[nfbmi-talk] Legislative Alert-Washington Seminar Fact Sheets Available

Gary Wunder gwunder at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 13 22:02:21 CST 2010


----- Original Message -----
From: Hartle, Jesse
Sent: Friday, January 08, 2010 1:22 PM
Subject: Legislative Alert-Washington Seminar Fact Sheets Available


Fellow Federationists:



I am writing to you to let you know that the fact 
sheets for the 2010 Washington Seminar are now on 
the NFB Web site.  They can be found on the "NFB 
2010 Washington Seminar" page at 
http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Washington_Seminar.asp. 
For your convenience, the fact sheets are also 
attached to this e-mail.  The hot issues for the 2010 seminar are:



-- Passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act;

-- Passage of a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind; and

-- Passage of the Blind Persons Return to Work Act.



             Please review these fact sheets in 
preparation for your appointments during 
Washington Seminar.  We expect that bills related 
to the Technology Bill of Rights and a Senate 
companion bill to the Blind Persons Return to 
Work Act will soon be introduced.  When these 
bills are introduced, the fact sheets will be 
updated to include that information.



             Should you have questions, I have 
included my contact information at the bottom of 
this message.  I look forward to seeing all of 
you at Washington Seminar as we work towards 
passage of these crucial issues.  Once again, 
thank you in advance for all of your hard work.



Jesse M. Hartle

Government Programs Specialist

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

Phone:  (410) 659-9314, extension 2233

E-mail:  jharle at nfb.org



JMH/wmb



Attachments



Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:

Priorities for the 111th Congress, SECOND Session





             The National Federation of the Blind 
(NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of 
blind people in the United States.  As the Voice 
of the Nation's Blind, we represent the 
collective views of blind people throughout 
society.  All of our leaders and the vast 
majority of our members are blind, but anyone can 
participate in our movement.  There are an 
estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United 
States, and every year approximately 75,000 
Americans become blind.  The social and economic 
consequences of blindness affect not only blind 
people, but also our families, our friends, and our coworkers.



             Three legislative initiatives demand 
the immediate attention of the 111th Congress in its second session:

1.                  We urge Congress to ensure 
the safety of blind and other pedestrians by 
passing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement 
Act.  This legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to:

· 
begin a study within ninety days of its enactment 
to determine the most practical means of assuring 
that blind and other pedestrians receive 
essentially similar information to that which 
they now receive from sound emitted by internal combustion engines;

· 
determine the minimum amount of sound necessary 
to offer sufficient information for blind 
pedestrians to make safe travel judgments, based 
on appropriate scientific research and 
consultation with blind Americans and other affected groups;

· 
within two years of beginning the study, 
promulgate a motor vehicle safety standard to 
address the needs of blind and other pedestrians 
by requiring either a minimum level of sound or 
an equally effective means of providing the same 
information as is available from hearing internal combustion engines; and

· 
apply the standard to all motor vehicles 
manufactured or sold in the United States 
beginning no later than two years after the date it is promulgated.



2.                  We urge Congress to work with 
blind Americans to create a Technology Bill of 
Rights for the Blind that mandates that consumer 
electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and 
electronic office technology provide user 
interfaces that are accessible through nonvisual 
means.  This legislation should:



· 
mandate that all consumer electronics, home 
appliances, kiosks, and electronic office 
technology be designed so that blind people can 
access the same functions as sighted people 
through nonvisual means and with substantially equivalent ease of use;



· 
create a commission comprised of essential 
stakeholders to establish standards for nonvisual 
accessibility of electronic devices intended for use in the home or office;



· 
endow the Department of Justice with the 
authority to enforce the regulations promulgated 
by the commission established by this legislation; and



· 
authorize the commission to reexamine and rewrite 
standards periodically as consumer electronic technology continues to evolve.



3.                  We urge Congress to promote 
and facilitate the transition by blind Americans 
from recipients of Social Security Disability 
Insurance benefits to income-earning, tax-paying, 
productive members of the American workforce by enacting legislation to:



·         replace the monthly earnings penalty 
with a graduated three-for-one phase-out (i.e., a 
$1 reduction in benefits for each $3 earned above the limit);



·         replace the monthly earnings test with 
an annualized earnings test in an amount equal to 
twelve times the Substantial Gainful Activity amount; and



·         establish an impairment-related work 
expense deduction for blind Social Security 
Disability Insurance beneficiaries equal to the 
amount applicable for this deduction when 
determining an appropriate income subsidy under 
Medicare Part D or 16.3 percent of earnings, whichever is greater.







             For more information about these 
priorities, please consult the attached fact sheets.



