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 Claire Stanley or Clark Rachfal.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of March 24, 2020. Messages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 are new.
- New! Information Access Committee Webinar March 25th
- New! Information about the 2020 Census
- New! Information about the Coronavirus
- New! Public Comment on 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
- New! Challenges with Telehealth and E-Learning Technology?
- FAA Issues Notice of Proposed Rule-Making Regarding Service Animals on Airplanes
- New! ACB, AFB Send Joint Letter to Congress on Protecting the Rights of Students with Disabilities
- A Look at the 2020 Legislative Imperatives
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
Please join the ACB Information Access Committee for a webinar with the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday, March 25, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. Eastern (5 p.m. Pacific). We will be joined by Larry Carter, National Program Manager, U.S. Census Bureau. Larry will share with our members what information is required to complete the 2020 census; how to receive large print and braille census materials; and discuss the three different mediums that households may use to complete the 2020 census survey.
The Zoom Meeting information for this webinar is below. Members may join the webinar by dialing the following conference number and entering the passcode followed by #.
Conference Number: 1-312-626-6799
By April 1, 2020, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You will have three options for responding: online, by phone, or by mail. To view and listen to a PSA about how to take the census, visit https://2020census.gov/en/partners/psa-toolkit/how-to-take.html?utm_campaign=20191203msc20s1ccallrs&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
To fill out the census online, go to http://www.my2020census.gov. To take the census via phone, call toll-free 1-844-330-2020. The 12-digit code sent to your residence by U.S. mail is not necessary to complete the census by phone or online.
To get a hard-copy braille version of the census information, contact Kim Charlson at Perkins, (617) 972-7249.
The American Council of the Blind is closely monitoring information about the COVID-19 virus and its impact. After much thoughtful consideration, ACB has decided to close both offices and move our work to a virtual environment until further notice. This decision was made in order to ensure the continued health and safety of our employees and their families. ACB staff will continue to take calls and emails during this period. When calling ACB’s direct and toll-free office numbers, please use the recorded menu to contact our staff members directly.
The health and welfare of our members is of the utmost importance and we are actively working to confirm details and explore alternative options regarding our 2020 convention as the COVID-19 situation evolves. ACB will update our membership as soon as any developments are made. The ACB Board of Directors has scheduled a special meeting for March 30 to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 virus on ACB. A recording of the meeting will be available on ACB Radio and will also be listed under resources on this page: https://acb.org/acb-covid19-response.
We recommend that all affiliates follow CDC guidelines for any scheduled events. You can find the most up-to-date CDC guidelines here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html.
Join ACB on Friday, March 27, at 8 p.m. Eastern to discuss COVID-19 and its impact on the blind and visually impaired community. This call will be led by ACB member Brooke Jostad, who has a background in social work and counseling. The one-hour Zoom meeting will allow attendees to share their feelings as well as discuss several pre-selected topics. We anticipate this being the first of many conversations. The dial-in number is (312) 626-6799, and the passcode is 928464288#.
On March 2, 2020, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a Public Notice to invite public comment to help prepare its Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) Biennial Report to Congress, which is due to Congress by October 8, 2020.
The Public Notice invites public comment on the following issues:
1. Compliance with the accessibility requirements for telecommunications and advanced communications services and equipment, and Internet browsers built into mobile phones;
2. Whether accessibility barriers exist with respect to new communications technologies; and
3. The effect of the CVAA’s accessibility recordkeeping and enforcement requirements on the development and deployment of new communications technologies.
ACB will file comments with the FCC by the comment deadline: Monday, March 30, 2020.
Interested parties may file comments by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings. All filings must reference CG Docket No. 10-213. People with disabilities who need assistance to file comments online at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings may request assistance by email to FCC504@fcc.gov.
For general information about the CVAA, visit https://www.fcc.gov/general/twenty-first-century-communications-and-video-accessibility-act-0. For specific questions, please contact Darryl Cooper, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, at (202) 418-7131 or Darryl.Cooper@fcc.gov. Individuals who use videophones and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) may call the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line at (844) 432‐2275. TTY users may call the FCC’s TTY number at (888) 835-5322.
