Author: Paul Schroeder, April 8, 2020

Across the US, businesses, and agencies, and the communities and individuals they serve are struggling in countless ways to maintain well-being – physical, mental and economic. And, our political leaders are also struggling, with limited resources and levers to provide assistance and guidance. Recently enacted legislation has certainly helped and most agree that more action will be needed. In light of these unprecedented times, making our voices heard, on behalf of those we serve, those we employ and those we care for is more challenging than ever. Over the next several issues of Enews, we will try to keep you informed of developments and action needed regarding policy advocacy and provide resources here and on the website. Read on to see current threats to education, accessibility, and voting rights.

Threats to Education

As many are now aware, the recently enacted CARES Act included language directing the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, to report to Congress within 30 days to recommend any proposed waivers of rights and requirements outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is obvious that flexibility may be needed concerning direct services and even materials production and distribution during this period of closures. However, the strength of IDEA is its individualized planning and services which allows parents and schools TO WORK TOGETHER.

Congress would likely have to approve any requested waiver of requirements and rights under IDEA or 504, but Congress needs to hear from those of us who have the responsibility to defend opportunities and uphold the rights of individuals we serve and support. To follow this issue, we recommend that you check with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). In addition, VSA members ACB, AER, and AFB are also carefully monitoring this evolving situation and will doubtless have up-to-date information.

Protecting the Right to Vote

Likely many of you live in states that have delayed the political primary. As I write this, Wisconsin is going ahead with its primary election, despite serious concerns about the health of voters and staff at physical polling sites. Many states have increased mail-in or absentee voting for upcoming primaries (and other special elections). By next November, we may be again facing social distancing. Calls for increased mail-in voting will increase, and many in Congress have attempted to push legislation to provide support to states for this purpose. Without commenting on the politics of absentee voting, it is imperative that we make clear that individuals who are blind or low vision have the right to cast an independent and secure vote. ACB, and other advocacy organizations, are leading efforts to push Congress to ensure support for accessible absentee voting measures.

Let us know the policy issues on which you would like VSA or your colleagues to take action. And, we’ll be on the lookout for new legislative or regulatory efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to contact your elected members of Congress:

Contact Info for Your Senators is here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Contact Info for Your House Member is here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

And, contact Info for Your Governor is here: https://www.usa.gov/state-governor

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