The Washington Connection 5-22-18

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 Tony Stephens.


The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of May 22, 2018. Message 3 is new.



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ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number


Once again, AudioNow has given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (712) 775-4808.


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


Breaking Barriers for Those Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired


To read this article online, visit


There’s something about the telephone that I’ve always found magical. It may be partially genetic: I’m more of an audible person, having been born blind. But I’d equally credit my father, who was an engineer for Western Electric. As a child, he’d take me to the massive toll-switching station north of Atlanta. There, I’d sit and listen to the thousands of relays clicking and clacking to bring together people from across the globe. I think that’s why, in this age of instant-message gratification, there’s something special about picking up a good old-fashioned telephone receiver to make a human connection.


Of course, today’s office telephones are everything but “old-fashioned.” Behind the scenes, engineers work around the clock to assure systems remain reliable and integrate productivity into today’s advanced digital networks. This requires a certain craft for innovation. And it’s something that Cisco has demonstrated over the past 30 years.


Cisco’s track record of innovation took an extra step forward with the announcement of accessibility updates to its Cisco IP Phone 8800 Series. These updates enable workers who are blind and visually impaired to independently operate their phones for the first time.


Breaking barriers


Technology has become the primary barrier breaker for Americans who are blind and visually impaired. Software and hardware advancements capable of supplementing the human senses have opened up new and exciting opportunities to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are blind. Despite this, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that just over one-third of Americans who are blind are engaged in the workforce. This begs the question: What barriers still exist that make achieving the American Dream so difficult for people who are blind?


I’ve spoken with working professionals across the country and across career paths to find out. One common theme is misconceptions of what a person with vision impairment is capable of doing. This remains a dominant barrier to full and equal inclusion in the workplace. Employees who are blind continually face pressure to go the extra mile just to prove the most basic on-the-job competencies.


Enter Cisco and the latest update to the 8800 Series phones. Prior to this latest software update, individuals who were blind and visually impaired faced significant challenges toward independently operating one of the most important tools of the workplace environment — the telephone.


Simplifying business


I’ve talked with some of the smartest Ph.D.s and lawyers in the country, and with marketing directors and human capital managers. All have shared anxiety when telling the person on the other end of the phone to please hold as they yell out for sighted assistance just to forward a call to a co-worker. It’s one of those classic examples of how we take the most simple things for granted. Should I take the call or let it go to voicemail when I’m faced with a tight deadline?


Cisco has removed many of these key work-related anxieties by integrating text-to-speech across the 8800 Series. The update will allow any individual needing such assistive technology to easily activate it at any workstation. This is particularly helpful in today’s workplace as an increasing number of employees rely on shared workspaces. Companies will also no longer need costly third-party solutions that often require connectivity to computers and other peripherals to provide still-cumbersome adaptations.


The American Council of the Blind is excited that Cisco has taken the lead to assure that critical business telecommunications solutions remain accessible. Our work together will continue to expand accessible solutions, which will help eliminate misconceptions of the capabilities of people who are blind and visually impaired.


Now all that is left to be conquered is that new wifi-enabled smart espresso maker in the work lounge!


Marrakesh Treaty Advances to Full Senate


Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations advanced the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to remove the obstacles to accessing published works in accessible formats by people who are blind or have other print-reading disabilities. The treaty now moves to the full Senate, where it must receive a two-thirds majority vote for final ratification. The American Council of the Blind needs your help moving the treaty to the finish line. Act now by calling your senators and urge them to vote “Yes” on the Marrakesh Treaty.  


You can reach your Senate office by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Once you connect to your two Senate offices, let them know you’re a constituent who supports ending the book famine for people who are blind, and you hope they will vote “Yes” for the Marrakesh Treaty.


The treaty is important for Americans, as it removes barriers for those traveling or living abroad who need access to copyrighted works in an accessible format such as braille or audio. Although advances in technology in recent years have given people with visual impairments many more options for accessing printed materials in accessible formats, the World Blind Union estimates that we still have access to only about five percent of the books published worldwide each year. In parts of the world that are less developed, less than one percent of published works are accessible to people with print-reading disabilities. This situation persists in spite of provisions in copyright law in countries such as the U.S. that allow producers of accessible format books to publish and distribute such accessible format works to people who are blind or have print-reading disabilities.


