On this episode of the ACB Advocacy Update, Claire and Clark discuss the ACB Legislative Seminar and the three legislative imperatives for 2020. To learn more about the 2020 DC Leadership Meetings and Legislative seminar, including how to register, please visit: https://acb.org/2020-DC-leadership-meetings.
Intro: You are listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of ACB Advocacy Update here at the American Council of the Blind. This is the Advocacy and Outreach specialist here, Claire Stanley joined by...
Clark Rachfal: Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. Thanks everyone joining us over at ACB Radio as well as those listening via your favorite podcast player. And as always, you can find out more information about ACB on our website, acb.org.
Claire Stanley: Very nice. And as always, if you have any issues, comments, questions, concerns related to advocacy, please shoot us an email. We love to see what you guys have to say. We want to hear from you. That's what we're here for. So again, just feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. So Clark, it is the end of January. Something very exciting is coming up in February that we're going to be talking about today. What is that big exciting thing that happens every February here at the American Council of the Blind?
Clark Rachfal: Is that midyear Claire?
Claire Stanley: It is not midyear. No, no, no, no, no.
Clark Rachfal: Formerly known as the mid year meetings now totally revamped, rebranded. We have the 2020 DC Leadership Meetings.
Claire Stanley: That's right. Leadership meetings and legislative seminar.
Clark Rachfal: And that's the part that we really want to focus on with this podcast. And you'll, there'll be traffic about this over the ACB listservs as well as on social media and the homepage of the ACB website. But Monday, February 24th, 2020, the ACB legislative seminar followed by our day on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, February 25th.
Claire Stanley: Or as we like to call it here in the office, the leg-sem for those who are in the know. So we'll be talking about the leg-sem.
Clark Rachfal: #legsem, #legsem2020.
Claire Stanley: I like it.
Clark Rachfal: So Claire, what is the legislative seminar?
Claire Stanley: So Clark, the legislative seminar is one day, the Monday of the leadership conference where we identify some issues that are pertinent in the blind and visually impaired community that can be addressed at a legislative level, thus legislative seminar, that we can educate our members on it, we can educate the community on. Issues that we believe in the national office can be things that we can really sink our teeth in and starts to essentially lobby Capitol Hill to address those issues that are really important. So we take it seriously. We in the national office do our homework. We think about what we're seeing going on at the legislative level and we identify usually three could be more, could be less, but usually three issues. And we write up summaries on those. We educate our members who come to legislative seminar on those issues. We get some really great speakers. We educate our members about them so that they can take those three topics, give or take up to Capitol Hill and tell their Congress members these are issues that are very timely. They're going on right here and right now in the United States that need to be addressed at a congressional level.
Clark Rachfal: And in addition to what Claire was just addressing, our legislative imperatives, we'll also have guest speakers, whether those are folks from government agencies and departments. Corporate partners who we collaborate with on important issues or other folks in the advocacy realm who are working on these issues as well. So Claire did a fabulous job organizing the legislative seminar last year and Claire, just for example for folks who are unable to attend, who were some of the guests that participated at last year's legislative seminar?
Claire Stanley: You literally read my mind. I was about to say that. Stop reading my mind Clark. That's creepy. But yeah, last year we were fortunate like Clark said, to have some great corporate attendees, some federal agency attendees, members from other nonprofit advocacy groups. So just to throw a few out there, we had a Reagan Payne last year from General Motors from the corporate background. We had Will Schell from the Federal Communications Commission so that government agency background. We had Carol Tyson from another advocacy organization, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. So as you can see, we have people from all kinds of different backgrounds and I think that's really exciting cause it brings kind of the perspective of different angles. You know, the government can only do so much versus, corporate sponsor can do so much versus another advocacy organization. So it's exciting to see all the different groups we bring together.
Clark Rachfal: And I think that that was, a great example that you just touched on Claire, was industry advocacy as well as government because on a lot of these issues that we work with here in the national office, it's not only a legislative track, there could be a path forward through advocating directly with companies or corporations for them to pass some best practices or change some internal practices to make products or services more accessible or we might not need a new law because the regulations are already in place and we need to make sure that those existing regulations are properly enforced.
Claire Stanley: Yeah. Or what I often like to say is approach an issue from all the different angles and like we always say the spaghetti, see what sticks. So, you know, we might address something legislatively and we would go to the regulations or we would approach our corporate relationships, which we're so fortunate to have here at ACB. So you know, multiple prongs always help to make things move faster. So again, having these different angles and these definitely different relationships are so important.
Clark Rachfal: And Claire, you already touched on the legislative imperatives of ACB, talking about throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks, what were the legislative imperatives for ACB in 2019?
