Growing in Confidence at Washington Seminar
When nearly five hundred blind Americans travel to Capitol Hill with our long white canes in hand and a call to increase the independence of blind people nationwide, the United States Congress knows that the members of the National Federation of the Blind have mobilized for security, equality, and opportunity. We are the National Federation of the Blind, and we climb the Hill annually during our Washington Seminar to meet and speak to our members of Congress about our legislative agenda. The threat of a government shutdown and unusually cold temperatures in the District of Columbia did not dampen our resolve to improve the lives of blind Americans.
Our 2018 legislative agenda connects our spirit of independence to access to information. Approximately 70 percent of blind Americans are unemployed or underemployed. We cannot compete with our sighted peers if our education is delayed by inaccessible instructional materials, and we cannot increase our ability to work independently when accessible technology for the blind is unaffordable. Our Federation leaders delivered these powerful talking points for us to use in our legislative appointments and gave us tips and tools of etiquette when meeting with a member of Congress or a staffer.
With talking points in mind and fact sheets in hand, I met the Illinois team for my first congressional appointment. Our team leader strategized with us on how to approach the Congressman regarding our agenda items and asked me, the newbie to Washington Seminar, which item I would like to speak about. I volunteered to talk about the Marrakesh Treaty because I believed that I had a compelling story about the lack of accessible foreign language materials for the blind. Although my brain felt confident in my knowledge of the legislative item, my stomach did not agree. I had to admit to the congressional staffer who met with us that I was nervous and her kind words helped to lessen my anxiety. I listened to my team members confidently speak about accessible technology, inaccessible instructional materials, and our opposition to H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.
After that first Congressional appointment, our team leader eased my nerves and said that I did well. Her confidence in me followed me through my remaining appointments on the Hill. I felt as though I found my voice in those appointments thanks to the guidance and support of my great team from Illinois.
In three short days, we, the nation’s blind, confidently advocated to improve our lives. We worked diligently as a team throughout the Washington Seminar to educate ourselves and inform our elected officials about our barriers to information. With mentoring from our leadership, we, the nation’s blind, will live the lives we want.