The Marrakesh Treaty received broad support from not only blindness organizations, but publishers and copyright law experts throughout the U.S. and around the world.


If ratified, the United States will join 39 other countries who have signed onto the treaty. Let’s move forward to 40! Learn more at


Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals


BOSTON — A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action today against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans.  The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse.  However, the company fails to provide audio description — a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie — for any streaming videos. 


Because Hulu fails to include audio description tracks on any of its streaming content, blind and visually impaired individuals cannot independently enjoy Hulu’s video streaming services.  Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen, especially in scenes with no dialogue.  The audio description track plays between pauses in dialogue.  Hulu boasts an extensive library of live TV and on-demand movies and series — including its Emmy-award winning original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” — but currently excludes customers who are blind and visually impaired.


In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet.  A screen reader is software that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.


The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices.  Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.


Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Movies and television are pillars of American culture.  As delivery of such media transitions to video streaming services, it is critical that these platforms be accessible in order to ensure the inclusion of blind and visually impaired individuals in contemporary society.”


Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Hulu is owned by a collection of some of the most powerful companies in the entertainment business and is itself one of the nation’s most popular online streaming services.  Its utter failure to provide access to individuals who are blind and visually impaired is astonishing.”


“BSCB members have been expressing their concerns about Hulu’s lack of audio description for years now,” said Brian Charlson, President of Bay State Council of the Blind, “and it is time that Hulu join with other industry streaming services out there and meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”


“As forms of entertainment evolve, equal access must transition to meet industry innovation. Equal access means the ability to fully use and enjoy all aspects of entertainment, just like everyone else,” said Christine Griffin, Executive Director of DLC.


Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but seek only to achieve equal access to Hulu’s services.


A copy of this press release and the complaint can be found at nationwide-class-action-challenges-hulus-discrimination-blind-visually-impaired-individuals/.


ACB Commends Delta for Revising Its Service Animal Policy


WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2018 – The American Council of the Blind commends Delta Airlines for re-examining its recent policy on service animals, relaxing constraints that negatively impacted travelers with guide dogs. The revised policy announced today makes changes to a policy released earlier this year that was intended to reduce the number of fraudulent service and emotional support animals that have disrupted travel and, in some cases, caused injury to passengers.


“ACB is pleased to learn that Delta listened to the concerns ACB and our members raised following the release of their January 18th change in policy,” said Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director. “The new policy provides a much more workable solution that still allows for the freedom of travel by passengers using guide dogs.”


Since its inception, ACB has advocated tirelessly for equal access by individuals who rely on the use of a guide dog. ACB played an active role in the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Both laws have established the fundamental right to access in places of public accommodation and across multiple transportation networks, including all commercial airlines.


“We look forward to working with Delta and other airlines to assure that the skies remain accessible for all travelers, especially those who experience the freedom that comes through traveling with a guide dog,” said Anthony Stephens, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs. A guide dog user, Stephens was actively involved in the 2016 Department of Transportation negotiations tasked with finding a solution to the rise in service animal fraud.


The initial policy change, released January 18th, would have created multiple barriers to free and independent access to air travel by consumers with guide dogs. Passengers with service and emotional support animals would have been required to provide prior notice, and upload relevant documents affirming the dog’s training and vaccination records. The revised guidelines relax many of these policies for individuals with legitimately trained service animals, which have already undergone great scrutiny and training before being released in the community with their handlers. Passengers traveling with trained service animals will still be required to have their dogs vaccinated and be able to provide proof of vaccination should issues or injury arise as a result of the animal.


ACB recognizes Delta’s desire to assure that in the rare case of injury, the appropriate documentation can be made available. We thank Delta for listening to its customers and redrafting a policy that does not discriminate against travelers who rely on their service dogs to be independent.


AFB and APH Partner for a Future of No Limits for People Who Are Blind;

APH to Provide Ongoing Stewardship for Key Programs Founded by AFB


WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2018 — Today, the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind announced a partnership with the mutual goal of generating substantial impact on the lives of children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. APH will become the steward of several key programs founded by AFB and assume responsibility for ensuring their continued impact. AFB will take the work to a new level by investing in policy and programs focused on creating stronger social systems, and ultimately a more inclusive, accessible society for people with vision loss. These complementary strategies will ensure that people who are blind or have low vision can live a life of no limits, recognizing that the future belongs to everyone.