Claire Stanley: Yes, so we can quickly go through last year's and then spoiler alert, two of our imperatives from 2019 will be held over for 2020 with slightly new language that we'll address just cause things do evolve over time. But two will be very familiar to those who attended last year or those who have been keeping track of what we're doing. So 2019 legislative imperatives. The first one was the AV Start Act, or autonomous vehicles start act. And that was legislation language out there to get, I was going to say get cars on the road, bad pun, anyway to get legislation out there that would allow for the production of more autonomous vehicles so that these major automobile manufacturers could get cars on the road to test them. But it also had some provisions that were really positive for the blind and visually impaired community. For instance, one of the provision said that state, Federal law, would preempt State law that said you have to have a license that required you to pass a vision, a vision test, which obviously the the ACB community is not something we want to see happen. So yeah, basically in a nut shell, it really would open the doors to more research to allow for AVs to hopefully make it onto the road sooner and then also help some provisions to help the blind community. And like I said, spoiler alert, some of our imperatives are going to roll over. So I can talk in a minute about what that's gonna look like in 2020 but that will be one that will roll over.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah. And, and another one that will roll over is the, oh... this name...
Claire Stanley: I was about to say it's your turn Clark, because you can always spit it out faster than can. You're welcome.
Clark Rachfal: The Medicare demonstration of coverage for low vision devices act.
Claire Stanley: Nailed it!
Clark Rachfal: And this is a bill that ACB members are quite familiar with. It's been around for several years and hopefully can get some great work done to put this issue to bed. But you know, sometimes it takes several years for a bill to get passed. So this is a bill that would allow Medicare to cover low vision devices. And these are devices that involve a lens. These are devices that have video magnification properties. These are devices that costs a good chunk of money. And we want to make sure that the folks in our community who need these devices to maintain their independence, to live in their community, who can benefit and improve their quality of life by using these devices have access to them.
Claire Stanley: Exactly. And, you know, I'm sure a few of you out there are saying, aw man, that one again. But I think even more of you understand and can respect and are saying, yeah, that's great that we're doing it again because it's an ongoing issue that we are so passionate about. And I would say a pretty much all of our members can relate to and understand because we know that these devices are expensive and we want programs like Medicare to be able to cover them. So, you know, we're sorry if you starting to feel a little, you know, tired of hearing the same things. But again, I'm sure all of you guys can understand why we're going to continue to push, push, push, push. So yeah. And our last imperative from last year from 2019 surrounded legislative language to make diabetes and other medical related devices accessible for users who are blind or visually impaired. We kind of use diabetes as the launching point because we have a lot of members in our community who are diabetic. And unfortunately we know that a lot of the testing devices for things like blood sugar are not accessible even well last year and 2019 now in 2020 still are not accessible. That's not going to be an imperative this year. But we want to stop and just take a minute to say that does not mean we're not going to address it in 2020 and moving forward, it's still something that Clark and I both hold very near and dear to our heart. We think it's really important. It's so important that we're still going to talk about it at the legislative seminar. So you'll still hear us talk about it this year if you attend and probably hear us talk about on future podcasts, et cetera. But it's just not an imperative. And let me tell you the reason why. The reason is the imperatives are legislative imperatives and that means that we want to find ways to get them pushed through Congress. And unfortunately right now we're just not in a position where we have any language written to push through as some kind of piece of legislation. However, we would absolutely love that. I would jump up and down right now if we had that and been given a few suggestions and have ideas on how we might move forward with that. And if you have any ideas, please feel free to let us know. But that's the only reason it's not an imperative this year because it doesn't fit nicely into that legislative imperative definition. So just remember, we care about it. We're going to keep working on it. It just is not quote, unquote, an imperative for 2020.
Clark Rachfal: And just to elaborate on what Claire said, I think context is key in this situation. So 2020 is a presidential election year. It is also the second term of the 116th Congress. That means that there's going to be a very small window, basically half a year to get bills introduced and get them passed before everyone's attention shifts to, either the presidential election or reelection. So because on the diabetes issue we do not have a congressional champion who wants to push forward legislation in the house or the Senate. We do not have draft bill legislation that's going to be very tall order to move as a legislative vehicle this year. It's not that Congress doesn't have the appetite for health care or diabetes related issues. I know folks have seen quite a bit of work going on right now on insulin and drug pricing. But it, it just means that this aspect of healthcare, is not being addressed at the moment. And it, I mean, it's not that that is okay. You know, obviously we would like that to be addressed, but it doesn't make sense for us to beat our head up against the wall legislatively when there are other ways that we can impact this issue. So folks who attended the seminar last year knew that we were taking a legal approach through looking to see whether there was cases to be brought through the courts. We were looking at a regulatory approach. Meeting with folks at the department of health and human services centers for Medicare and Medicaid, FDA and even the federal communications issue has an interest in this issue. And those are folks who we will continue to meet with and work with to make sure that not just durable medical equipment, but all future healthcare services, remote diagnostic health information technology or telehealth services. You know, we want to make sure that all our folks have access to healthcare technology that works for them. And there's nothing, nothing to say that this will not be a legislative imperative in the years to come. Isn't that right Claire?
