The Washington Connection 9-20-18

Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind.  The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office.  If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Tony Stephens.

The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of September 12, 2018. Message 3 is new.

 

 

ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number

 

Once again, AudioNow has given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (712) 775-4808.

The number to listen to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “E-Forum” and “ACB Reports” remains the same, (605) 475-8154.

 

Update on Autonomous Vehicles

 

As the U.S. Senate moves this month toward passing necessary legislation to fund the government, there exists an opportunity for inclusion of the AV Start Act (S. 1885), which would move forward testing and manufacturing of autonomous vehicles. AVs have great potential toward expanding freedom of mobility for individuals unable to operate regular vehicles, and the technology being developed will significantly reduce vehicle-related pedestrian fatalities. Both of these issues are significant for Americans who are blind and visually impaired.

 

The AV Start Act has two key provisions worth sharing with your senators:

  1. The bill will provide protections under the ADA to prohibit discrimination of operation based on an individual’s disability;
  2. The Department of Transportation will convene a stakeholder group, which will have on its plate issues encompassing accessibility.

 

ACB believes these are two important pieces to the current landscape encompassing AV development not found in the House legislation passed last year. To this end, we urge the Senate to pass S. 1885, assuring access remains on the table as this technology develops.

 

To contact your state Senators, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

 

For more information on the AV Start Act, visit the bill’s page on Congress.gov:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1885.

 

Do You Have a Minute to Make the World More Accessible?

 

The Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to improve access around the world to braille and other accessible media formats, has just one more step to go! ACB urges individuals to reach out to their members of Congress, and call for the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S. 2559) to be placed on the House calendar for a floor vote.

In June, the U.S. Senate ratified by unanimous consent the treaty, which had no opposition by either party. Now, the House of Representatives must pass the legislation in order to make necessary changes to U.S. copyright law.

The House will remain in session for a few weeks before going into recess for October in advance of the mid-term elections. After the elections, Congress will gather into a session typically referred to as the “Lame Duck,” where flurries of legislation get passed, and other bills stall. For this reason, ACB urges its members to call the House of Representatives, and speak to your member of Congress, requesting that the House majority and minority leadership call for passage of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act. Since members of the relevant committee may ask for measures to be brought up under unanimous consent, please check the list of Judiciary Committee members below. If your member of Congress is on the committee, ask if they’ll call for the vote under unanimous consent. 

It takes just a couple of minutes to call your representative. You can reach the Congressional switchboard by calling (202) 224-3121. You can find your member of Congress by visiting www.house.gov and entering your home address on the main page.

For information on the Senate legislation, visit https://tinyurl.com/yadembu7.

Thanks for your continued advocacy on this issue.

 

List of 115th Congress Judiciary Committee Members

 

Republicans

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-06)

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI-05)

Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21)

Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01)

Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-49)

Rep. Steve King (IA-04)

Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01)

Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-04)

Rep. Ted Poe (TX-02)

Rep. Tom Marino (PA-10)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-04)

Rep. Raúl Labrador (ID-01)

Rep. Doug Collins (GA-09)

Rep. Ken Buck (CO-04)

Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-04)

Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-01)

Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04)

Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05)

Rep. John Rutherford (FL-04)

Rep. Karen Handel (GA-06)

 

Democrats

Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13)

Rep. Jerry Nadler (NY-10)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09)

Rep. Hank Johnson, Jr. (GA-04)

Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-22)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)

Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37)

Rep. Cedric Richmond (LA-02)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)

Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01)

Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15)

Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33)

Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-08)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07)

Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-10)

 

Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

 

BOSTON — A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action today against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans.  The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse.  However, the company fails to provide audio description — a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie — for any streaming videos. 

 

Because Hulu fails to include audio description tracks on any of its streaming content, blind and visually impaired individuals cannot independently enjoy Hulu’s video streaming services.  Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen, especially in scenes with no dialogue.  The audio description track plays between pauses in dialogue.  Hulu boasts an extensive library of live TV and on-demand movies and series — including its Emmy-award winning original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” — but currently excludes customers who are blind and visually impaired.