Advancements in technology now allow people to receive services remotely from almost anywhere. One does not need to travel to a doctor to receive health advice; one can talk to a doctor over the Internet. Similar technology is being used in a myriad of ways. For instance, universities now offer a plethora of classes online. Such entities use software to provide online lectures and chat programs to talk to students or patients.
Now, in light of the coronavirus, such technology is more appealing than ever. Universities, for example, have completely shut down and classes are only being offered online. If someone needs healthcare, instead of going to a doctor’s office where he might be at risk of contracting the disease, he can utilize telehealth services.
However, many of these online programs are inaccessible to the blind and visually impaired community. Commonly used software programs cannot properly interact with screen-reading software such as JAWS or VoiceOver.
ACB is watching closely to find out about such challenges. Please let Claire Stanley and Clark Rachfal know if you have experienced such inaccessibility. You can call the office at (202) 467-5081, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will reach out to such providers and investigate how to make such services accessible to blind and visually impaired users.
As many of you may have heard, the Federal Aviation Administration has just put out a notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) concerning bringing service animals on airplanes. Most of us know that in past years, airlines have put into place frustrating and illegal policies on what we have to do before we can bring our guide dogs onto planes. Our national office has done a lot of work to explain the negative repercussions of such policies. The FAA has also addressed this problem and put out a favorable Final Statement in the summer of 2019; the corresponding ACB press release is available at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/acb-commends-dot-faa-on-final-statement-of-enforcement-priorities-regarding-service-animals-300899609.html. This issue is so significant to our community that ACB has passed resolutions on the topic for several years; these resolutions are available at:
Today, the FAA announced a NPRM to get feedback from Americans on what federal regulations on bringing service animals on planes should look like. Some of the questions concern whether documentation should be required, if service animals should be limited to dogs, and if emotional support animals should be included. The FAA has allowed 60 days to file public comments once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register. The national office will review the NPRM carefully and work with ACB affiliates, committees and members to draft comments. We will share more information as it becomes available and assist members with filing their own comments. In the meantime, please read the below information from the FAA. If you have any questions or comments related to this issue, contact Claire Stanley via email, email@example.com.
U.S. Department of Transportation Seeks Comment on Proposed Amendments to Regulation of Service Animals on Flights
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that it is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals by air.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Traveling by Air with Service Animals can be found online at https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/notice-proposed-rulemaking-traveling-air-service-animals and provides the public with 60 days to comment on the proposed changes.
Today’s NPRM is intended to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system. It addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft. The Department recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals.
The NPRM proposes to:
- Define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
- No longer consider an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
- Consider a psychiatric service animal to be a service animal and require the same training and treatment of psychiatric service animals as other service animals;
- Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s good behavior, certifying the service animal’s good health, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
- Allow airlines to require passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to check-in at the airport one hour prior to the travel time required for the general public to ensure sufficient time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal;
- Require airlines to promptly check-in passengers with service animals who are subject to an advanced check-in process;
- Allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
- Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
- Continue to allow airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered, or otherwise under the control of its handler;
- Continue to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
- Continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely on the basis of breed.
Comments on the NPRM must be received within 60 days of the date the notice is published. The NPRM can be found at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0068.
On Friday, March 20, 2020, the American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind sent the following letter to congressional leaders opposing language in the pending COVID-19 stimulus package that would allow the Department of Education to request waivers of requirements contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). What follows is the text of the joint ACB and AFB letter opposing waivers to IDEA. To call your senators and tell them that no waivers to IDEA should be allowed, please contact the U.S. Capitol switchboard and have an operator connect you with your senators by dialing: (202) 224-3121.
March 20, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker
United States House of Representatives
1236 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Leader
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy, Leader
United States House of Representatives
2468 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Charles Schumer, Leader
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Congress Must Protect the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leaders McConnell, McCarthy, and Schumer:
The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind actively work to advance educational opportunities for people who are blind or have low vision. We are writing to express our concern with provisions included in the CARES Act, S. 3548, that would allow the Department of Education to waive civil rights protections for students with disabilities, specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) waiver report provision included in Section 4511(d)(3).