Claire Stanley: Exactly. Spoiler alert. Teaser, keep, keep looking forward to 2021 or 2022. There's a great, great chance it'll be back as an imperative. So Clark and I just wanted to spend the time on that because it's something that we care very strongly for and is not going away and we're going to continue to look at it. And like we said earlier, sometimes we take a multiple pronged approach. So we're looking at it in many different ways. So it's, it's still, it's still around, we promise. So Clark, should we jump forward now to 2020 and our new imperatives this year?
Clark Rachfal: Yeah, I, before we do that, Claire, let's talk about how the imperatives, the two held over from last year. What's been going on a little bit there. So I'll start with the, the low vision bill. Last year we had our folks asking for the reintroduction of this bill and they were pretty dang persuasive because last summer, representative Maloney from New York as well as representative Bilirakis from Florida, they introduced HR 4129 and again, that's the Medicare demonstration of coverage for low vision devices act of 2019. It is a bipartisan bill. Not too many folks can say that about their legislation. So it has support from both Republicans and Democrats. And again, this is a, a bill to create a demonstration pilot program at the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to last five years valued at 12.5 million dollars. And this will assess the, the need as well as the feasibility and the cost for providing these low vision devices. So by the time the legislative seminar rolls around, we hope that there will be, and we are, you know, not just sitting here hoping but actively working towards introduction of a Senate companion bill. So stay tuned for more information on that. If introduced, that would be the first time we've had a companion bill introduced in the Senate. So that would be great progress to help move this issue forward.
Claire Stanley: Yeah, it's exciting everybody. It's looking really promising that that Companion bill language is going to be put out there. Please keep your fingers and toes crossed, whatever you do. You know, we, we can't say much yet, but it's looking like it might happen, so we're excited. And then the second imperative that again is kind of a roll over from last year, but with new language is again, last year we called it the AV start act. People aren't quite using the same language this year, but essentially it's the same thing. It is putting more language out there to advance the progress of autonomous vehicles and we, the American Council of the Blind, as well as many other disability advocacy organizations were approached by a bipartisan bicameral, meaning both Republicans, Democrats, Senate, and House of Representatives. Really exciting to get our opinions on what language should look like when developing autonomous vehicles. And of course we were very eager to jump in and say, yes please, we'd love to give our 2 cents to make sure that autonomous vehicles will first be accessible for the blind and visually impaired. And two, that any legislation that's drafted will not negatively impact the blind and visually impaired community. So we've sat in on those conversations, we've proof-read the language, we've red lined the language, and we've been told that hopefully soon in early 2020, that language will come out. And so we are eagerly awaiting that to see if it's proposed. So that's kind of why we are holding on to the language legislative language for again, what used to be called the AV start act right now doesn't have a name. But should be coming out soon in 2020 to continue to drive forward, like that? The autonomous vehicle legislation, that's out there. Our third imperative for 2020, our new imperative surrounds what is called the surface transportation bill. Or you might also hear it called the fast act bill, both terms are used for the language. But it's legislation that's already been out there that's been passed in past years to kind of cover all things surface, transportation related. So anything that's on the road. And it has to be reauthorized by the fall of 2020, so September of this coming year. So wow. Like eight months away, it's going to come very quickly. So it's our hope that with the reauthorization looming so soon that we can really hone in on the surface transportation bill and get some language in there that would positively impact surface transportation for persons who are blind or visually impaired. So we are still playing with some language that we want to see introduced. But I can just briefly talk about some of the ideas that have come out of conversations with leaders in ACB such as the committee leaders from the transportation committee and EAC committee and so on and so forth. So some of the issues we really see highlighted are things like accessible pedestrian signals paired with a leading pedestrian interval signalization which everybody, was a resolution at the convention this summer in 2019 so coming directly from, everybody at convention. Another issue we want to see addressed under there has to do with micro mobility issues. Again, one of our resolutions from the 2019 convention. So a lot of language coming directly from what you guys all voted for at the summer. So we're really looking directly at you guys for what you guys want to talk as it pertains to surface transportation. And again, keep, keep your eye out soon for some of the language. We're going draft up based on conversations that we're having with members and committee leaders.
