Below is a mock meeting video and the transcript for the Washington Seminar.
Pam, John, Norma, Scott, Marci, are you are you all here?
Yeah, hi, yes, indeed. OK.
All right. Well, I know.
Thank you so much for doing this.
We are friends.
And we'll turn it over to Norma, who I believe is the group lead and to our distinguished senator.
Allan, so over to you guys.
Good afternoon, Senator Allen, it's nice to see you here.
Great, welcome. Welcome everyone.
So you probably know since we've met with you a number of times that the National Federation of the Blind generally makes an in-person trip to Washington every year to talk with our representatives and senators about our legislative priorities and of course, this year because of the pandemic.
We're meeting with you virtually, and we really miss seeing you.
But I wanted to say so much.
We appreciate your taking a few minutes of your valuable time to meet with us.
And I also wanted to quickly introduce to you, my colleagues, you know, some of these guys because you see us every year.
With me today.
Hello. Good evening.
And I have with me also.
Hello. Good evening.
And my very good friend, Marcy Carpenter.
Hello, Senator Allen.
Good to be with you again.
Thank you. It's so, so wonderful to welcome all of you.
I know we definitely miss the incursion.
We always look forward to all of our welcome in the National Federation of the Blind each year.
But I know you are a problem solver, so I knew we would find a way to connect.
And we, your staff should have our legislative priority package already and hopefully you have it there with you later.
If not, then we're going to go over our legislative priorities with you In any event, quickly.
And I'm going to ask my colleague Shawn Callaway to take on our first of three issues that we have for you.
When I'm all, I'm ready to listen and I have the package, thank you for always having such great materials prepared.
Well, once again, Senator, thank you for having me having us this evening.
I want to talk about the Access Technology Affordability Act now, Senator.
I'm sorry, access technology is very important to the blind community.
It sort of inclusiveness for us and also as to our quality of life.
But as the years have gone on, access technology has become quite expensive.
Now the average access technology devices average is between $1,000 to $6,000.
Now for myself, I am a screen reader user.
And so to purchase a screen reader these days will roughly run you $1,000.
And so for myself, I know it was very instrumental for me to use a screen reader to acquire job listings, job searches and things of that nature.
In fact, I'm blessed to be employed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because of my screen reader.
But these languages have become astronomically unaffordable for blind consumers, and this bill will allow blind consumers to receive a tax credit of $2,000 over a three year period in order to purchase access technology devices.
Now, one of the misconceptions is that Medicare, Medicaid, excuse me, medical insurance will pay for such a device, and this is not true at all.
In fact, in many states and personal health insurance, they do not cover access technology devices at all.
Quite honestly, and I believe that having these devices will enhance the lives of blind people because again, they'll be able to do adequate job searches.
But not only that, not only searching for jobs, but it will just increasingly help them with their skills in regards to access technology being proficient in using a computer or Braille and boxer or other devices that will enhance our ability to be efficient employers and employees for employers in our society. Also similar to one of the things that's very disturbing to me is that there's a program called the Older Independent Living Blind program, which is funded by the U.S. Government under Rehabilitation Services Administration.
And very little money goes to seniors.
It's the money allocated to all this.
Many of the states are all states.
Quite honestly, it does not adequately fund the funding for seniors to receive assistive technology devices.
So this bill will help singers as well in regards to independently purchasing these devices to help them be inclusive in our society.
So and then one more thing I want to mention as well is that when I mentioned employment also not just in our private sector or public sector in regards to acquire employment, but also a lot of people can become self-sufficient, independent business owners as well.
So this this bill will really again help the quality of life of blind people and really put us in an inclusive space within our society.
So again, Senator, Thank you so much for having me today.
Thank you so much, John, and also we're so lucky to have you as part of our federal team at the Human Services, that's outstanding.
We appreciate that.
And I remember that we've talked about this legislation in the past, so I can understand how important it is.
It's always amazing to me to learn how expensive assistive technology is.
And just when we think technology will level the playing field, we need to make sure that we find ways to help people afford to purchase it.
So I think this is definitely something that I can get on board long.
Thank you for your explanation and your examples, and I think I've shared with you in the past my grandmother's losing her vision.
So I really appreciate your reference to seniors.
They're such an important part of our families and of our countries, all they've given.
So thank you for bringing that to my attention.
Thank you, Senator Allen. Have a good evening. Thank you.
And Senator Allen, you just mentioned your grandmother, and she's a person who might benefit by the piece of legislation, proposed legislation that I want to take a moment to talk with you about.
The medical device, Non-visual Accessibility Act, has been introduced in the House, Representative Jan Schakowsky from Illinois is the sponsor in the House.
We don't currently have a sponsor in the Senate, but hoping we'll get there, maybe, maybe this is something you might want to take a look at and see if you might serve as a sponsor.
For blind people who need to do things like take our blood pressure or take our blood sugar measurements, or perhaps have the ability to do home chemotherapy or any number of things that relate to medical issues.
It's become increasingly difficult for us to have that level playing field that, you know, you and John were just talking about because so many new medical devices utilize digital screens that don't talk or have any other means for a blind person to access them.
It's becoming increasingly difficult for us to have any hope that we'll be able to use a medical device.
My mother in law, for example, was a dialysis patient, but she was cited and was able to do her dialysis at home.
But right now, blind people really pretty much have to go to a dialysis center and same for chemo and other treatments that other people take for granted now that they can that they are likely to be able to do from home.
And unfortunately, current laws don't make it mandatory that manufacturers make these devices accessible.
But they the the law we're talking about here, the Medical Device Non-visual Accessibility Act, would help in that regard in the.
The ADA, for example, does make it physically possible for blind people to go into places and read Braille and and it makes wheelchair access possible, but it doesn't really address things like digital displays on medical devices.
And so that's why we feel the need for for this piece of legislation.
Also, right now, telemedicine is a really huge thing, especially during during the COVID pandemic.
And very often, you know, your doctor might want to know what your vital signs are.
And if you don't have access to a talking device, if you just had that digital screen in your old blind person, you may not be able to help them out with that.
And the assumption that all of us have caregivers is just is just wrong.
We don't all have caregivers, so some of us live on our own.
Many of us live on our own and are dependent on our own skills to be able to achieve whatever we achieve.
And so having that ability to manipulate and read those screens would be really helpful.
And very often, the technology needed to make those devices accessible is is not very inexpensive.
We see it in everyday tools that we use right now, like those of us who are iPhone users, for example, know that Apple based that accessibility right into the phone.
We can pull the phone out of the box and we can use it.
And that's what we would really like for them to be able to do with our our own medical devices as well.
So what would this law do?
It would call upon the Food and Drug Administration to set up to set standards for what what accessibility and accessibility would look like for manufacturers.
And it would also require the manufacturers to make Class two and Class three medical devices, which some of the things I've been talking to you about get into those categories.
It would mandate that they make those devices accessible, non-visual.
And finally, it would also authorize the Food and Drug Administration not only not only to set the standards but to make it make it where the the folks who are manufacturing actually have to adhere to that standard if they wanted their devices to be classified in a good way.
And so we're here today really asking your support for this piece of legislation, whether it be as a co-sponsor or whether it be someone who might be able to sponsor.
And I'd be happy to answer any questions over my hair.
Thank you so much.
And I recall in past one, we've had the pleasure to be in person that some of you have demonstrated some of the accessible technology devices, and so I would be interested in looking at the language of this bill.
Could you send that to me so our team can look out a little more closely?
My my grandmother happens to be diabetic, so I know that directly what you're talking about, she's having more and more trouble reading her glucometer and figure out how she's going to take her career options and different her blood pressure.
So I was listening closely to some of the examples you gave.
If you could send that language to us, we would love to take a closer look at it.
We absolutely could.
And if you want to also make contact with your colleague in the house, Gidget Benitez is the legislative assistant for Representative Schakowsky, who's the sponsor in the house.
But we can absolutely do that for you. Excellent.
Thank you so much.
I will definitely be following up with you about that.
Well, thank you so much, we always appreciate your support.
And I'm going to turn it over to my friend Scott LaBarre here for our next issue.
Hey, Senator, great speaking with you again and looking forward to next year when we're back there on the hill in person.
We sure are.
We are all looking forward to that and we really appreciate the time you're giving us this evening, along with your 170 or so staff members listening in this evening.
That's awesome. Yeah, you got a huge staff.
Let me tell you only the best.
Well, it's interesting that my colleague Norm, I just went before me and she's talking about medical devices and largely being used at home.
And a lot of those medical devices now are part of the greater internet of Things.
They connect to the internet so you can send your doctor your statistics and your vitals.
And and oftentimes you can, you know, do some diagnosing with your medical personnel because of the internet.
So the internet is crucial, Critical to daily life, not only for medical reasons, but for employment education.
We all know this fact and in fact, over 313 million Americans get on the internet at least once a day.
And for most of us, that's many, many times we get up in the morning and check the weather and the news and and on it goes from there.
So access to the web access to applications is absolutely critical.
And because of some of that assistive technology that my colleague Shawn was talking about, before we can get on the web, we can get information presented to us via text, to speech or through electronic refresher about braille displays.
There's many, many different ways to connect.
But the problem, senator, is not all of the sources, not all the websites, not all the applications are made to be compatible with our assistive technology.
So even though the internet offers a great opportunity for us to access information in a timely way, in an equal way, it often doesn't happen.
In fact, a recent survey indicated that something like 98% of the websites out there have at least one accessibility barrier.
And the shame of all this is there are solutions.
There is an entity called the World Wide Web Consortium that has produced guidelines that can be used so that websites are totally accessible to people like me and my colleagues.
But unfortunately, people don't follow those guidelines very well, and there's really no direction at any level to tell people to follow those guidelines.
And this is what our web accessibility bill would do.
It would require that the access board create accessibility guidelines.
Those guidelines would be adopted into regulation by the United States Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and essentially all of the entities that are covered by those agencies, employers, state governments, local governments, stores, restaurants, employers.
All these entities would be required to put out websites that comply with these guidelines and to create applications like mobile applications that comply with these guidelines.