             Blind Americans need your help to 
achieve our goals of economic security, increased 
opportunity, and full integration into American 
society on a basis of equality.  Enactment of 
these legislative proposals will represent 
important steps toward reaching these goals.  We 
need the help and support of each member of 
Congress.  Our success benefits not only us, but 
the whole of America as well.  In this time of 
national economic insecurity, these measures will 
contribute to increasing the tax base and 
encouraging the purchase of consumer goods.







ENHANCING PEDESTRIAN SAFETY:

ENSURING THE BLIND CAN CONTINUE

TO TRAVEL SAFELY AND INDEPENDENTLY





Purpose:  To enact the Pedestrian Safety 
Enhancement Act, which will establish a motor 
vehicle safety standard to alert blind and other 
pedestrians of the presence of silent hybrid and electric vehicles.





Background:  Until recently independent travel 
for the blind has been a relatively simple matter 
once a blind person has been trained in travel 
techniques and has learned to use a white cane or 
to travel with a guide dog.  Blind people listen 
to the sound of automobile engines to determine 
the direction, speed, and pattern of 
traffic.  Sounds from traffic tell blind 
pedestrians how many vehicles are near them and 
how fast they are moving; whether the vehicles 
are accelerating or decelerating; and whether the 
vehicles are traveling toward, away from, or 
parallel to them.  With all of this information 
blind people can accurately determine when it is 
safe to advance into an intersection or across a 
driveway or parking lot.  The information 
obtained from listening to traffic sounds allows 
blind people to travel with complete confidence 
and without assistance.  Studies have shown that 
sighted pedestrians also use auditory information when traveling.



Over the past few years, however, vehicles that 
are completely silent in certain modes of 
operation have come on the market, and many more 
silent vehicles are expected in the near 
future.  These vehicles are designed to have many 
benefits, including improved fuel efficiency and 
reduced emissions, but they do not need to be 
silent in order to achieve these intended 
benefits.  An unintended consequence of these 
vehicles as they are currently designed is that 
they endanger the safety, not only of blind 
people, but also of small children, seniors, cyclists, and runners.





Need for Congressional Action:  For several years 
the National Federation of the Blind has been 
concerned about the proliferation of silent 
vehicles.  These concerns were validated by a 
recent report from the National Highway Traffic 
Safety Administration, which concluded that at 
low speeds hybrid and electric vehicles are twice 
as likely to be involved in accidents with 
pedestrians as vehicles with internal combustion 
engines.  Recently automobile manufacturers have 
acknowledged the dangers posed to blind 
pedestrians by silent-vehicle technology and have 
begun to work with the National Federation of the 
Blind to craft solutions.  While participation 
from some manufacturers is an important first 
step, many others continue to take a wait-and-see 
approach on this important issue.  Congress must 
therefore direct the Department of Transportation 
to take action.  It is crucial that this problem 
be addressed before the inevitable avalanche of 
tragedies involving blind people (including newly 
blinded veterans), small children, seniors, 
cyclists, and runners shocks the nation.





Proposed Legislation:  The Pedestrian Safety 
Enhancement Act (H.R. 734 and S. 841) was 
introduced by Congressmen Towns and Stearns in 
the House and by Senators Kerry and Specter in 
the Senate.  This legislation directs the 
secretary of transportation to conduct a study 
and establish a motor vehicle safety standard 
that provides a means of alerting blind and other 
pedestrians of motor vehicle operation based on 
appropriate scientific research and consultation 
with blind Americans and other affected 
groups.  This national motor vehicle safety 
standard must have the following characteristics:

   a.. In all phases of operation (including 
times when the vehicle is at a full stop), 
pedestrians must be able to identify vehicles by nonvisual means.
   b.. The motor vehicle safety standard must 
also provide pedestrians with the range of 
information that is currently provided by 
combustion engines, including whether the vehicle 
is idling, maintaining a constant speed, accelerating, or decelerating.
The standard need not prescribe the apparatus, 
technology, or method to be used by vehicle 
manufacturers to achieve the required safety 
standard.  This approach will encourage 
manufacturers to use innovative and 
cost-effective techniques to achieve the motor vehicle safety standard.

Automobiles that operate in complete silence 
endanger the safety of all of us; silent 
operation should be viewed as a design flaw 
comparable to the lack of seat belts or air bags, 
and therefore this safety issue must be addressed.





Requested Action:  Please support blind Americans 
by cosponsoring the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement 
Act to authorize the U.S. Department of 
Transportation to establish and promulgate 
regulations specifying a motor vehicle safety 
standard for all new automobiles sold in the 
United States.  In the House of Representatives 
members can be added by contacting Emily Khoury 
in Congressman Towns's office, or James Thomas in 
Congressman Stearns's office.  In the Senate 
members can be added as cosponsors by contacting 
Doug Frost in Senator Kerry's office.





