The Washington Connection 12-18-18

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.


The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of December 18, 2018. Messages 1, 2 and 3 are new.


 



 


Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.


 


ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number


 


AudioNow has once again given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (641) 793-0756.


The number to listen to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “E-Forum” and “ACB Reports” remains the same, (605) 475-8154.


 


Update on Autonomous Vehicles


 


Autonomous vehicles will significantly increase the independence of millions of blind Americans, but we need a law to ensure the successful and safe operation of these vehicles. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to pass the AV START Act (S. 1885). Our senators must work to bring this bill to the floor and pass this legislation immediately. AVs have great potential to expand the freedom of mobility for individuals unable to operate regular vehicles, and the technology being developed will significantly reduce vehicle-related pedestrian fatalities. Both of these issues are significant for Americans who are blind and visually impaired.


The AV Start Act has two key provisions worth sharing with your senators:


  1. The bill will provide protections under the ADA to prohibit discrimination of operation based on an individual’s disability;
  2. The Department of Transportation will convene a stakeholder group, which will have on its plate issues encompassing accessibility.


ACB believes these are two important pieces to the current landscape encompassing AV development not found in the House legislation, which passed last year. To this end, we urge the Senate to pass S. 1885, assuring access remains on the table as this technology develops.


To contact your senators, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.


For more information on the AV Start Act, visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1885.


 


AI for Accessibility Panel Discussion


 


People with disabilities have long relied on technology to provide improved access, and creative innovations that regularly advance personal independence. Artificial intelligence (AI) is an exciting tool that can apply machine learning to complex accessibility challenges, automating functions that currently require human intervention. What can AI do for accessibility, and what's next?


On November 29th, ACB and Verizon held a conversation featuring creative industry leaders using AI to address pervasive accessibility challenges. View it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmericanCounciloftheBlindOfficial/.


 


Information on the 2019 Leadership Meetings


 


The annual leadership meetings will take place from Saturday, February 23rd through Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 in Alexandria, Virginia.


 


2019 Schedule of Events:


Saturday, February 23: Board Meeting


Sunday, February 24: Affiliate Presidents’ Meeting


Monday, February 25: Legislative Seminar


Tuesday, February 26: Meeting with Legislators on Capitol Hill


 


Hotel Information:


Crowne Plaza Alexandria


Room rates (pretax): $120/night


Address: 901 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314


Phone number: (703) 683-6000


Crowne Plaza website: https://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/us/en/alexandria/axecp/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-CP-_-USA-_-AXECP


 


More information will be available as we get closer to the event. Stay tuned to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “The ACB E-Forum,” and acb.org for updates.


 


Senator Baldwin’s Reforms to Protect Rights of Disabled Airline Passengers Pass Congress


 


To read this article online, visit https://urbanmilwaukee.com/pressrelease/senator-baldwins-reforms-to-protect-rights-of-disabled-airline-passengers-pass-congress/.


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin worked to include a number of key measures from her Air Carrier Access Amendments Act in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to protect the rights of disabled airplane passengers and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities frequently encounter in air travel. The reforms included in the legislation passed the House and the Senate and now head to the President for his signature.


“In order to keep America’s promise of full equality for all, we must break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities and our veterans face when they travel,” said Senator Baldwin. “Equal access to air travel ensures individuals with disabilities are able to participate in today’s economy and enjoy their travel opportunities. I’m so proud that my work to protect the rights of every airplane passenger earned the support of my Congressional colleagues and I’m looking forward to the President signing this important legislation.”


“We applaud the bipartisan passage of this bill,” said David Zurfluh, National President of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Problems with air travel are by far the most common complaints we hear from our members. This legislation is truly a move in the right direction, and we will continue to support efforts to prohibit discrimination and make America more accessible for all people with disabilities.”


“We appreciate efforts by Senator Baldwin and other Members of Congress to address concerns from the disability community about air travel. At The Arc Wisconsin, we believe air travel should be inclusive for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and this bill is a step in the right direction,” said Lisa Pugh, State Director of The Arc of Wisconsin.


“The passage of this bill is an exciting step forward for travelers with disabilities, who have long faced barriers to safe, accessible, and dignified air travel. Disability Rights Wisconsin thanks Senator Baldwin for her efforts in passing these much-needed reforms. As a result of this bill, travelers with disabilities will now have increased protections for themselves and their equipment, and have meaningful recourse if something goes wrong,” said Bill Crowley, Ombudsman at Disability Rights Wisconsin.


Senator Baldwin’s efforts are supported by the American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, ACCESS, American Foundation for the Blind, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Easterseals, Epilepsy Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Association of the Deaf, National Association for Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The Arc, United Spinal Association, AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, Got Your 6, Paralyzed Veterans of America, The American Legion, VetsFirst, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project.


