The Washington Connection 9-10-19

Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind.  The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office. If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Claire Stanley or Clark Rachfal.

The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of September 10, 2019. Messages 1, 2 and 4 are new.

Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.


Call to Action! Tell Congress to Support H.R. 4129, and Provide Coverage for Low Vision Devices

 

Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, H.R. 4129! This bill is one of ACB’s legislative imperatives this year. Once it becomes law, H.R. 4129 would direct the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to construct a five-year pilot program for the coverage of low vision devices. Other co-sponsors of H.R. 4129 include Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Ann Wagner (R-MO). 

Reps. Maloney and Bilirakis recirculated a communication to all their colleagues in the U.S. House about supporting this legislation, and it is important that our members hear from us about this bill as well. Included below is the legislative imperative from this year’s legislative seminar.

ACB encourages all members to contact their members of Congress to support H.R. 4129!  Please update the ACB national office on your outreach by sending a message to advocacy@acb.org

To contact your senators or representatives, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and ask to be connected to the senators and representatives for your state. Or visit www.senate.gov to find your senators’ contact information. To locate your representatives, visit www.house.gov/representatives.

Talking Points:

•    Ask your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 4129, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, and ask your senators to introduce a companion bill to H.R. 4129.
•    This legislation would provide greater access to low vision devices for Americans with vision loss, and allow them to live more independent and integrated lives in their communities.
•    This demonstration of coverage would provide quantifiable data for the need and cost of CMS coverage for low vision devices.
•    This bill is supported by: American Council of the Blind; American Foundation for the Blind; Aira; Blinded Veterans Association; National Association for the Employment of People who are Blind; National Industries for the Blind; OrCam; & Vision Serve Alliance.

Secure Independence for Seniors and Medicare Beneficiaries Legislative Imperative

Background

In November of 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated a regulation that has had a detrimental impact on the lives of countless individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) Competitive Acquisition Rule contains a provision entitled “Low Vision Aid Exclusion” which states that all devices, “irrespective of their size, form, or technological features that use one or more lens to aid vision or provide magnification of images for impaired vision” are excluded from Medicare coverage based on the statutory eyeglass exclusion. ACB believes this extremely restrictive reading of the eyeglass exclusion has resulted in the denial of vital assistive devices for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries that offers solutions for sustaining independence in the home.

This proposal has had a significant impact on beneficiaries with vision impairments who depend on assistive technology that incorporates one or more lenses to aid in their vision. The expansion of the eyeglass exclusion has prevented access to devices such as handheld magnifiers, video monitors, and a wide array of technologies that utilize lenses to assist individuals in overcoming the obstacles impeding their independence. These tools are often essential for individuals with low vision who, without the aid of assistive technology, cannot read prescriptions, medicine bottles, and other important materials containing content that is vital to their personal health and safety.

In short, these devices allow individuals with low vision to live independently and safely. Such a poor regulatory policy serves as a pre-emptive and unwarranted coverage denial for any new technology designed to assist individuals with vision loss. Knowing its influence in the medical devices marketplace, innovation and competition will be curtailed if Medicare continues to maintain this coverage exclusion. The unwanted side effects include sacrificing personal independence for more costly residential assistive living, which in the long run ends up putting greater strain on our entitlement programs.

Call for Action

ACB urges the House of Representatives and Senate to re-introduce the Medicare Demonstration on Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act. First introduced as H.R. 729 in the 114th Congress, this legislation had bipartisan support and is one of many workable solutions that should be part of the current healthcare discussion in the 116th Congress.  The bill was reintroduced as H.R. 2050 in the 115th Congress in 2017. (It is now H.R. 4129.)

This legislation would evaluate, through a five-year national demonstration project administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the fiscal impact of a permanent change to the Social Security Act. This legislation would allow reimbursement for certain low-vision devices that are the most function-rich that sustain daily independent living. The devices would be considered durable medical equipment.

