Feb. 2009 NFB Legislative Trip to Washington

 In Advocacy

National Federation of the Blind Goes to Washington -Largest Coalition of Blind People Participates

Early February, I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC as a part of the largest group of blind people in the nation who visit their senators and representatives annually to talk about current national issues affecting blind citizens. This year, there were three major issues of concern which we discussed with the 111th Congress.

The first issue is the growing concern about quiet and hybrid cars, which are becoming an increasing danger to blind and other pedestrians.

The second issue concerns a “Technology Bill of Rights” for the blind which would mandate that manufacturers of technology build in accessibility when designing and constructing their products.

The third urgent item is a work incentive issue for blind persons which we are urging Congress to pass which would change the Earnings Limitations Requirements for blind people who are presently receiving SSI and other welfare benefits.

Please see the separate posting of the fact sheets we distributed to all 535 members of the 111th Congress: Congressional Fact Sheets, Feb. 09

Over 500 blind members of the National Federation of the Blind descended on Washington beginning on Friday, February 5. I arrived on Saturday to begin preparations for our visit with legislators and to begin my new role as the National Sales Director of the KNFB Reader Mobile sales program of the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation was recently asked to become a national distributor for the KNFB Reader Mobile by KNFB Technologies.

Note: the KNFB Reader Mobile deserves its own article, which can be accessed on my site. Suffice it to say that this device offers a totally portable way for blind people to read a significant amount of printed material using certain cell phones and special software. You can learn more about it by visiting http://knfbreader.michaelhingson.com. I spent most of my week in Washington demonstrating this wonderful machine, as well as helping people upgrade to the second generation of reading software. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Anne Marie Laney of the NFB National Blindness Center in Baltimore Maryland. Anne Marie worked tirelessly helping with all aspects of our sales efforts.

On Wednesday, February 11, I spent time on Capitol Hill visiting two California legislators. In the morning I met with Congressman Wally Herger, (whom I had the opportunity to meet in 2004 while on a speaking trip to Redding California. Later that year he and his chief California aid, Fran Peace, arranged for me to meet President George W. Bush in the Oval Office). I, along with several other California residents, spoke with Congressman Herger about the earnings limitation issue as well as the proposed study on quiet cars. Congressman Herger stated that he was very supportive of the proposed changes to the earnings limitation structure, so that blind welfare and SSI recipients would lose only one dollar of their government checks for every three dollars they earn should they join the workforce. It is our hope that Congressman Herger will become a co-sponsor of the earnings limitation bill.

Congressman Herger said that he would study the quiet car issue. As he stated, while he is concerned about pedestrian safety, he wants to better understand the issues surrounding the dangers posed to pedestrians, (blind and sighted alike), by quiet and hybrid cars.

Michael Hingson and Senator Barbara BoxerWednesday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with Senator Barbara Boxer during a town hall meeting that she organized for Californians who are visiting the Capitol that day. Although this was not the private meeting I desired, I did have a few moments to spend talking with the senator during a photo opportunity at the end of the meeting. Senator Boxer was one of those who supported and secured passage of the bill creating the Louis Braille coin which will go on sale on March 26 of this year to help turn around the Braille literacy crisis in this country. I had the opportunity to thank Senator Boxer for her efforts on our behalf.

She is supportive and concerned about the quiet car issue and will explore being a part of the effort to secure the Department of Transportation study which is already proposed in the House under HR734. Other members of the National Federation of the Blind of California delegation met with her staff on Tuesday to discuss our other issues.

Here is one of the pictures taken that day with Senator Boxer.

The Washington trip was successful in every way both for me and for the legislative efforts of the National Federation of the Blind. It is always heartening to be in Washington, to participate in the education process for our legislators, to bring them current on important issues which we hope they will address. Over 500 blind people comprised this vital effort, working with Capitol Hill in a very organized and professional way. It is amazing what teamwork can accomplish when everyone is on the same page.

I will keep this blog up to date with the results of the efforts we began in Washington. Your comments and feedback are welcome and very important to our success.

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