 

In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet.  A screen reader is software that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.

 

The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices.  Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.

 

Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Movies and television are pillars of American culture.  As delivery of such media transitions to video streaming services, it is critical that these platforms be accessible in order to ensure the inclusion of blind and visually impaired individuals in contemporary society.”

 

Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Hulu is owned by a collection of some of the most powerful companies in the entertainment business and is itself one of the nation’s most popular online streaming services.  Its utter failure to provide access to individuals who are blind and visually impaired is astonishing.”

 

“BSCB members have been expressing their concerns about Hulu’s lack of audio description for years now,” said Brian Charlson, President of Bay State Council of the Blind, “and it is time that Hulu join with other industry streaming services out there and meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

 

“As forms of entertainment evolve, equal access must transition to meet industry innovation. Equal access means the ability to fully use and enjoy all aspects of entertainment, just like everyone else,” said Christine Griffin, Executive Director of DLC.

 

Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but seek only to achieve equal access to Hulu’s services.

 

A copy of this press release and the complaint can be found at http://dralegal.org/press/ nationwide-class-action-challenges-hulus-discrimination-blind-visually-impaired-individuals/.

 

ACB Commends Delta for Revising Its Service Animal Policy

 

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2018 – The American Council of the Blind commends Delta Airlines for re-examining its recent policy on service animals, relaxing constraints that negatively impacted travelers with guide dogs. The revised policy announced today makes changes to a policy released earlier this year that was intended to reduce the number of fraudulent service and emotional support animals that have disrupted travel and, in some cases, caused injury to passengers.

 

“ACB is pleased to learn that Delta listened to the concerns ACB and our members raised following the release of their January 18th change in policy,” said Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director. “The new policy provides a much more workable solution that still allows for the freedom of travel by passengers using guide dogs.”

 

Since its inception, ACB has advocated tirelessly for equal access by individuals who rely on the use of a guide dog. ACB played an active role in the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Both laws have established the fundamental right to access in places of public accommodation and across multiple transportation networks, including all commercial airlines.

 

“We look forward to working with Delta and other airlines to assure that the skies remain accessible for all travelers, especially those who experience the freedom that comes through traveling with a guide dog,” said Anthony Stephens, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs. A guide dog user, Stephens was actively involved in the 2016 Department of Transportation negotiations tasked with finding a solution to the rise in service animal fraud.

 

The initial policy change, released January 18th, would have created multiple barriers to free and independent access to air travel by consumers with guide dogs. Passengers with service and emotional support animals would have been required to provide prior notice, and upload relevant documents affirming the dog’s training and vaccination records. The revised guidelines relax many of these policies for individuals with legitimately trained service animals, which have already undergone great scrutiny and training before being released in the community with their handlers. Passengers traveling with trained service animals will still be required to have their dogs vaccinated and be able to provide proof of vaccination should issues or injury arise as a result of the animal.

 

ACB recognizes Delta’s desire to assure that in the rare case of injury, the appropriate documentation can be made available. We thank Delta for listening to its customers and redrafting a policy that does not discriminate against travelers who rely on their service dogs to be independent.

 

AFB and APH Partner for a Future of No Limits for People Who Are Blind

 

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2018 — Today, the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind announced a partnership with the mutual goal of generating substantial impact on the lives of children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. APH will become the steward of several key programs founded by AFB and assume responsibility for ensuring their continued impact. AFB will take the work to a new level by investing in policy and programs focused on creating stronger social systems, and ultimately a more inclusive, accessible society for people with vision loss. These complementary strategies will ensure that people who are blind or have low vision can live a life of no limits, recognizing that the future belongs to everyone.

 

This decision comes following extensive strategic planning by both organizations. The partnership gives APH the opportunity to expand its lifelong learning offerings and gives AFB the opportunity to expand its influence on the research and policies that impact the lives of people with vision loss.