Individuals will be eligible to participate in the demonstration project only after completing a clinical evaluation performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist who would then deem a low-vision device as medically necessary. The data from the demonstration would provide valuable insight into how the eyeglasses exclusion impacts independence for senior citizens and other Medicare beneficiaries. As Americans continue to live longer into their retirement, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) projects through their Vision Health Initiative (VHI) that severe vision loss will be a leading chronic health condition for the next thirty years, based on an increasingly aging population and demographic changes in our country. According to CDC’s VHI, blindness increases the incidence of other chronic health conditions, depression, and morbidity. Therefore, it is vital that Congress identify solutions that can sustain quality of life as Americans get older.

 

FCC Issues Public Notice about Making Emergency Information Accessible

 

On August 30, 2019, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a Public Notice to remind video programming distributors, including broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite television services that deliver video programming directly to the home, of their obligation to make televised emergency information accessible to persons who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing.

This Public Notice also provides information for consumers about where they can find more information about access to televised emergency information – including an American Sign Language video at www.fcc.gov/TVEmergencyAccessASL -- and how to file complaints when televised emergency information is not accessible.

Links to Public Notice: 

URL:  https://www.fcc.gov/document/emergency-information-tv-accessibility-requ...         
Word: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-855A1.docx  
PDF: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-855A1.pdf 
Text: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-855A1.txt 

For more information about accessible televised emergency information, visit: https://www.fcc.gov/general/access-emergency-information-television.  For specific questions, please contact Debra Patkin, Attorney Advisor, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, at (202) 870-5226 or Debra.Patkin@fcc.gov.  TTY users may call the FCC’s TTY number at (888) 835-5322.

 

Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals by the Federal Aviation Administration

 

On Thursday, August 8, 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put out a final statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals. The statement responded to comments provided by a myriad of advocacy groups after an interim statement was issued in May of 2019. This final statement supersedes previous statements.

The new statement provides several provisions that positively impact the travel of guide dog users. First, service animal users are not required to provide advance notice to airlines before they travel with their service animals. Airlines previously proposed new policies that would require up to 48 hours of notice before a passenger flew with a service animal. However, the final statement prevents airlines from doing so for people flying with service animals. Airlines can only request such notice if the flight will exceed eight hours in length. This guideline allows for service animals to fly more easily, without having to pre-plan before trips. In the instance where the flight will exceed eight hours, an airline can then ask for documentation that the dog will not have to relieve on the plane. Also, the airline can request early check-in for such situations.

Next, if a situation presents itself where an airline employee questions the legitimacy of a service animal, the airline employee is allowed to ask limited questions concerning proof that the dog is a service animal. This limited questioning is comparable to the three questions business owners are permitted to ask patrons under the Americans with Disabilities Act when the legitimacy of a service animal arises.

Finally, a request for documentation is only permitted when determining whether a dog poses a direct threat to other travelers or airline employees. If an employee believes a service dog poses such a threat, the airline is allowed to ask for documentation to demonstrate factors such as the existence of vaccinations, the behavior of the dog, or the history of the dog’s training. The test used to determine what documentation is permissible is that the documentation must be reasonable to believe that it would assist in determining if the dog poses a direct threat.

The final statement also stressed that breed and age restrictions for dogs are impermissible.

The FAA stated that a notice of proposed rule-making should be issued in the fall of 2019. ACB encourages you to submit comments at that time. For more information, or to read the statement in its entirety, visit https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/latest-news.

 

ACB Radio Mainstream Has New Schedule

 

ACB Radio is putting all things ACB first in Mainstream. All show times listed are Eastern time, but the schedule repeats often so that those on the Pacific time zone can listen at the same time as those on the east coast. ACB Radio would like your feedback on the new schedule. Please send all comments to support@acb.org.

