The final days of 2016 are upon us, and it has given us much time at the American Council of the Blind to reflect on the events of recent years, and to focus our attention on the New Year, in search of greater opportunity for all Americans who are blind and visually impaired. In mapping out our agenda for the 115th Congress and new Administration, we have actively been engaging with leaders in our community to identify areas where we can achieve the greatest impact, while also knowing that there will need to be particular focus on building and strengthening our relationships with new influencers inside the Washington Beltway. This will be a driving force behind our 2017 Legislative Seminar, and our hope is that you will take time to join us in our nation’s capital, to take part in advocating for the issues that matter most to those we represent.
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There are a number of imperatives that will dominate any conversation in Washington over the next year. Changes to our healthcare system and developing a major tax reform package will more than likely steer any political activity into the summer. Congress will also be moving toward significant changes in government through their annual budgeting process. Of course, the speed that these changes will depend on steps taken by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. But, amidst the partisan rhetoric and posturing, we believe there are several key issues within our scope that have a good chance of being part of any dialogue.
- It will be crucial for our membership to advocate on the most critical supports, such as Social Security. Medicare, and Medicaid. Not only will we fight to protect benefits so that nobody will be adversely impacted through any entitlement reform, but we will also speak out on ways government can improve these systems, such as through finding incentive based solutions in Social Security Disability Insurance, or testing new ideas like the Medicare low-vision devices demonstration that furthers independence for those experiencing vision loss.
- We will also continue to remind Congress the role government should play in protecting our civil rights to access, particularly in regards to web content and accessible media. This includes assuring that programs like Medicare and Social security meet the requirements of Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, pushing for greater oversight of web accessibility covered under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and protecting funding for programs like NLS, BookShare, and Learning Ally. We continue to work behind the scenes on issues like the Marrakesh Treaty and FCC expansion of audio description, which may exist in the periphery during our conference, along with the issues we have worked on this past year around transportation and service animals.
- Finally, we will need to push forward an agenda that draws attention to the increasing long-term needs our community face, echoing the larger concerns of millions of Americans confronted with adversity and challenges later in life. Blindness continues to be a disorder that occurs for more and more older-age Americans. While our rehabilitation system has taken great steps in recent years to focus on opportunities for youth with disabilities, we cannot forget the older-age adults who struggle each day with significant vision loss. This population will double over the next fifteen years, and it is our responsibility to make sure that government does not leave them in the dark.
The aforementioned imperatives are not mutually exclusive. With ten weeks left before our Legislative Seminar, these issues will be further honed and crafted into a campaign for independence and opportunity for all who are blind and visually impaired. To this end, we can’t emphasize enough the value your voice makes to our campaign here in Washington. We know not everyone can make it out to the Mid-Year Meeting & Legislative Seminar, which is why we will actively find ways to engage all our members on February 28th, 2017. For now, have a wonderful and blessed holiday season and we look forward to updating you early in the New Year.