Clark Rachfal: And it, I think it's important to know, Claire, as you mentioned a lot of these transportation issues were passed as ACB resolutions and just this past year alone, four of the ACB resolutions, a quarter of them were transportation-related. So I think that's why there's an opportunity here to impact a lot of those desires expressed by the membership. And we are taking full advantage of that. Another thing that I will point out is it's taken us a little while to get used to it. We always used to refer to audible pedestrian signals. However technology has advanced and the pedestrian signals now are much more inclusive. So initially we, we first had the lights, you know, whether it was the red hand or the white or green little walkie man. And then we got an audible beacon. Well now a lot of those audible beacons also have vibration feedback as well. So it's taken us a little bit of time, but we're doing our best to make sure we're using the correct language here and that we are referring to accessible pedestrian signals so that the signals that are put out into the landscape are those that can have the greatest impact for the greatest number of folks, especially folks with multiple disabilities even within our own ECB community.
Claire Stanley: Exactly. Yes. So that is kind of a brief overview and again, we could talk for hours, which we look forward to talking to you guys for hours at the legislative seminar on all these issues, both old and new and those that are evolving over time. Issues that we are going to work with you guys during the legislative seminar on February 24th, that Monday, we'll go over all of those issues. We'll talk through them, have some great speakers and great panelists to talk about what's going on so that you can all have a great education too. Go up to the Hill the next day, February 25th to present these issues as well as any other issues. You want to talk to your representatives and just say, Hey, this is what's going on in the blind and visually impaired community. These are issues we believe need to be addressed. And have, you know, a direct communication and direct impact on your representatives, which we're really excited about.
Clark Rachfal: And there'll be plenty of communications coming out from ACB related to the legislative seminar as well as the day on Capitol Hill. So for example, there was a webinar hosted by Cindy Van Winkle back December...
Claire Stanley: The beautiful Cindy Van Winkle. That's right.
Clark Rachfal: That webinar is archived under the special events heading on the ACB Radio website. That will also be included in some email communications that we have. And just to recap, that webinar was mainly directed towards those attending the legislative seminar for the first time, what it is, what to expect. But it's good information that other folks, if you need a refresher, can listen to as well. Last week or the week before we sent out an announcement. The link is live to register on the ACB website. The easiest way to find that is to go to acb.org and search for the "quick links" heading. And then right there is the first one listed, 2020 DC leadership meetings. And by the time this podcast goes up, there'll be a communication that goes out with information about how to schedule your meetings for the Capitol Hill day
Claire Stanley: And do not hesitate if people have questions on how to, please read the literature first. But once you read the literature, if you still have questions on how to make appointments, what the topics are about, just any questions we would love to help you. I'll make sure Clark does all the work, but no, seriously, please feel free to reach out to us. That's what we're here for and we want you guys to have a great time to learn a lot and be, you know, a huge help to us advocating on the Hill. We can't do it alone. Clark and I are only two people. So we're excited to have everybody going up the Hill and being advocates for the blind and visually impaired community.
Clark Rachfal: And as Claire said, we cannot do this alone, nor do we want to do this alone. Having you all storm Capitol Hill, you know, looking sharp, wearing your comfortable walking shoes because there is a lot of walking. It makes our jobs so much easier that when we go in and meet with members or when folks like Dan Dillon from Tennessee have formed such a great relationship with their Senator, they can just reach out and send an email and all of a sudden a meeting is arranged that makes our job so much easier. And what you'll all realize is everyone up there, they're just people I know there is the, you know, the aura and just the, you know, the awe of going to yeah, basically Oz. But at the end of the day you can peel back that curtain. You're just going up there to have conversations with folks who are just as passionate as you about all of these issues and their constituents back home.
Claire Stanley: Exactly. Yeah. Great. Well, I hope this was helpful for everybody to kind of get a sneak peek taste at what the imperatives will look like for 2020. We encourage everybody to sign up for a leadership conference and the legislative seminar. Again, reach out with any questions, comments, concerns, and there's always, if you have any issues, email us that email@example.com. I'll make sure my guide dog gets on answering those emails for us. So great. So Clark, I think it's very appropriate based on what we're about to do, going up to the Hill, what should we tell everybody as we always do?
Clark Rachfal: Well, we closed the podcast the same way we always do, but this time it's not just keep advocating, it's keep advocating on the low vision devices bill, keep advocating on autonomous vehicles and keep advocating for better access both to our environment and to all forms of transportation.
Claire Stanley: Nailed it.