Presidential Release #472: May 2018 (English Transcript)

Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 and this is presidential release number 472. I cannot believe that it is already May and I think we skipped Spring, at least in Baltimore. We went from sort of cold to hot. I think it's 92 degrees today in Baltimore but I am not at all complaining about the beautiful weather, even though it's a little hotter than I'd like at the beginning of May, there are so many great things happening in the National Federation of the Blind and we are enjoying the nicer weather in Baltimore. We're getting ready for the Preakness Race later this month. Of course, we have to have the Kentucky Derby first, but there's a lot of great activities happening in the community and within the National Federation of the Blind.

We just had our National Scholarship Committee here this past weekend and they have confirmed our 2018 scholarship class. I had the opportunity to observe the work of the committee and look at some of the choices of scholarship finalists. I think you will be very proud, once again, of the scholarship class of the National Federation of the Blind. You'll have to be at the convention, though, to be up close and personal with our scholarship finalists and with thousands of other Federationists, so I hope that you are making plans to be with us in Orlando for our final convention in Florida for some time to come. You'll have to be at the convention to know where we're going next.

I just got back from Seattle, was visiting with the Amazon Company about some of our work on their products and services and accessibility so it has been a busy year and I continue to be jumping from thing to thing. I am gonna be in Canada at the end to this month for meetings of the World Blind Union Executive Committee. So there's lots of things happening before we get to our National Convention.

There's also some great victories and progress we're making in the National Federation of the Blind and I think I'll talk to you about those especially our legislative work, but first, in case you missed it, on April 25th we announced a settlement agreement that's been in the works for a couple of years now with the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS. We have announced a settlement agreement that will provide accessibility to blind beneficiaries and increase equal access to Medicare information.

Because of our work, beneficiaries will be able to make a single request to receive all communications and notices from CMS in an accessible format such as large print, Braille, audio or electronic data. The details of how that's gonna happen and the processes will take a little time to work out but CMS has already been actively engaged in preparing to make some of these changes, and I think if you receive services from CMS of any type you'll be pleased with the progress very soon.

As part of our settlement agreement, CMS must issue accessibility best practices to Medicare health and drug plans, implement a policy that extends the time in which a beneficiary must answer time sensitive communications by the number of days it takes CMS to process the beneficiary's accessible form requests, and develop a plan to promote the availability of accessible materials from CMS. I am not 100 percent sure, but I'm somewhat confident you can plan on visiting with some of the CMS folks at the National Convention. We have invited them to be in the exhibit hall and we have every reason to think they'll be there. This is just one of the great victories we have already had this year. I know it impacts a lot of people who receive services from Health and Human Services, so I congratulate all of us on this next victory in accessible documents.

The healthcare space is a complicated one, even with having full access to the information and without it, it is almost impossible to try to navigate all of the components, so this is a great step forward for us, and if you are a beneficiary, I encourage you to pay attention and start requesting accessible materials when those announcements come out.

We have been making great progress on our legislative initiatives and I wanted to spend a little time talking about them, because urgent action is required during the months of May and June. The primary item that is now coming to the top is the Marrakesh Treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Wednesday, April 18th, at which Scott LaBarre represented the National Federation of the Blind and it was a very successful hearing. Scott did a fantastic job representing us and it has created the momentum for getting the treaty ratified by the Senate and the Marrakesh Implementation Act, which is the legislation required to implement the components of the treaty that intersect with our law, signed by the president, ultimately. So there is some immediate action to be taken.

The United States Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up consideration of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, that's S-2559. That is scheduled to take place at its next executive business meeting which is currently scheduled for May 10th. Regardless of when you're hearing this release you need to contact your United States senators and ask them to support the Marrakesh Implementation Act. We have been urged to get as many cosponsors in the United States Senate as possible.

If we can do it before May 10th, before Judiciary takes up the Implementation Act, that would be great, but we will still have to be pushing forward, especially as the Foreign Relations Committee will need to mark up this bill as well. So even if you're hearing this after May 10th, unless you've heard that we've had successful passage of the Marrakesh Treaty in the United States Senate, please reach out to your senators and urge both of them to support the Marrakesh Treaty and the Marrakesh Implementation Act S-2559. If you can do it before the committees actually take a vote that would be ideal.

As always, you can reach your senators through the Capitol switchboard which you can call at 202-224-3121, that number again, 202-224-3121. We, of course, have a number of other bills working their way through Congress and we continue to make steady progress in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Our Access Technology Affordability Act continues to gain in both the House and the Senate. We now, as of the making of this release, have 61 cosponsors in the House and 10 cosponsors in the Senate. This bill also continues to move forward. We need to get more people on these bills. There will be some opportunities later in the summer to advance them, so please continue to call your members of Congress about this bill as well.

