Welcome to Blind Abilities. I’m Jeff Thompson. If you’ve ever had the experience of speaking to your legislators, the senators, the leaders of the country in Washington D.C. it’s something that you, well you remember. If you’ve ever been in your state and spoken to your local legislators, you’ll remember that too. Simon Bonenfantis a teenager in high school and he had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and speak to legislators and senators, and talk about the cause, the issues that they wanted to present. To educate them. Sometimes you get this opportunity through your school, sometimes you get it through an organization. He got it through the National Federation of the Blind, and took full advantage of gaining that experience. And now, as Simon goes on through life, he’ll have that in his back pocket, knowing that he can actually create appointments, bring an issue, educate a legislator. Whether it be in his state, his local government, or even in Washington D.C.
Simon also took the time to talk to one of the organizers from the National Federation of the Blind and ask him some of the tough questions about the issues that they brought before the leaders of our country. So if you ever get the opportunity to speak to your legislators, your state representatives, your leaders of the country, take advantage of it. Get out there and let your voice be heard. It’s an experience that you’ll carry for a lifetime, and a skill that will help you when you find a cause that’s dear, and you want to educate the leaders of our country. Without further ado, here’s Simon Bonenfant in Washington D.C.
Hello everyone. My name is Simon Bonenfant and I’m reporting for Blind Abilities Podcast. I’m here at the Washington Seminar 2019. And I got a chance to meet up with Gabe Kaiser. How are you doing Gabe?
I’m doing well. Simon, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you.
Yeah, definitely. And what is your title?
I am the manager of government affairs at the National Federation of the Blind.
Very nice. Today at this time of the recording it is Tuesday. And for those of you who know, Tuesday is the day that we do our congressman, and Wednesday is the day that we do our senators from all around the country. We have three issues that we are dealing with this legislative year. And Gabe, do you want to just summarize the issues that we have for this year?
Sure. So, each year the National Federation of the Blind and our members go to Capitol Hill to highlight the priorities of blind people for the legislative session. And this year we’re talking about the Access Technology Affordability Act, which would put more accessible technology in the hands of blind people. We know that access technology is very expensive. So what we are trying to do is urge Congress to write a refundable tax credit into the tax code in the amount of $2,000 that can be used over a three year period, so that we can purchase the technology that we need. And the refundable tax credit will help offset that cost. The second issue we’re talking about this year is the Greater Accessibility and Independence Through Non Visual Access Technology Act, or the Gain Act. As consumer electronics have become more digitized, blind people are dealing more and more with flat panels and touch screens that have no accessibility features. And these have serious consequences, particularly in medical devices, glucose monitoring, home chemotherapy units, sleeping CPAP machines, and that kind of thing. But they also play a part in our health and wellness, on exercise equipment and home appliances. So we’re urging Congress to authorize the Access Board to set minimum accessibility standards for these consumer electronics. And finally, the third issue that we’re talking about is the Disability Employment Act. We want to take the Ability One Program that was developed in 1938, and has really stayed stuck in that era, and update it to reflect the needs of a 21st century workforce, so that blind people and other people with severe disabilities can find meaningful mainstream competitive integrated employment.
Oh, very good. These issues are very important. What I always tell people is, while it may be a slower process getting things done, I’ve definitely seen a lot of things go on, and a lot of bills get passed through my time in the Washington Seminar. I’ve been doing Washington Seminar for seven years, my seventh year. And I’ve seen bills get passed like the Marrakesh Treaty, and things like that. I’m sure you can agree that while it may be a slow process, we really do get things done, and it really does matter to the Congress and the future of blind people.
Well, that’s what I mean, I think one of the things that really helps is the engagement of people like you, that make the effort to come to Capitol Hill and be engaged with the federation year round. And work on these issues day in and day out. That grassroots energy is what really makes Congress take notice on our legislative priorities and get them passed.
Definitely. And tonight there’s going to be a congressional reception.
Yes. So, the congressional reception is just an opportunity for us to mix and mingle with members of Congress and their staff. We have a few members that have confirmed their attendance. So it’s going to be a really exciting, really enthusiastic event, and another opportunity to present our legislative priorities.
Very nice. Well, okay, so thank you Gabe for talking with us. And I thank you for all the work that you do with the federation. You really do a good job at what you do, and we’re getting things done on Capitol Hill. So, that’s great.
I appreciate it, Simon. Thank you.
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[Music] [Transition noise] -When we share
-What we see
-Through each other’s eyes…
[Multiple voices overlapping, in unison, to form a single sentence]
…We can then begin to bridge the gap between the limited expectations, and the realities of Blind Abilities.
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