 

APH will become the caretakers of:

  • AFB Press – a program that publishes textbooks for college and university programs and professional books for teachers, researchers, and other professionals. The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) will remain in the care of AFB.
  • VisionAware – an online program that helps adults who are losing their sight continue to live full and independent lives by providing timely information, step-by-step daily living techniques, and a supportive online community.
  • FamilyConnect – an online program that gives parents of children who are visually impaired a place to find resources and support each other.
  • CareerConnect – an online program that provides employment information, career-exploration tools, and job-seeking guidance for individuals with vision loss and professionals who work with them.
  • BrailleBug – an online program that teaches children about braille through games and activities and provides resources to teachers and parents.

 

Both organizations are committed to a smooth transition and will be working in close partnership for several months.

 

“We are proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with so many in the field. This work has brought us to this crossroads where it is necessary for AFB to assume a stronger and more active voice in decisions that impact the broader world, particularly in the areas of education, employment, and aging and vision loss,” explains Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB. “We are excited about our new direction and optimistic about what the future holds for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our partnership with APH is a win-win for the people we serve.”

 

“Learning is critical to improving the lives of everyone across the life spectrum. Quality information is key for providing opportunities for employment, education and ultimately, happiness,” says Craig Meador, president of APH. “We are committed to continuing the standards of credibility and excellence established by AFB while evolving and growing these programs to keep them relevant in the 21st century knowledge economy.”

 

Both organizations are realigning priorities in response to the growing needs of children and adults who are blind and visually impaired. There are more than 25 million Americans with vision loss and those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages. As more people become blind or visually impaired, as schools experience a shortage of teachers trained to teach students with vision loss, as the economy and workforce changes, and as accessibility becomes even more essential to workforce training and technologies, service organizations are relying on new partnerships and sharing resources to provide the necessary supports and systems for people to succeed today and in the future.

 

Currency Case Update

 

In June 2016, the American Council of the Blind filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to act judiciously and expeditiously in order to release accessible currency by December 31, 2020. The petition to the court followed a Treasury update stating that it would not have accessible currency until as late as 2026, thirteen years past the initial timeline set forth by the court in ACB v. Paulson. The Department of the Treasury claimed that the delay was not due to making currency accessible, but rather over concerns about counterfeiting advancements.
 
On the morning of October 19, 2017, ACB presented oral arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding the extensive delays in implementing accessible tactile currency. During the hearing, the government gave little cause to its earlier argument that they had made meaningful access available through the e-currency readers.   
 
On December 26, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court must make a new determination as to whether all currency must be made accessible by 2026. The government is now attempting to delay implementation of the tactile feature on all currency denominations until the 2030s. To read the decision online, go to http://acb.org/system/files/Currency%20Case%20Decision.pdf.
 
In this connection, as part of our case for the next phase of court activity, ACB wishes to hear from both its members and non-members, expressing their real-life problems in dealing with paper currency. We are particularly interested in your difficulties and challenges when using currency in a public environment, such as when shopping at a store, receiving change from a teller, or riding in a taxi. We would like to gather your firsthand experiences, mishaps, near misses, or horror stories.

We would also like to hear of any difficulties people are having when using, or trying to use, the external talking currency reader supplied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in a public setting.
 
We are asking that you provide ACB with this information in written form via email. Your individual comments will be reviewed by ACB staff, and then be sent to our attorney. ACB’s attorney will review your written comments, and, if appropriate, he will format these accounts that strengthen our case into affidavits for your signature. These signed affidavits will then be filed with the court.

 

Individuals wishing to provide statements for the court on issues and concerns with lack of accessible currency may send your statements to advocacy@acb.org. Feel free to call our national office with questions: (202) 467-5081.
 
We believe that your individual real-life stories will be critically important in attempting to persuade the court to set a firm deadline of 2026 for making all currency accessible. We look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible.