The Blind Taking The Hill: Washington Seminar 2003

By Juliet Cody, President, Beach Cities Chapter

It was February once again, time for Federationists to have our annual pilgrimage to our country's capital. This year the Californians brought warmer temperatures with them after a deep freeze had blanketed the eastern seaboard. As more and more of us arrived, the tapping of canes and the jingling sound of the tags on the guide dogs could be heard throughout the city announcing that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Washington Seminar for 2003 had begun. As always, everyone was enthusiastic about the next five days that were filled with exciting events, such as the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) seminar, a trip to the National Center and our upcoming undertaking for the future. Once again, the NFB movement made Washingtonians aware that we are the voice of the nation's blind, and it was felt at the NABS pizza party on the very first night.

As Saturday's sun rose over the Potomac, so rose the spirits of the NABS members, for on this day the students seminar took place. Soon after breakfast, the students and guests gathered in the Columbia room for a day of wonderful speakers, vital information and a dose of invigoration to reinforce a successful academic journey. The seminar concluded with an exhilarating banquet where we shared good food, great fellowship, entertainment and heard wise words from Dr. Fred Schroeder, who is an inspiring speaker to say the least.

On Sunday many Federationists took the opportunity to visit the NFB Center, in Baltimore, where the National Braille Research and Training Center is being built. This will be the largest research and technology center of its type in the world. For Federationists, it is always rewarding to see the progress of this enormous goal that we tackled three years ago. Our joint efforts have demonstrated the power of our collective movement. We are now in the final stages of completing the project. Later that evening, eager Federationists gathered in the Colombia room for a briefing on the legislative issues that we would be promoting for the next three days.

After a night of rest, we were energized for our mission on Capitol Hill. We came armed with three issues. The first issue dealt with Social Security. Our intention was to cap the earning limitations for the blind at $30,000 a year over a five-year period. The second issue was the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, a proposal that consists of a central repository for textbooks, which would put the books into a digital format. This means any school or district office could download or have the books on a computer disc. That would allow the schools to put these books into any format such as Braille, large print, audio recording or computer disc. The result of this is that the blind faculty, staff and student, as well as students with other disabilities, would have their textbooks at the same time as any other student. The final issue was concerning the Rehabilitation Department providing home training for seniors who have recently become blind. This proposal would provide for in-home daily living skills. This bill would be cost effective, since it is less expensive to train someone at home than to have them live in a nursing home.

For the next three days we met with representatives or their aides to discuss the above issues. Most were received with positive responses. On Capitol Hill, we were effective and always on schedule thanks to the many hours of hard work and dedication of our Washington Seminar coordinator, Tiffany Manosh, along with the guidance of our state legislative representative Don Burns and our president Nancy Burns, who are a powerful influence in leading us into the future.

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