Sunday

Council Connection: midnight – 1 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 1-2 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 2-3 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 3-5 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 5-6 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 6-8 a.m.
World of Sports Live: 8-9 a.m.
Council Connection: 9-10 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 10-11 a.m.
World of Sports: 11 a.m.-noon
Council Connection: noon-1 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 1-2 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 2-3 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum:  3-5 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 5-6 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 6-8 p.m.
Sound Prints: 8-9 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 9-11 p.m.
Sound Prints: 11 p.m. - midnight

Monday

ACB Braille and E-Forum: midnight-2 a.m.
Main Menu: 2-3 a.m.
On the Inside Track: 3-4 a.m.
Eyes on Success: 4-4:30 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 4:30-5 a.m.
Main Menu: 5-6 a.m.
On the Inside Track: 6-7 a.m.
Eyes on Success: 7-7:30 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 7:30-8 a.m.
Sound Prints: 8-9 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 9-11 a.m.
Sound Prints: 11 a.m.-noon
ACB Braille and E-Forum: noon-2 p.m.
Main Menu: 2-3 p.m.
On the Inside Track: 3-4 p.m.
Eyes on Success: 4-4:30 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 4:30-5 p.m.
Main Menu: 5-6 p.m.
On the Inside Track: 6-7 p.m.
Eyes on Success: 7-7:30 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 7:30-8 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 8-8:30 p.m.
News Reel Sampler: 8:30-9 p.m.
Council Connection: 9-10 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 10-11 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 11-11:30 p.m.
News Reel Sampler: 11:30 p.m.-midnight

Tuesday

Council Connection: midnight-1 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 1-2 a.m.
World of Sports Live: 2-3 a.m.
In Perspective: 3-4 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 4-5 a.m.
World of Sports: 5-6 a.m.
In Perspective: 6-7 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 7-8 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 8-8:30 a.m.
News Reel Sampler: 8:30-9 a.m.
Council Connection: 9-10 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 10-11 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 11-11:30 a.m.
News Reel Sampler: 11:30 a.m.-noon
Council Connection: noon-1 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 1-2 p.m.
World of Sports Live: 2-3 p.m.
In Perspective: 3-4 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 4-5 p.m.
World of Sports Live: 5-6 p.m.
In Perspective: 6-7 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 7-8 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 8-9 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 9-11 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 11 p.m.-midnight

Wednesday

ACB Braille and E-Forum: midnight-2 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 2-2:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 2:30-3 a.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 3-4 a.m.
Sound Prints: 4-5 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 5-5:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 5:30-6 a.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 6-7 a.m.
Sound Prints: 7-8 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 8-9 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 9-11 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 11 a.m.-noon
ACB Braille and E-Forum: noon-2 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 2-2:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 2:30-3 p.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 3-4 p.m.
Sound Prints: 4-5 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 5-5:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 5:30-6 p.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 6-7 p.m.
Sound Prints: 7-8 p.m.
Main Menu: 8-9 p.m.
On the Inside Track: 9-10 p.m.
Eyes on Success: 10-10:30 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 10:30-11 p.m.
Main Menu: 11 p.m.-midnight

Thursday

On the Inside Track: midnight-1 a.m.
Eyes on Success: 1-1:30 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 1:30-2 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 2-4 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 4-5 a.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 5-7 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 7-8 a.m.
Main Menu: 8-9 a.m.
On the Inside Track: 9-10 a.m.
Eyes on Success: 10-10:30 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 10:30-11 a.m.
Main Menu: 11 a.m.-noon
On the Inside Track: noon-1 p.m.
Eyes on Success: 1-1:30 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 1:30-2 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 2-4 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 4-5 p.m.
ACB Braille and E-Forum: 5-7 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 7-8 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 8-8:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 8:30-9 p.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 9-10 p.m.
Sound Prints: 10-11 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 11-11:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 11:30 p.m.-midnight

Friday

Tech Talk from Accessible World: midnight-1 a.m.
Sound Prints: 1-2 a.m.
Council Connection: 2-3 a.m.
On the Inside Track: 3-4 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 4-5 a.m.
Council Connection: 5-6 a.m.
On the Inside Track: 6-7 a.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 7-8 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 8-8:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 8:30-9 a.m.
Tech Talk from Accessible World: 9-10 a.m.
Sound Prints: 10-11 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 11-11:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 11:30 a.m.-noon
Tech Talk from Accessible World: noon-1 p.m.
Sound Prints: 1-2 p.m.
Council Connection: 2-3 p.m.
On the Inside Track: 3-4 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 4-5 p.m.
Council Connection: 5-6 p.m.
On the Inside Track: 6-7 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 7-8 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 8-8:30 p.m.
News Reel Sampler: 8:30-9 p.m.
Main Menu: 9-10 p.m.
In Perspective: 10-11 p.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 11-11:30 p.m.
News Reel Sampler: 11:30 p.m.-midnight