This decision comes following extensive strategic planning by both organizations. The partnership gives APH the opportunity to expand its lifelong learning offerings and gives AFB the opportunity to expand its influence on the research and policies that impact the lives of people with vision loss.


APH will become the caretakers of:

  • AFB Press – a program that publishes textbooks for college and university programs and professional books for teachers, researchers, and other professionals. The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) will remain in the care of AFB.
  • VisionAware – an online program that helps adults who are losing their sight continue to live full and independent lives by providing timely information, step-by-step daily living techniques, and a supportive online community.
  • FamilyConnect – an online program that gives parents of children who are visually impaired a place to find resources and support each other.
  • CareerConnect – an online program that provides employment information, career-exploration tools, and job-seeking guidance for individuals with vision loss and professionals who work with them.
  • BrailleBug – an online program that teaches children about braille through games and activities and provides resources to teachers and parents.


Both organizations are committed to a smooth transition and will be working in close partnership for several months.


“We are proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with so many in the field. This work has brought us to this crossroads where it is necessary for AFB to assume a stronger and more active voice in decisions that impact the broader world, particularly in the areas of education, employment, and aging and vision loss,” explains Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB. “We are excited about our new direction and optimistic about what the future holds for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our partnership with APH is a win-win for the people we serve.”


“Learning is critical to improving the lives of everyone across the life spectrum. Quality information is key for providing opportunities for employment, education and ultimately, happiness,” says Craig Meador, president of APH. “We are committed to continuing the standards of credibility and excellence established by AFB while evolving and growing these programs to keep them relevant in the 21st century knowledge economy.”


Both organizations are realigning priorities in response to the growing needs of children and adults who are blind and visually impaired. There are more than 25 million Americans with vision loss and those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages. As more people become blind or visually impaired, as schools experience a shortage of teachers trained to teach students with vision loss, as the economy and workforce changes, and as accessibility becomes even more essential to workforce training and technologies, service organizations are relying on new partnerships and sharing resources to provide the necessary supports and systems for people to succeed today and in the future.


Currency Case Update


In June 2016, the American Council of the Blind filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to act judiciously and expeditiously in order to release accessible currency by December 31, 2020. The petition to the court followed a Treasury update stating that it would not have accessible currency until as late as 2026, thirteen years past the initial timeline set forth by the court in ACB v. Paulson. The Department of the Treasury claimed that the delay was not due to making currency accessible, but rather over concerns about counterfeiting advancements.
On the morning of October 19, 2017, ACB presented oral arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding the extensive delays in implementing accessible tactile currency. During the hearing, the government gave little cause to its earlier argument that they had made meaningful access available through the e-currency readers.   
On December 26, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court must make a new determination as to whether all currency must be made accessible by 2026. The government is now attempting to delay implementation of the tactile feature on all currency denominations until the 2030s. To read the decision online, go to
In this connection, as part of our case for the next phase of court activity, ACB wishes to hear from both its members and non-members, expressing their real-life problems in dealing with paper currency. We are particularly interested in your difficulties and challenges when using currency in a public environment, such as when shopping at a store, receiving change from a teller, or riding in a taxi. We would like to gather your firsthand experiences, mishaps, near misses, or horror stories.

We would also like to hear of any difficulties people are having when using, or trying to use, the external talking currency reader supplied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in a public setting.
We are asking that you provide ACB with this information in written form via email. Your individual comments will be reviewed by ACB staff, and then be sent to our attorney. ACB’s attorney will review your written comments, and, if appropriate, he will format these accounts that strengthen our case into affidavits for your signature. These signed affidavits will then be filed with the court.


Individuals wishing to provide statements for the court on issues and concerns with lack of accessible currency may send your statements to Feel free to call our national office with questions: (202) 467-5081.
We believe that your individual real-life stories will be critically important in attempting to persuade the court to set a firm deadline of 2026 for making all currency accessible. We look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible.