by John Paré
From the Editor: In place of introducing John Paré, let us use the comments made by President Riccobono in inviting him to the stage:
“I mentioned in the Presidential Report that in the 115th Congress we are monitoring and actively pursuing more legislative initiatives than at any time in our history, and the reason that is possible is because of the 50,000 advocates we have across the country. The gentleman who is supposed to be in DC—learning where all the connections are—getting the knowledge, making the relationship connections to ensure that we can present our authentic point of view is our executive director of policy and advocacy, and he does a great job at that. Here is John Paré:”
Thank you, President Riccobono, and thank you to the secretary of labor. We really appreciate his remarks and look forward to working with him back in Washington.
The National Federation of the Blind is off to a terrific start in the First Session of the 115th Congress. We have four bills introduced, three in the United States House of Representatives and one in the United States Senate. The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act has thirty-one cosponsors. It is sponsored by Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee. This bill will authorize the creation of a purpose-based commission to develop accessibility guidelines for higher education and will encourage schools to adhere to these guidelines in return for a safe harbor for certain types of litigation.
The Access Technology Affordability Act has nine cosponsors and is sponsored by Congressman David Young of Iowa. Congressman Young will address our convention tomorrow afternoon, and we will want to give him a warm Federation welcome. A special thanks to the Iowa affiliate for cultivating this new relationship, especially the Omvigs. This bill will increase the availability of access technology by creating a $2,500 per person refundable tax credit for use over a three-year period. There is also a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Senator Boozman of Arkansas.
The Transitioning to Meaningful Employment Act [TIME] has eleven cosponsors and is sponsored by Representative Gregg Harper from Mississippi. Congressman Harper spoke at our 2013 convention, and he is a terrific champion for people with disabilities. The TIME Act has been changed from what was introduced in the previous Congress to include a six-year phaseout that requires a transition plan for each person being paid less than the minimum wage over the phaseout. Taken as a whole, these bills will help us live the lives we want by increasing the availability of access technology, by encouraging the use of accessible instructional material in higher education, and by eliminating the low expectations and discrimination inherent in section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The National Federation of the Blind has also been advocating for funding for the National Library Service so that it can purchase and lend refreshable Braille displays. NLS plans to institute a pilot program in fiscal 2018 and launch a much larger program in fiscal 2019. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to Braille literacy and the increased availability of refreshable Braille displays. We will not rest until the National Library Service has the funding needed to lend refreshable Braille displays to every blind American who wants one. [Applause]
As you have heard from Scott LaBarre, we are also making progress on the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and the passage of the Marrakesh implementation package. Let there be no mistake: the National Federation of the Blind will not rest until all of these bills have been passed and the treaty is ratified.
We have also had to defend our civil rights and protect employment opportunities for blind Americans. H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, would fundamentally change the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring people with disabilities to notify companies of violations before taking legal action. Companies would then have sixty days to consider a response and another 120 days to actually fix the problem for a total delay of 180 days. Can you believe this? [The audience responds with an enthusiastic no.] On July 26 we will be celebrating twenty-seven years since the ADA was passed, and companies say they need more time to comply. We say no!
Most technology encountered in places of public accommodation falls under the jurisdiction of Title III of the ADA, and this technology needs to be compliant now. Not in 180 days! Not in sixty days! Not even in one day! We have waited long enough; we will not tolerate companies that flaunt the law. We demand that technology be accessible. We demand that it be accessible now because we intend to live the lives we want now. Not in 180 days, not in ninety days, but right now. I ask you, when? [Audience responds “Now”]
Another problematic bill is H.R. 1990. This bill would result in over 400 Randolph-Sheppard vendors losing their vending operations at interstate rest stops. This is absolutely unacceptable, but we do not think that the sponsor and cosponsors were aware of the affect that it would have on blind business owners. We are working to educate them on this catastrophic impact, and we have demanded that they withdraw their support for this legislation. We will keep you apprised of developments.
Next, I want to update you on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. The National Federation of the Blind identified this problem, created a partnership with car companies, got the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study the issue, wrote the legislation, got the United States Congress to pass the legislation, and then got the president of the United States to sign it into law. The final regulation was issued nearly three years late, on December 14, 2016, with an effective date of February 13, 2017. But the story is not over. The effective date was then postponed to March 21, then to May 22, then to June 5, and now to September 5, 2017. These delays are outrageous! The issue has been thoroughly studied. The final regulation has been thoroughly vetted. The danger has been thoroughly documented, and the number of hybrid vehicles on the road keeps growing and growing. One item to note is that many but not all car companies have realized that this is a problem, and they have begun adding sound on their vehicles. [Applause] However, in many cases the sound is not compliant with the new regulations. We must be vigilant and demand that the United States Department of Transportation put this regulation into effect now. [Readers will remember that in October we announced that the regulation went into effect.]
As many of you know, Parnell Diggs is now an Administrative Law Judge with the Social Security Administration. I want to thank him for his tremendous, terrific work with the department of advocacy and policy. Your Honor, we wish you well. [Applause]
Let's talk about NFB-NEWSLINE®. As many of you know, NFB-NEWSLINE is what first introduced me to the National Federation of the Blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is the largest and most effective accessible newspaper service for the blind anywhere in the world. It was conceived, designed, and implemented by the blind for the blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is available in forty-six states plus the District of Columbia. It has 115,000 subscribers, 366 domestic newspapers, seventeen international newspapers, twenty-four breaking news sources, and sixty magazines. Over the last year NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have enjoyed over 37 million minutes of news, made over 2 million calls, received over 3 million emailed articles, logged onto our web portal over 3 million times, and accessed our mobile app 381,242 times. All publications on NFB-NEWSLINE are available in Braille-formatted downloadable files. This feature is currently in beta testing, and we welcome your comments on how we might be able to improve the formatting of these files. NFB-NEWSLINE provided holiday ads during the holiday season from Ace Hardware, Babies "R" Us, Toys "R" Us, JOANN Fabrics, Lowe's, Home Depot, Petco, Publix, Staples, Office Depot, Walgreens, and Kohl's. Soon NFB-NEWSLINE will not only be available over the phone, on your Victor Reader Stream, or through the NLS Digital Talking Book player. Soon it will be available on the Amazon Echo. [Applause] As you heard from the President yesterday, once set up, all you will have to do is say "Alexa open NFB-NEWSLINE." If you would like to be a beta tester, please send an email to email@example.com. Please be sure to include the email address that is associated with your Amazon Echo account, and you will of course need to be an NFB-NEWSLINE subscriber.
As I've said to many of you in the past, the National Federation of the Blind has made my life immeasurably more exciting, more interesting, more rewarding than I ever dreamed it could be. I am living proof that our movement changes lives [Applause], and that we can live the lives we want. Part of the spirit that you've created, which lifts my heart, came into being because of the policies that we have promoted together through the legislation that we support. If we are to welcome others—as we must, as we will—the effort must not slacken, but I know that it will not. I am committed, and I know that you are. The work that I've been charged to do by our President has often been challenging, but you have given me the confidence to believe that failure is not an option, the confidence to know that by working together, we can accomplish anything, and the confidence to believe that we can conquer any challenges that stand in our path. In fact, it is these challenges that enliven my soul, that demand all the best that is in me.
When I have asked you to work with me, you have responded. Working with you has brought me enormous joy. [He pauses, and there is genuine applause and cheering.] This is why I like to work so much with all of you. Thank you.