on the Marrakesh Treaty. They are saying that no disability treaty will be ratified if it isn't ratified in the next six weeks. They are saying that some members of the Senate will never vote to ratify a treaty that deals with the United Nations. They are saying that, if the Republicans take over the Senate this fall, we shouldn't even try. They say that the blind don't have enough clout on Capitol Hill to get this done.
Stroll with me down memory lane for a moment if you will. In 1995 the House of Representatives was set to vote on the careers bill. It was going to the floor, and they said it's too late, you can't stop it. In the early 2000s we were told that we wouldn't be able to get access to materials for students in K-12. When the House Appropriations Committee voted to underfund the digital conversion of the Talking Book Program of the National Library Service, we were told that we would never be able to increase the funding enough to keep the program on track and on time for the digital conversion. We were told that we wouldn't be able to get legislation through the Congress that would require hybrid and electric vehicles to make a sound that would allow blind people safe and independent travel, and most recently we were told that we would never be able to change the language contained in Section 511. I don't know about you, but I think we have a pretty good track record of doing things we're not supposed to be able to do.
Make no mistake, though: this effort will require the active participation of every member of the Federation. My question to you is, are you ready to get access to published works? Are you ready to stand up and take on those who say this treaty is not necessary? Are you ready to show the world the power of the collective action of the National Federation of the Blind? [The Convention’s unambiguous response was yes.]
Well, I have good news for you: we don't need to wait for the ratification package to go to the Senate. We have an opportunity to teach the Senate something about our power right now. The Senate has been a roadblock to equality for our blinded veterans as it relates to participation in the Space Available Program. Last summer I stood before you shortly after the United States House of Representatives passed its version of the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which incorporated our language to include 100 percent service-disabled veterans on the list of those who can participate in the program. Our Senate leader on this issue, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, filed an amendment to the Senate version of the defense bill. It contained the same language that the House included in its bill, and Senator Tester was joined on his amendment by Senator Chambliss of Georgia, Senator Heller of Nevada, and Senator Baucus of Montana. However, that amendment was not allowed to be debated during Senate consideration of the defense bill. In fact Senate leadership said that no senator could offer an amendment on the floor. Because of this procedural decision, Senator Tester was not able to get matching language in the Senate bill. Giving the difference in language as justification for its action, the conference committee stripped our space-available language out of the final bill passed on December 19.
Well, you know what they say: sometimes you may lose a battle, but, when it comes to equality for the blind, we will never lose the war. On January 4, 2014, we renewed our efforts to build cosponsor support for HR 164. On that day the bill had 171 cosponsors listed in support of extending the Space Available Program to those who became disabled defending our liberties. On May 22 that number had increased to 233 members of the House of Representatives, and on May 22, for a second time, the House of Representatives voted to include Congressman Bilirakis's language from HR 164 as part of its national Defense Authorization Act. It is now time for the Senate to feel the force of the National Federation of the Blind. We must stand up and defend the rights of blinded veterans—just as they stand up and defend the rights of blind students to enact the TEACH Act, just as they defend the rights of those who are being paid less than the federal minimum wage when they advocate for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. If your senator is not a cosponsor of S. 346 at this time, we need your help to get them signed on to this legislation.
Together we speak as one voice in the National Federation of the Blind. Together we all go up, or we all go down. In everything that matters we are one. Together we will be victorious, and together we will ensure that disabled veterans take their seats on space available flights. [Applause]
I pledge to you to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, equality in the workplace, by eliminating the disgraceful language contained in Section 14(c) from the history books of American law; to achieve equality, equality for disabled veterans who became disabled on the front lines defending our freedoms; to achieve opportunity, opportunity for blind students to be challenged by the coursework in colleges and higher education, not to be challenged by how well they can access information through inaccessible technology, a situation that will be remedied by the enactment of the TEACH Act; to achieve opportunity to increase our access to knowledge by leading the charge on Capitol Hill for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty; and lastly to achieve that security, the security that can only be attained by reaching our status as first-class citizens.
We are now being challenged, and we will continue to be challenged by those who want the blind to stand down, to accept less in life and like it, to simply exist. We will not simply exist; we have the right to live on full and equal terms with our sighted peers. My brothers and sisters in the Federation, no thought can serve as a better roadmap for success on our legislative agenda than was expressed by Dr. Maurer at the 2002 national convention, and I will leave you with these words of wisdom:
We know our strength, and we know what we must do to bring full equality to the blind. We must be willing to work with every ounce of good that is in us; we must be willing to sacrifice for that which we know is right; we must be prepared to meet the challenges wherever and whenever they arise; and we must never interrupt our march to freedom. This is our obligation; this is our opportunity; this is our commitment. We have the power composed of ability, confidence, public understanding, and love; and we will not fail. Tomorrow is ours, for we will never rest until it is. Come, join me, and we will make it come true!
God bless you all.