Contact Information:

Jesse Hartle

Government Programs Specialist

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

Phone:  (410) 659-9314, extension 2233

Email:  jhartle at nfb.org







A TECHNOLOGY BILL OF RIGHTS FOR THE BLIND





Purpose:  To mandate that consumer electronics, 
home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office 
technology provide user interfaces that are 
accessible through nonvisual means.





Background:  In recent years rapid advances in 
microchip and digital technology have led to 
increasingly complex user interfaces for everyday 
products such as consumer electronics, home 
appliances, kiosks, and electronic office 
technology.  Many new devices in these categories 
require interaction with visual displays, 
on-screen menus, touch screens, and other user 
interfaces that are inaccessible to individuals 
who are blind or have low vision.  Settings on 
the stove, dishwasher, or home entertainment 
system are no longer controlled by knobs, 
switches, and buttons that can be readily 
identified and whose settings can be easily 
discerned.  Inaccessibility of these devices is a 
major barrier to a blind person's independence 
and productivity.  If a blind person cannot 
operate the interfaces of basic office equipment 
such as copiers and fax machines, this is a 
potential threat to that person's opportunity to 
join the workforce or to maintain an existing job.



Many popular nonvisual mechanisms are available 
for manufacturers to create interfaces accessible 
to everyone.  For example, text-to-speech 
technology is inexpensive and more ubiquitous 
than it has ever been-it is used in everything 
from automated telephone systems to the weather 
forecasting service broadcast by the National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Indeed, 
a few manufacturers have incorporated this 
technology into their products to create talking 
menus or to articulate what is on the display 
screen, but many manufacturers have continued to 
design interfaces that do not include any 
nonvisual means of use, rendering the devices inaccessible to blind people.





Need for Legislation:  Currently no enforceable 
mandates exist for manufacturers of consumer 
electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and 
electronic office technology to make their 
products accessible to all consumers.  There are 
also no accessibility standards to provide 
guidance to manufacturers on how to avoid 
creating barriers to access by the blind.



Congress should therefore enact a Technology Bill 
of Rights for the Blind which:

   a.. establishes that manufacturers must create 
accessible user interfaces for their products,
   b.. provides a means for enforcement, and
   c.. establishes standards that will provide 
meaningful benchmarks that manufacturers can use 
to make their products accessible.


This legislation does not mandate a single, 
one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer 
technology, home appliances, kiosks, or 
electronic office technology.  Rather it mandates 
regulations setting meaningful accessibility 
standards that allow manufacturers to select from 
a menu of potential solutions or create new 
ones.  This will not only give manufacturers the 
freedom and flexibility they desire, but will 
also encourage innovations that make consumer 
technology more usable for everyone.





Proposed Legislation:  Congress should enact a 
Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that:



   a.. Mandates that all consumer electronics, 
home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office 
technology be designed so that blind people are 
able to access the same functions as sighted 
people by nonvisual means and with substantially equivalent ease of use.


   a.. Creates a commission to establish 
standards for nonvisual accessibility of 
electronic devices intended for use in the home 
or office.  Such a commission should represent all stakeholders, including:
-          organizations of the blind;

-          manufacturers of consumer electronics, 
home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office 
technology, or associations representing such manufacturers; and

-          experts on universal design, 
electronic engineering, and related fields.



   a.. Endows the Department of Justice with the 
authority to enforce the regulations promulgated 
by the commission established by this legislation.


   a.. Authorizes the commission to reexamine and 
rewrite standards periodically as consumer 
electronic technology continues to evolve.




Requested Action:  Please support blind Americans 
and cosponsor a Technology Bill of Rights for the 
Blind to ensure that blind people can fully 
participate in all aspects of American 
society.  Increased access leads to increased 
independence, increased employment, and increased tax revenue.





Contact Information:

Lauren McLarney

Government Programs Specialist

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

Phone:  (410) 659-9314, extension 2207

Email:  lmclarney at nfb.org







REMOVING THE EARNINGS PENALTY:

A COMMON SENSE WORK INCENTIVE

FOR BLIND SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFICIARIES





Purpose:  To promote and facilitate the 
transition by blind Americans from Social 
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 
beneficiaries to income-earning, taxpaying, 
productive members of the American workforce.



Background:  The unemployment rate for 
working-age blind people is over 70 
percent.  Part of the reason for this 
disproportionately high statistic is the myths 
and misconceptions about the true capacities of 
blind people.  These erroneous perceptions are 
manifested when employers refuse to hire the 
blind.  Low societal expectations result in low 
representation of the blind in the workforce.

In addition, governmental programs intended to 
provide economic security to blind workers during 
periods of unemployment, especially the SSDI 
program, have had the unintended consequence of 
creating an incentive for blind people to remain 
unemployed or underemployed, despite their desire to work.

