WASHINGTON – Hundreds of advocates met Monday evening near Capitol Hill to urge the passage of legislation designed to ensure the safety of pedestrians around quiet cars, increase the accessibility of technology for blind people and put blind Social Security recipients back to work.
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act would begin a two-year study to determine the most effective way to ensure the safety of blind and other pedestrians around electric and hybrid vehicles. The results of the study would be used to mandate a minimum level of sound quiet cars would be required to make along with any other necessary vehicle safety standards.
Advocates with the National Federation of the Blind contend the need for this law goes far beyond the blind population to include all pedestrians.
“The general public doesn’t realize that even when they’re not actively doing it, they use the sound of traffic all the time like the blind,” said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind. “People are told they shouldn’t jog or walk with their headphones turned up loud because they can’t hear sounds in the environment that may be a danger.”
The federation’s leaders said they’re already making headway on this legislation. The House bill, H.R. 734, has 174 co-sponsors while the Senate bill, S. 841, has 19. Blind people will be spending the next three days working to persuade their representatives and senators to sign on and vote for a bill they say will ensure their continued freedom of safe travel.
The federation’s advocates and other interested members of the blind community are also pressing for enactment of a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind. The proposed legislation would require that appliances, consumer electronics, kiosks and office technology be made accessible to everyone regardless of eye sight.
“Joe Shaw owns a company. He goes over to his own FAX machine, but he can’t operate it. It’s not accessible. When I go to the gymn, I can run but I can’t turn on the machines,” said John Paré, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. “This is wrong. This needs to be against the law and we can make it against the law this week.”
In a manner similar to the pedestrian safety legislation, a study would be conducted to determine the minimum accessibility standards companies would be required to meet. At the conclusion of the study, regulations would be enacted to enforce the new standards.
The proposed legislation, H.R. 4533, has 44 co-sponsors and advocates said they are working over the next three days to significantly increase that number.
Finally, the federation is asking Congress to pass the Blind Person’s Return to Work Act into law, which would provide incentives for blind people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance to return to work.
The legislation, H.R. 886, is designed to gradually reduce benefits as a blind person’s earnings increase, determine ongoing eligibility based on annual rather than monthly earnings and simplify the way blind recipients can account for work expenses related to their disability.