Saturday

Main Menu: midnight-1 a.m.
In Perspective: 1-2 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 2-2:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 2:30-3 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 3-4 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 4-5 a.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 5-5:30 a.m.
ACB Reports: 5:30-6 a.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 6-7 a.m.
iACast Technology Show: 7-8 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 8-8:30 a.m.
News Reel Sampler: 8:30-9 a.m.
Main Menu: 9-10 a.m.
In Perspective: 10-11 a.m.
Speaking Out for the Blind: 11-11:30 a.m.
News Reel Sampler: 11:30 a.m.-noon
Main Menu: noon-1 p.m.
In Perspective: 1-2 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 2-2:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 2:30-3 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 3-4 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 4-5 p.m.
ACB Advocacy Update: 5-5:30 p.m.
ACB Reports: 5:30-6 p.m.
Let’s Talk Low Vision: 6-7 p.m.
iACast Technology Show: 7-8 p.m.
World of Sports Live: 8-9 p.m.
Council Connection: 9-10 p.m.
Cooking in the Dark: 10-11 p.m.
World of Sports Live: 11 p.m.-midnight

 

Development and Implementation of Autonomous Vehicles

 

The American Council of the Blind has been involved in a three-part discussion series on the development and implementation of autonomous vehicles (AV) put on by the Auto Alliance of Manufacturers. The first session of the discussion took place on May 3, 2019. The day-long conference brought together disability advocates of all backgrounds and disabilities, and numerous major auto manufacturers. The event included breakout sessions where advocates could explain to manufacturers necessary guidelines to the design to AVs to make them accessible for blind and visually impaired users. For instance, issues such as accessible human machine interface was discussed in length. In addition, the Transportation Task Force from the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) presented a list of principles it has developed for manufacturers to take into account when designing AVs. These principles are being presented to legislative members as well. Also, the day-long conversation included discussions that emphasized the benefits the use of AVs will have on the procurement and sustainment of employment of people with disabilities.

The second session took place on July 19, 2019. It included a discussion of universal design principles when developing AVs. Uber also presented on the development and utilization of AVs for rideshare companies like Uber. The day, once again, included a time for the conference to break-up into smaller groups to discuss disability-specific needs for the software and hardware of the new vehicles. Disability specific concerns were discussed in such break-out sessions.

The third and last day of the program will take place on Sept. 10, 2019. This session will focus primarily on the development of policy surrounding such vehicles. ACB staff will once again attend to stress the needs of blind and visually impaired AV users. 

 

Website Accessibility: Domino’s v. Robles

 

Since 2016, ACB member Guillermo Robles has been in a court challenge with Domino’s Pizza to make their website and smartphone application accessible for blind and visually impaired customers. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California handed down a unanimous decision that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires companies to effectively communicate and provide equal enjoyment through their online offerings to customers with disabilities. Domino’s has appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in doing so, has asked the Supreme Court to rule once and for all whether Internet-based commerce, like websites and smartphone applications, are considered places of public accommodation, and are therefore covered by the ADA. ACB strongly believes that the ADA requires places of public accommodation, whether physical or virtual, to be made accessible to all consumers, and we will continue to follow this court challenge and work on the broader issue of website accessibility for all people who are blind and visually impaired.

 

ACB’s Legislative Priorities for 2019

 

At the legislative seminar on February 25, 2019, ACB rolled out its three imperatives the national office will focus on over the next year. The three imperatives are briefly described here.

