Future Reflections Winter 1993, Vol. 12 No. 1



From the Editor: Every year for many years now, members of the National Federation of the Blind have descended upon Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., by the hundreds. The purpose of this activity (which we call the "Washington Seminar") is to educate senators and members of the House of Representatives about the legislative needs and priorities of the blind of the nation. Once again, in February of 1993, the tapping of hundreds of white canes echoed in the halls of Congress as Federationists scurried to appointments with congressmen and congresswomen.

     This year we also had a record number of parents of blind children among our D.C. seminarians. A special parent leadership seminar was conducted at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore the Friday and Saturday preceding the Sunday, January 31, kick-off of the Washington Seminar. Half of the dozen parents attending the leadership seminar stayed over for the D.C. event. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday they joined some 300 blind Federationists from 44 states in buttonholing their legislators about the priorities for the blind as described in the following memo, which was distributed to every legislator or his/her staff.

     Of course, this event was only the beginning of the push for implementation of these priorities. Much more work needs to be done, and parents can help make a difference. If you have questions about the priorities and/or want to know what you can do to help, contact your local affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. If you do not know how to get in touch with your local NFB chapter or state affiliate, you can get this information by contacting:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314.


From: Members of the National Federation of the Blind
To: Members of the 103rd Congress
Re: People Who Are Blind: Legislative Priorities for the 103rd

Congress, First Session
     Public policies and laws affecting people who are blind have a profound impact throughout our society. Most people know someone who is blind. It may be a friend, a family member, or a  co-worker on the job. The blind population in the U. S. is estimated to exceed 700,000. Fifty thousand Americans become blind each year. By themselves these numbers may not seem large, but the social and economic consequences of blindness directly touch the lives of millions. Less directly, blindness affects us all.

     People who are blind as a group share a unique struggle. More than being a matter of physical disability, the real problems of blindness are lack of good training, lack of opportunities, and lack of correct information about blindness among employers and members of the public at large. If a person who is blind has proper training and opportunity, the physical loss of eyesight itself can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance.

     Public policies and laws that result from misconceptions about blindness or lack of information are often more limiting to people who are blind than loss of eyesight itself. This is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation is a private-sector resource of knowledge, encouragement, and support for people who are blind and for anyone (blind or not) who wants to join in the effort we are making to win understanding and opportunity.

     People who are blind are well-organized at the community and grassroots levels throughout the United States. Our policy positions are developed and determined by vote of the blind themselves. This is why the Federation is known by lawmakers and the public as the "voice of the nation's blind." Our priorities for the first session of the 103rd Congress express our assessment of issues requiring action by Congress on behalf of people who are blind this year.

     (1) Congress should amend Title II of the Social Security Act to modify or eliminate the limitation on earnings imposed by the retirement test and apply the modified exempt earnings policy to persons of working age who are blind as well as to retirees. This proposal seeks to improve the work incentives provided to Social Security beneficiaries. Under a 1977 amendment to the Social Security Act, the same exempt earnings amount--$880.00 monthly, or $10,560.00 annually--is allowed for people of working age who are blind as well as for those who retire at age 65. This proposal calls for increasing the exempt amount or eliminating the limitation on earnings altogether.

     People of working age who are blind must not be forgotten as Congress continues to debate whether changes should be made in the Social Security retirement test. A significant relaxation of the present earnings limitation would encourage thousands of beneficiaries to increase their work attempts. Those who successfully find full- or part-time work will pay taxes rather than simply drawing benefits. The results of their greater efforts to be productive will positively affect the Social Security system, as well as benefiting the individuals and families involved. A complete removal of the earnings limitation would provide beneficiaries with the maximum incentive to work. In any case, the statutory linkage which ties the exempt earnings amounts for retirees and working age people who are blind together should not be broken and must be consciously kept in mind as the debate over the future of the earnings test for Social Security eligibility proceeds. For more details and an explanation of the need for this legislation, see the fact sheet entitled "How Persons of Working Age Who Are Blind Would Be Affected by Changes in the Social Security Retirement Earnings Test."

     (2) Congress should Enact the Americans With Disabilities Business Development Act. This proposal seeks amendments to the Small Business Act so that programs authorized to assist minority-owned small businesses, conducted under Section 8 (a) of the Act, will be open to persons with disabilities. The Section 8 (a) program is designed to foster business ownership by individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged and to promote the competitive viability of businesses owned and operated by them. To achieve these goals, Section 8 (a) authorizes the Small Business Administration (SBA) to enter into all types of contracts with government departments and agencies for supply, service, construction, and research and development. Small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged persons can be eligible to receive subcontracts to fulfill SBA's procurement obligations. Technical assistance is also made available to minority small business concerns.

     This proposal is simply the recognition of disability as a condition of minority status for participation in SBA's targeted efforts to provide economic and technical assistance to members of minority groups. The social and economic disadvantages which accompany disabilities are well-known and beyond dispute. The problem for SBA has been to define disability and the extent of the class of individuals included. To resolve that issue, The Americans with Disabilities Business Development Act excludes minor or perceived disabilities from the term "disability," as it is defined in the bill. Another problem has been SBA's lack of legal authority to presume that people with disabilities are socially disadvantaged in the absence of a clear legislative mandate. The Americans with Disabilities Business Development Act will provide that mandate. For more details and an explanation of the need for this legislation, see the fact sheet entitled "Americans With Disabilities Business Development Act: A Proposal For Business Ownership And Jobs For People With Disabilities."

     (3) Congress should control and stabilize postage rates for nonprofit organizations such as NFB. This request seeks sufficient appropriations and support for a permanent legislative remedy to meet the costs of the United States Postal Service for qualified free or reduced-rate mailings. Under existing law and appropriations levels, nonprofit postage rates could be increased from 11.1 cents per piece for items of letter size to more than 19 cents per piece. An increase of this magnitude would cost the National Federation of the Blind over $1 million in a single year.This cost could not be met by the Federation.

     Nothing can be more critical to a voluntary, private sector group of citizens than to have affordable, stable postage rates for mass communications. Paying the postal service's commercial rates for necessary use of the mails would force the National Federation of the Blind to dismantle many programs or to cease operations altogether. Survival for many other groups of importance in our society would also be threatened. If communications with persons who are blind and the public at large are cut, a time bomb is created, since fewer people will understand anything about blindness and even fewer will know of the continuing need to help. Then the downward spiral is in motion, with fewer people helped and even fewer people helping. Soon the benefits are gone. This does not overstate how vulnerable we are to the postal rate crisis if Congress fails to approve adequate funding. The fact sheet entitled "Crisis In Nonprofit Mail Rates Means Serious Harm To People Who Are Blind" explains the current situation and gives details on how members of the 103rd Congress can help.

     People who are blind are asking for your help in securing positive action by Congress in the areas outlined here. Legislative proposals will be offered to achieve each of our specific objectives. Many priorities confront this session of Congress, but the needs of the nation's people who are blind must not be overlooked. We of the National Federation of the Blind stand ready to assist our Representatives and Senators to understand our needs and to take meaningful action to address them. In partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, each member of Congress can help build better lives for people who are blind both today and in the years ahead.