And this is something that everybody is asking for.
Many businesses want to make an accessible website.
They but they don't know how, and they don't know what guidelines they should follow.
And so it is critical that we adopt this piece of legislation, make it crystal clear in law what all of these entities need to do.
And then maybe someday I'll be able to walk into this office, so to speak, or virtually today anyway and in person one day and tell you that 98% of the websites are accessible to those of us who are blind and visually impaired.
But that is not that is not what is happening now, and we've got to change it.
It's true that about twelve years ago now, the Obama administration released an anticipated notice of rulemaking, but it never went anywhere. So.
And then we just we got to get.
We got it's long overdue, and we hope that once this bill is introduced and we can tell you that it's going to be introduced very soon.
A well-known colleague of yours is working up the language right as we speak.
And so as soon as this is introduced, we hope your name is on it.
In fact, we hope you'll think about maybe being one of the originating co-sponsors.
So that's that's the scoop on our Web Access and Application Accessibility Act.
Well, thank you, Scott, for that very compelling argument.
I would love to see the language and thank you because I thought that that was already covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So I appreciate.
And that's another problem, Senator.
It's some courts say yes, it is covered under the ADA.
Other courts say no.
The 80 the internet wasn't around when the ADA was adopted.
Al Gore hadn't invented it yet, and therefore the ADA doesn't cover it.
And so that's another problem that this bill will take care of.
Well, one thing we like is clarity and cutting through all of the confusion, so I would definitely please pass it along.
And it sounds like a really important issue.
I know we've been reminded about the importance of being connected, especially during these last couple of years. So thank you.
It sounds like a very critical piece of legislation.
We believe so, and we really do appreciate your great support over the years.
And now let's kick it over to my colleague Marcy Carpenter, who's going to talk about making sure blind people and other folks with disabilities get paid.
That's a good thing.
Hi again, Senator Allen.
Before I review our last issue, I just want to call your attention to something that's in your packet.
As you know, we award 30 scholarships every year to blank scholars from around the country, and we've revamped our scholarship program this year.
Every scholarship finalist will now receive an $8,000 scholarship.
Oh, so I know that your local offices and D.C. office get requests for that.
Thank you so much.
We definitely got calls from our constituents and what a great opportunity to promote education for our upcoming scholars.
Thank you for sharing that.
And thank you.
So our last issue that I want to talk with you about is the transformation and to Competitive Integrated Employment Act.
So there is a bill in the Senate, and we're.
You know, the issue is that.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was first adopted in 1938, it had this one section Section 14 C, which allowed employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage and the floor, the low point, that could go to over time has has continued to lower.
There are now people making pennies an hour.
I have a personal story about this when I was in high school.
I always knew I would go to college and get some kind of professional job.
But then when I started looking for, you know, jobs that high school kids do in the.
Local fast food place or restaurant or ski area.
No one would hire me because they thought I would be a liability.
And I began to wonder if if I would really be able to get a job in a competitive environment. So.
This bill would phase out Section 14 see so it would have a five year phase out period?
The secretary of Labor would stop issuing permits.
There would be grants to the states and covered entities to help them set up models like supported employment, where people get jobs in the community at competitive wages.
There would be technical assistance provided and there would be monitoring and evaluation is done.
So what it really like to know is if you'd be willing to co-sponsor this legislation.
I feel very strongly about ending payment of sub minimum wage.
I can't believe that still exists.
We know we've discussed this in the past, and so you can definitely count on me to support this piece of legislation and just to ask a quick question.
This legislation, I've scanned the fact sheet, but it doesn't dictate the level of the minimum wage or the amount correct.
It just merely outlines a process for putting an end to the practice.
So, you know, minimum wages vary from state to state.
So it would allow for whatever the minimum wages of every state or locality.
And several states have started to pass state bills on this.
But we really need something national because as long as this national law is on the books, disabled workers will be paid less than minimum wage.
No. All right.
Well, we thank you for your very convincing information and story this evening.
And again, I know this is something we've talked about previously and you definitely have my support.
I appreciate that all of your issues are about access and equity and helping people contribute fully to society.
I know that is a key part of the National Federation of the Blind in the work that's happening.
So I appreciate that and I want to tell each of you how thankful we are that you have meet with us in person, that you follow up in virtually when needed, that you follow up throughout the year with emails to our staff, your excellent team and Baltimore provides ongoing support and such an active group of constituents, and that really makes a difference.
We hear from a lot of people, but just they're ongoing throughout the year, not just at Washington this time of year, but ongoing.
So thank you for the commitment that you showed to all of your issues.
You are so very welcome. And again, thank you so very much for meeting with us.
You know, our organization often says that the effort in federation operation is actually for flexible, and we're definitely a flexible group of people.
Can't you reflect in meeting with us in this virtual space this year?
So we've all learned about that?
Thank you all.
Thank you again so much, and I look forward to continuing to be in touch on these issues.
Off a votes or have a great rest of your visit.
You have a great day.
Thank you. Senator, thank you.
National Federation of the Blind. Live the life you want.