Safeguarding Services and Programs for the Blind Legislative Imperative

Safeguarding Services and
Programs for the Blind
Legislative Imperative
 

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) calls on Congress to safeguard a number of key programs that provide valuable services for hundreds of thousands of Americans who are blind.  The following six programs are supported through a variety of funding streams, many of which have already undergone significant cuts over the past decade.  To cut them further at this time would result in a significant hardship for Americans who are blind and visually impaired.  For this reason, ACB urges Congress to sustain these services and programs at recommended, or at minimum level funding, for FY 2017 and 2018.
 
Securing Independence at Home and in the Community
 
There are several programs operated through the federal government that provide vital services and resources for Americans who seek to gain independence after losing their vision.  ACB believes these valuable programs are critical at a time when more and more older-age adults are experiencing vision loss.
 
Independent Living Services for Older Individuals with Blindness Program (OIB)
 
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports through its Vision Health Initiative (VHI) that the U.S. will experience a significant increase in the number of Americans losing their sight, which is expected to double by 2030.  Vision loss is most common among older-age adults, and as the Baby Boomers continue to live longer into retirement, there will be a significant demand for services intended to help sustain their independence and keep them in their homes.  The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), under the Department of Education, operates the OIB program, which provides grants to state agencies with the goal of securing personal independence for Americans who are blind over the age of 55.  This valuable program strives to sustain independence in the home, preventing individuals from costlier care in nursing homes or assisted living centers.
 
Helen Keller National Center (HKNC)
 
The absence of both vision and hearing can create major barriers to independence. However, as Helen Keller showed the world over a century ago, being deaf and blind is not a mandate to seclusion and isolation. Thousands of Americans work, study, and live in our community each day, navigating with confidence through our streets despite the loss of their sight and hearing.  For many, their success is tied directly to the Helen Keller National Center, which provides comprehensive training and supports for individuals who are blind and deaf or hard of hearing.  Loss of services and supports through HKNC would have a detrimental impact on this population. 
 
Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMR)
 
According to Prevent Blindness America (PVA), each year, over 2.4 million Americans fall victim to eye trauma, with 10-20 percent receiving permanent vision loss, making injury one of the leading causes of blindness between the ages of 18-45.  The Department of Defense (DoD), in an effort to stem combat-related eye injury, has been making great strides through its Peer Reviewed Medical Research (PRMR) Program, which is about to move several projects into the clinical testing stage. This research could have significant national benefits toward treating eye-related injuries. For this reason, ACB joins the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) for protecting appropriations to PRMR, urging Congress to set appropriations at the recommended $15M for FY 2017 and 2018 as clinical trials become underway.  
 
Protecting the Power of Literacy
 
The federal government operates three key programs that promote literacy and allow Americans who are blind to receive books and magazines in accessible formats. For many, access to these materials is a window into the outside world, playing a vital role in their social inclusion. 
 
National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (NLS)
 
ACB calls for Congress to sustain level funding in its legislative branch appropriations for the Library of Congress, which houses the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The NLS is a division of the Library of Congress, which provides accessible books and magazines to millions of Americans whose disability prevents them from accessing media at their local library.  Last year, NLS was authorized by Congress to move toward providing refreshable electronic braille displays to patrons, which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports will significantly reduce the cost and time of producing traditional braille content. 
 
Education Technology Media & Materials Program
 
Grants provided through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Education Technology Media and Materials Program provide critical funding to students who are blind or visually impaired by providing access to books and learning materials in accessible format. Organizations like Bookshare, who provide accessible media to over 400,000 students, rely on these grants, which help schools pay for accessible media. Without programs like Bookshare, schools would otherwise be left with having to create these materials on their own, which can be cost-prohibitive compared to leveraging current lending services that have materials already in circulation.
 
American Printing House for the Blind
 
Since 1879, the American Printing House for the Blind receives direct appropriations that offsets the cost of accessible reading materials for over 50,000 students who are blind. This includes access to core curriculum textbooks. APH is the largest printing house of braille material in the world.
 
For more information on these key programs and services, contact Anthony Stephens, ACB’s Director of Advocacy & Governmental Affairs: astephens@acb.org, (202) 467-5081.