Students who are blind or have low vision must have access to the same education opportunities as every other student and to the specialized services necessary to develop a full range of blindness skills. We are concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak will have a uniquely negative impact on the education of students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities, and granting waivers to the civil rights protections within IDEA will only serve to exacerbate the current challenges. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students possess a right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE); waivers to the law will wear away at the free and appropriate components of students’ education.
Therefore, we do not support the provisions included in Section 4511(d)(3). Congress must ensure that students continue to receive the full rights afforded to them by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Congress may support schools by further investing in students with disabilities. We urge Congress to uplift our students and give schools the resources they need to provide innovative solutions that meet the needs of all students. Congress may do this by including provisions in the COVID-19 stimulus package that would fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
We deeply appreciate the leadership of Congress in responding to student needs during this pandemic. Should you have any questions or wish to discuss the concerns raised in this letter, please contact Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 467-5081, and Stacy Cervenka, Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind at email@example.com or (202) 469-6832. Thank you for taking the time to consider these concerns.
American Council of the Blind
American Foundation for the Blind
cc: The Honorable Lamar Alexander, Chairman
The Honorable Patty Murray, Ranking Member
The Honorable Steny Hoyer, Leader
The Honorable Bobby Scott, Chairman
The Honorable Virginia Foxx, Ranking Member
We are excited to welcome ACB members to the legislative seminar on February 24, 2020, as well as the related trip to Capitol Hill on February 25, 2020. Below are the three specific topics that we will be focusing on in the coming year. Two of the three imperatives touch on transportation.
These topics will be discussed in greater detail at the conference. Other issues will be highlighted as well.
Imperative 1: Autonomous Vehicles
Numerous automobile and technology projects are beginning to develop and test the use of autonomous vehicles. This may provide significant opportunities to the blind community. However, Congress must first address the questions that may arise from the new industry. The AV START Act was introduced in the 115th Congressional session in 2019. The law would play a role in making autonomous vehicles safer for both passengers and pedestrians. Although that bill did not pass, similar legislation continues to be discussed. A bicameral, bipartisan committee has worked with several disability advocacy groups, including ACB, to draft language for a bill similar to the AV START Act. ACB is optimistic that this new bill will be introduced to Congress in 2020.
Attendees of the 2020 ACB legislative seminar are encouraged to discuss the bill with their representatives and senators to stress the positive impact autonomous vehicles will have on the blind community.
Imperative 2: The Surface Transportation Bill
By the fall of 2020, Congress must reauthorize the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. With this reauthorization, ACB hopes to include several key elements to improve transportation safety and access for blind and visually impaired Americans. These provisions will include measures to improve pedestrian safety and environmental access, as well as improve the timeliness, reliability and functionality of paratransit service.
We recommend attendees share personal anecdotes about how pedestrian safety and transportation reforms will improve security, independence, and quality of life for all Americans living with vision loss.
Imperative 3: Low Vision Aid Exclusion
In November of 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated a regulation that has had a detrimental impact on the lives of countless individuals who are blind or visually impaired. To the dismay of the blind community, the Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) Competitive Acquisition Rule contains a provision entitled “Low Vision Aid Exclusion” which states that all devices, “irrespective of their size, form, or technological features that use one or more lens to aid vision or provide magnification of images for impaired vision” are excluded from Medicare coverage based on the statutory “eyeglass” exclusion. ACB is well aware that this extremely restrictive reading of the “eyeglass” exclusion has resulted in the denial of vital assistive devices for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries who may have disabilities. The expansion of the eyeglass exclusion has prevented access to devices such as handheld magnifiers, video monitors, and other technologies that utilize lenses to enhance vision.
However, in the summer of 2019, a bill was introduced in the House by a bipartisan group of representatives. ACB is also working with a number of senators on a companion bill. This new introduction of the bill is exciting but must be pushed to keep momentum.
Attendees should discuss this issue with their representatives. They should stress the importance of these materials to maintaining their independence at home.
If you have any questions on the issues listed above, please come ready to discuss them at the legislative seminar. Personal research is always encouraged. If you need more information, contact Clark Rachfal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Claire Stanley at email@example.com.