Despite the efforts of the National Federation of 
the Blind, blindness still has profound social 
and economic consequences.  Governmental programs 
should encourage blind people to reach their full 
employment potential; they should not encourage economic dependence.



Existing Law:  Title II of the Social Security 
Act provides that disability benefits paid to 
blind beneficiaries are eliminated if the 
beneficiary exceeds a monthly earnings 
limit.  This earnings limit is in effect a 
penalty imposed on blind Americans when they 
work.  This penalty imposed by the SSDI program 
means that, if a blind person earns just $1 over 
$1,640 (the monthly limit in 2010 following a 
Trial Work Period), all benefits are lost.

Section 216(i)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act 
defines blindness as a disability based on 
objective measurement of acuity and visual field, 
as opposed to the subjective criterion of 
inability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity 
(SGA).  For blind people, doing work valued at 
the SGA earnings limit terminates benefits but 
does not terminate disability.  Only blind people 
not working or those with work earnings below an 
annually adjusted statutory earnings limit receive benefits.



Need for Legislation:  When a blind person enters 
the workforce, there is no guarantee that wages 
earned will replace SSDI benefits after taxes are 
paid and work expenses are deducted.  For 
example, Jane worked as a customer service 
representative with an annual income of $35,000 
until she became blind from diabetic 
retinopathy.  Jane meets the criteria for SSDI 
benefits, which provide income of $1,060 a month 
(or $12,720 a year) tax-free while she is not 
working.  Jane wants additional income to meet 
her financial needs.  After an adjustment period 
and blindness skills training, she finds 
employment as a part-time representative making 
$10 an hour for thirty-five hours a week.  Jane 
grosses $350 a week for an average of $1,517 a 
month.  Using a conservative 25 percent 
withholding tax, Jane nets $1,137.50 from her 
work, combined with her $1,060 disability 
benefit, for a net total of  $2,197.50 a 
month.  If Jane should have the opportunity to 
work full time (forty hours), her weekly salary 
would go up to $400 a week for a monthly average 
of $1,733.  This amount is over the 2010 earnings 
limit, so Jane loses all of her disability 
benefits.  Using the same 25 percent tax level, 
Jane nets only $1,300 a month-working an extra 
five hours a week has cost Jane $897.50 net 
income (over $10,500 a year).  This example 
illustrates the work disincentive contained in current law.

A gradual reduction of $1 in benefits for every 
$3 earned over the earnings limit would remove 
the earnings penalty and provide a financial 
incentive to work.  The benefit amount paid to an 
individual will gradually decrease, while the 
individual's contribution to the Social Security 
trust fund increases over time.  Under this 
approach, as Jane earns more, she pays more into 
the trust fund, and her dependence on benefits decreases.

Monthly earnings evaluations are unnecessarily 
complicated for both the beneficiaries and the 
Social Security Administration.  Since the 
medical prognosis for blind people rarely changes 
and because blindness is objectively measurable, 
blind people should be subject to an annual 
earnings test with the limit equal to twelve 
times the applicable monthly SGA amount.

Under current law blind workers frequently pay 
for items and services related to their blindness 
that are necessary for them to work, and they are 
permitted to subtract these Impairment-Related 
Work Expenses (IRWE) from monthly earnings when 
determining monthly income.  Properly crediting 
IRWE poses a serious challenge to the SSDI 
program and creates a lack of predictability for 
the blind person trying to determine whether 
benefits will be available.  To address both 
issues, Congress should permit SSDI recipients to 
claim the same amount used when determining an 
income subsidy under the Medicare prescription 
drug program, currently 16.3 percent of earnings.



Proposed Legislation:  Congress should enact legislation to:

·                     provide that earnings of 
blind SSDI beneficiaries in excess of the annual 
earnings limit result in a gradual benefit 
reduction of $1 for each $3 earned over the limit;

·                     establish an annual 
earnings test for blind SSDI beneficiaries; and

·                     establish one standard IRWE 
deduction for blind SSDI beneficiaries equal to 
the amount presently applicable for this 
deduction when determining an appropriate income 
subsidy under the Medicare prescription drug 
program or 16.3 percent of earnings, whichever is greater.



Requested Action:  For the House, please 
cosponsor the Blind Persons Return to Work Act 
(H.R. 886) by contacting Michaeleen Crowell in 
Rep. John Lewis's office, and provide a common 
sense work incentive for blind Social Security 
beneficiaries.  For the Senate please consider 
introducing companion legislation.





Contact Information:

Lauren McLarney

Government Programs Specialist

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

Phone:  (410) 659-9314, extension 2207

Email:  lmclarney at nfb.org
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