We are also making great progress on our effort to eliminate discriminatory pay for people with disabilities, primarily by ending the practice through the exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act under Section 14-C. We are making progress on our bill but also in getting the attention of others and getting them to pay attention and advocate for our bill.

In the last month, the National Downs Syndrome Association has spent considerable time and energy on promoting the Time Act. We often show up and people say, well, I can kinda understand how this might be okay for blind people, equality for blind people might be sufficient but what about people with developmental or intellectual disabilities? Well, NDSS has been taking up this charge and these are people with developmental disabilities often, and they're showing up and saying we want equality too, and that is tremendous, and we have been coaching them on the talking points and giving them our expertise from working on this for many, many years.

Also, as we discussed in the last release, of course, Seattle eliminated unequal pay for people with disabilities and now members of the United States Senate have gotten involved in taking up the charge of equal pay for people with disabilities. A number of the members of the Senate sent a joint letter over to the Department of Labor asking for information about the places that use 14-C to pay people with disabilities very low wages, and we are now seeing members of the Senate even getting involved in social media efforts to raise awareness.

Senator Warren sent out a tweet that reads like this, "Did you know, it's legal for companies to pay people with disabilities pennies on the dollar for doing the same job as a worker without a disability? It's a discriminatory practice and I'm working to eliminate it."  And she gives a link to an interview she recently did about this. This is very good for us, that members of the Senate are getting more involved in raising awareness about this issue. It's largely because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind and the partnerships we've been creating with other disability run organizations. We need to keep the momentum on so let's continue to talk with our members of Congress about this, but let's also continue to advocate in our cities and in our states that lawmakers there consider eliminating this discriminatory practice of unequal pay for equal work.

There are a lot of things happening at the state level as well. We now have ten of our affiliates that have successfully passed bills related to the rights of blind parents. I think in the last month, Colorado, Nebraska, and Arizona have all joined that group. I don't think we've talked about Arizona getting their legislation passed on this release. So we now have ten affiliates, so it's a great start. We still have a lot more progress to be made on protecting the rights of blind parents, so I urge us also to get out and get that done in our state legislatures in your affiliate.

I urge our chapters to be talking about our legislative priorities, why they are important and to also be considering what new, emerging issues might be coming up that we should be considering as a national organization. Of course, members are invited to bring resolutions to the Resolutions Committee in advance of the convention so that the committee may consider resolutions to bring to the floor of our convention this summer. So if there are policies that we have to been pursuing that you feel we should, come to the convention, bring a resolution to the committee before the convention and let's talk about what other policies we should have and pursue in the National Federation of the Blind in the next year.

I do have a number of Federation family notes for this release that I want to share with you. I'm sorry to have to share news of a number of our Federation family members who have passed away in the last month. These include Lauren Schmidt of Iowa City who passed away in the middle of April. Lauren was born and raised in Iowa, attended the Iowa Commission for the Blind when Dr. Jernigan was there, spent time in Idaho and Kansas, and eventually returned to Iowa. Also, our San Juaquin County Chapter in California reports the death of Raul Gutierrez who passed away on April 14th, 2018. Raul was one of the original members of the chapter. He was an inspiration to many in the chapter. He had not been as active lately as he once was because of his health, but he will definitely be missed in our Federation family.

We also have a couple of long-time leaders who have lost parents in the last little while or parents-in-law. Julie Deeden, Director of our Colorado Center, lost her mother recently and was not able to be at the scholarship committee meeting. And our president in Virginia, Tracy Sefranco, lost his father-in-law, Leonard Appel, who was a great supporter of our youth programs in Virginia. I urge you to keep all of these members and closely associated friends of the National Federation of the Blind and their families in your thoughts and prayers this month.

I do have one joyous bit of news to share with you and that is that Frank Coppel, our president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina and his wife, Frank and Shelly are grandparents two times over, having the joyous news of twin grandsons being born on Thursday, April 26th at 7:41 and 7:42 a.m. So congratulations to the newest grandchildren of the Coppel family and to all of the other Federationists who have had joyous experiences that should be celebrated that I did not hear about over the last month.

This will be the last release before our National Convention. We have a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the convention and I have some speeches to write and I mentioned a trip to Canada for the World Blind Union and we have our Dot Dash 6K Race and we have a couple of chapters who are coming to visit the national office in the meantime. And as you've already heard, a lot of possibility of moving some of our legislative priorities in the next two months. I think we're going to have a great deal of stuff to celebrate at our National Convention. I do urge you to register, preregister by May 31st, but if for some reason you don't, you can still work out being with us at the convention to celebrate our success and to plan for the future. I look forward to seeing you at the convention. I do urge you to come by the presidential suite and I hope that I'll have the ability to spend a little time visiting with you.

That's what I have for the May Presidential Release. I will make the next release shortly after our National Convention. Until then, I am going to leave you with the customary endings and remember, you can live the life you want, blindness is not what holds you back. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.