Senator Baldwin’s reforms included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 will:


  • Increase civil penalties for bodily harm to a passenger with a disability and damage to wheelchairs or other mobility aids;
  • Require that DOT review, and if necessary, revise regulations ensuring passengers with disabilities receive dignified, timely and effective assistance at airports and on aircraft;
  • Create the Advisory Committee on the Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities to identify barriers to air travel for individuals with disabilities and recommend consumer protection improvements;
  • Require that the new Advisory Committee review airline practices for ticketing, preflight seat assignments and stowing of assistive devices, and make recommendations as needed;
  • Mandate the DOT develop an Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights, in consultation with stakeholders, describing rights of passengers with disabilities and responsibilities of air carriers; and
  • Study In-Cabin Wheelchair Restraint Systems, in coordination with disability advocates, air carriers and aircraft manufacturers, on the ways in which individuals using wheelchairs can be accommodated with in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.


For more than 30 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has prohibited discrimination based on disability in air travel. Despite this progress, many travelers with disabilities still encounter significant barriers when they travel by air including damaged equipment, delayed assistance and lack of seating accommodations. That’s why Senator Baldwin introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act last year to protect the rights of airline passengers with disabilities.


 


Social Security Announces 2.8 Percent Benefit Increase for 2019
 


Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 67 million Americans will increase 2.8 percent in 2019, the Social Security Administration announced today.


The 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 62 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2019.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2018.  (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The Substantial Gainful Activity level for blind individuals increases, too, from $1,970 per month to $2,040 per month.


 


Hulu Becomes Latest Streaming Service to Commit to Accessibility for Blind Users


 


To read this press release online, go to http://acb.org/hulu-accessibility.


BOSTON —Hulu and advocates from the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB) have reached a settlement agreement to increase the accessibility of Hulu’s streaming service to individuals who are blind or have low vision. As a result, Hulu will undertake efforts to make its website and software applications accessible via screen readers and will provide audio description tracks for streaming content where possible. With these efforts, Hulu will join the list of online streaming providers, like Netflix, that are prioritizing accessibility features and making the entertainment industry more accessible to the disability community.


Hulu offers online streaming services to over 20 million subscribers across the nation. However, none of Hulu’s streaming content currently includes audio description — a separate audio track that narrates the key visual elements of video content between portions of dialogue to provide blind and low vision users a full media experience. For more on audio description, visit ACB’s Audio Description Project. Under the settlement agreement, Hulu will begin obtaining these tracks for as much streaming content as possible and will adapt its video player so that users can enable and disable this feature, similar to the closed caption option that currently exists on Hulu’s video player. Users will also be able to filter the Hulu streaming library based on the availability of audio description. Blind community members are enthusiastic about the new opportunity to fully enjoy Hulu’s extensive programming selection.


According to ACB President Kim Charlson, “These improvements by Hulu will provide people who are blind or have low vision with access to the same online video entertainment services currently enjoyed by millions of Americans. ACB commends Hulu for working with us to enhance access to its services for people who are blind. Our goal is to open up Hulu’s services to the blind community and to increase the availability of audio-described movies and television programming. Movies and television are a central pillar of American culture. As television and movie content are increasingly delivered through streaming services, this agreement ensures that the blind community will receive and be able to independently use accessible Hulu content. This access is critical to making certain that people who are blind are included as equal participants in today’s society.”


In addition to providing audio description, Hulu will update its website and multiple software applications to ensure that screen-reader users can navigate and interact with the platform. A screen reader is software that enables blind individuals to access and interact with online services by converting the text displayed visually on the screen into audible speech or by outputting that information on a digital braille display. For a screen reader to work, website and app developers must program for compatibility. A single unlabeled button, like those for entering a password or submitting payment information, can render a website wholly unusable. By January 2020, Hulu will ensure that its website and applications are compliant with standard web-accessibility guidelines and that updates are tested for usability.


“So many times it is that last step — an inaccessible website — that keeps those who are blind or experiencing low vision from fully enjoying what others take for granted,” says BSCB President Brian Charlson, “and now Hulu will be working with us to make sure that their service can be accessed by everyone.”


Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit disability rights legal center, and Disability Law Center, Inc. (DLC), the Massachusetts Protection and Advocacy agency, represented ACB, BSCB, Kim Charlson, and Brian Charlson in these negotiations with Hulu.


Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “This settlement will significantly improve access to movies and television for the blind community, moving people with disabilities one step closer to full inclusion in society, which was the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”


Marlene Sallo, Executive Director of the Disability Law Center, said, “Online streaming of videos has become an increasingly important source of entertainment. DLC is extremely pleased that, as a result of this significant agreement with Hulu, our clients and other individuals who are blind and visually impaired will now be able to enjoy the streaming of programs from Hulu.”


A copy of the agreement can be found at www.dralegal.org/press/hulu-becomes-latest-streaming-service-to-commit-to-accessibility-for-blind-users. This agreement resolved a lawsuit filed against Hulu in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Civ. No. 1:17-cv-12285-PBS.