First, for a decade now, Medicare has refused to cover the cost of low-vision aids, due to an eyeglasses exclusion that prohibits the purchase of any durable medical good with a lens. While the regulatory exclusion was seen as cost saving by not covering eyeglasses, it has had negative impact on those who, through the use of special low-vision aids, could significantly increase their independence in the home. ACB believes that simple adaptive low-vision aids can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to remain in their own home longer, rather than needing to pursue costlier institutional or assisted living. Therefore, ACB calls on Congress to re-introduce the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act, which would measure the various costs and benefits of removing the Medicare eyeglass exclusion. 

Next, we are now at an exciting technological place when it comes to transportation. The potential for the use of autonomous vehicles for people who are blind is closer than ever. Such vehicles are already being tested in multiple cities. However, it is critical that these cars remain fully accessible, and that individuals who have the most to gain through such technology are not forgotten. In the 116th Congress, blindness organizations and the auto industry supported legislation that would establish working groups to focus on accessibility and prevent discrimination in operating such vehicles based on disability. ACB is calling on Congress to move forward with similar legislation that will continue to drive this technology forward.

Finally, advancements in health technology have resulted in a watershed of durable medical equipment (DME) that monitors vital health activity and conditions such as diabetes, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. However, a failure by the DME industry to make devices accessible has raised serious health concerns by those living with such conditions who are blind and visually impaired. For instance, DME such as glucometers have notoriously been a challenge for diabetics who are blind. This can all change through the development of accessible DME interfaces like smartphone apps and other devices capable of using nanotechnology that can incorporate simple accessibility solutions. Congress can play a role in assuring that such DME technology adheres to the latest software technology standards such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation, Act and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide assurances that accessible DME devices make their way into the hands of individuals who are blind and visually impaired.

ACB has begun to write draft language for legislation to ensure that all DME is made accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. The law would push manufacturers to make the devices accessible at the time of purchase, instead of users having to find ways to make them usable. ACB urges the 116th Congress to explore new law to make DME accessible for all Americans.

 

News from Amtrak’s Quarterly Meeting

 

The American Council of the Blind continues to engage in conversations with Amtrak. Claire Stanley, along with several other disability advocacy organizations, meets with Amtrak every quarter to discuss what Amtrak is working on that impacts passengers with disabilities. The working group also acts as a platform for disability advocacy groups to bring up issues facing passengers with disabilities. At the last quarterly meeting, ACB brought to Amtrak’s attention the fact that the website and mobile app did not allow blind individuals using screen readers to purchase tickets independently. Nor would the site allow blind users to scroll through the list of train arrivals and departures. Since that meeting, the problem has been corrected; ACB was able to directly connect people experiencing the accessibility issues with the programmers who had the ability to remedy the problem. A significant result of these meetings is that the designers, engineers, and computer scientists are right there in the room screening questions and concerns. 

The working group also includes designers and engineers who are developing new train models that will be produced and placed on the tracks in several years. It is an exciting time; Amtrak is creating all new designs of future train cars. As the new models are discussed, the disability advocacy groups are able to talk about accessibility design issues that will either benefit or hinder disabled passengers. ACB has been able to talk about design details that will benefit the blind and visually impaired community, such as the presence of audible announcements, as well as large print and braille signage. Please let ACB know of any accessibility functions you believe would be beneficial or necessary in future train models.

One ongoing concern is the inability to purchase a discounted disability ticket from the website. In order to receive a ticket with that discount, passengers have to call in to the operated phone line. The phone line experiences heavy traffic, and passengers can be placed on hold for extended periods of time. ACB has brought this concern to Amtrak management’s attention multiple times. Amtrak is aware of this concern; it will be fixed sometime this year. They explained that website changes are rolled out over time, and this change is in queue to be rolled out.

We are also in the process of scheduling a meeting with Amtrak to discuss emergency response procedures for disabled passengers. Amtrak has a series of practices and procedures when evacuating a train during an emergency. However, these procedures may need to be modified for people with disabilities. We will discuss these concerns at our meeting.

In addition to the quarterly meetings, ACB has direct access to Amtrak’s ADA coordinator. If ACB members experience accessibility problems while at stations or on trains, please let Claire Stanley and/or Clark Rachfal know by emailing them at advocacy@acb.org.