Category Archives: Legislation

2017 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES FROM THE BLIND OF VIRGINIA*

Priority #1: Protect Civil Rights of Blind Parents

Action: Co-patron HB 2273 / SB 1199 (Patron Delegate LaRock, 33rd District and Patron Senator Favola, 31st District) which creates stronger protection under the law to eliminate the bias and discrimination that blind persons face in court decisions regarding custody, visitation, foster care, guardianship, or adoption.

Issue: With increasing frequency, blind parents in Virginia and across the U.S. are enduring instances where their Constitutional right to raise a family is being infringed. Competent blind parents have sometimes been denied adoption, or have lost child custody on the basis of blindness.
Social service agencies are often asked to investigate to ensure that children receive proper care and protection. Unfortunately, a prospective parent’s lack of vision often becomes the overriding factor used by the courts and social service agencies when making decisions about the care of children.

The National Federation of the Blind has documented thousands of cases of blind people who are successfully raising children, many right here in Virginia. This vast experience demonstrates that blindness is not a relevant factor in deciding whether a person is fit to be a parent. We have represented many blind persons in child custody cases across the country, as well as in other situations involving the care of children.
Unfortunately, blatant discrimination still occurs in too many of these cases. Even when no other problems were uncovered, blind parents were forced to demonstrate their child-rearing capabilities beyond that reasonably expected of sighted persons. The capabilities of blind individuals to care for children are often brought into question even when they had been successfully caring for their children for many years.

Despite improved technology, training, and support systems, myths about the capacity of blind parents persist. Even judges, social workers, and other state employees are not immune from these latent biases. Many of them have never met a blind person and cannot imagine raising a child while having limited or no sight. Because of this lack of understanding, some of these individuals miscalculate what is in the best interest of the child because they underestimate the ability of a blind parent to raise a child using alternative non-visual techniques.

Solution: HB 2273 / SB 1199 will solve this problem by doing three things. First, it will establish, as a substantive right, that a parent’s blindness will not serve as a basis for denial of rights when enforcing those rights is in the best interest of the child. Importantly, these new protections will add to the protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which only ensures an accessible court proceeding, by protecting the substantive rights of blind parents to raise a family. Second, when a parent’s blindness is alleged to have a detrimental impact on the child, it will require clear and convincing evidence that that is actually the case and that training in the alternative non-visual techniques would not ameliorate the problem. Finally, it will require ultimate decision makers to put their findings in writing to ensure that they consider training before deciding whether to break up existing families or prevent the establishment of a new one.

Priority #2: Ensure That Blind Riders Are Not Excluded from Use of Highly Autonomous Vehicles.

Issue: Autonomous vehicles have the potential to tremendously increase or decrease access to transportation for blind and low vision Virginians, especially in rural parts of the Commonwealth. Autonomous vehicles are already being tested in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere throughout the United States. Google’s autonomous vehicle was recently tested in Austin, TX where a blind rider successfully rode alone in a vehicle without any manual driving capabilities. This technology could greatly increase a blind person’s ability to travel independently, especially in areas without public transportation. Yet, many states are requiring passengers to have a driver’s license to legally operate highly or fully autonomous vehicles.
This restriction will likely decrease access to transportation by preventing blind passengers from even riding in a taxi or other vehicle for hire such as an Uber or Lyft because these businesses are actively trying to reduce costs by eliminating human drivers. Therefore, requiring a driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle could actually greatly reduce or eliminate the only access blind passengers have to cars.

Importantly, ensuring that there will be no legal barrier to blind riders operating highly or fully autonomous vehicles will also incentivize manufacturers and developers to incorporate accessibility during the initial design process. However, if blind riders are locked out of autonomous cars, then manufacturers will have little incentive to develop this new technology with our needs in mind, making it much more difficult for us to ever gain access to this technology. Virginia must ensure that any autonomous vehicle legislation ensures that there will be no legal barrier preventing blind and low vision passengers from an equal opportunity to operate autonomous vehicles.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

The National Federation of the Blind is America’s largest and most active organization of the blind. With more than 50,000 members, we are not an “agency” claiming to speak for the blind; we are blind people speaking for ourselves. In Virginia, we are organized into 11 local chapters throughout the Commonwealth, and into various special interest divisions; including a parents division. We are the only organization that believes in the full capacity of blind people and because of that, we strive to transform dreams into reality so that blind Virginians can live the lives we want.

HB 166 Literacy Assessment for Blind Bill Introduced by Delegate Cole

The General assembly begins its 2016 Session on Wednesday, January 13.

I am pleased to share that Delegate Cole has introduced the Literacy Assessment bill as HB 166. This bill will be our major focus for Richmond Seminar.

I have included the bill text below.

  • 2016 SESSION
  • INTRODUCED: 12/23/15 14:19 16101537D
  • HOUSE BILL NO. 166
  • Offered January 13, 2016
  • Prefiled December 23, 2015
  • A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-217 of the Code of Virginia, relating to visually impaired students; Braille.
  • Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
  • . That § 22.1-217 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as
    follows:

  • § 22.1-217. Visually impaired students.

    A. As used in this section, unless the context requires a different meaning:

    “Braille” means the system of reading and writing through touch and is commonly known as the Braille tactile communication system.

    “Visually impaired” shall be defined by the Board of Education and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

    B. Special education for visually impaired children students provided by a school division shall be
    established, maintained, and operated jointly by the school board and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired subject to the regulations of the Board of Education.

    C. Braille instruction shall be included in the student’s Individualized Education Plan Program (IEP), whenever appropriate. When developing the an IEP
    or a plan pursuant to § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §
    794 (Section 504 Plan) for students with visual impairment, the presumption
    shall be that proficiency in literacy is essential for such student to achieve satisfactory educational progress. However, use of Braille shall not
    be required if other special education services are more appropriate to the student’s educational needs, and the provision of other appropriate services
    shall not preclude Braille instruction. Each school division shall provide instruction in Braille and the use of Braille for visually impaired students
    unless the team responsible for developing a visually impaired student’s IEP (IEP team) or the team responsible for developing a student’s Section 504
    Plan (504 team) determines, after an evaluation of the student, that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate to the student’s
    educational needs. The evaluation shall be conducted by a certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) and shall include

    • (i) a literacy assessment that is research-based, data-driven, and validated and that results in objective recommendations;
    • (ii) a functional vision assessment;
    • (iii) an assessment of the student’s academic and functional strengths and deficits;
    • (iv) an assessment of the student’s current and future needs;
    • (v) a statement of the appropriate reading and writing media for the student; and
    • (vi) in the case of a student with some residual vision, a comparison of the student’s current reading and writing skill levels to levels expected of peers who are not visually impaired, as determined by the IEP team or 504 team.

    The evaluation may include a comprehensive assistive technology assessment if the IEP team or 504 team determines that it is necessary. The literacy assessment shall be administered to the student at least annually after the evaluation by the certified TVI and when there is a significant change in the student’s vision.

    D. Nothing in this section shall require exclusive instruction in Braille and the use of Braille when the IEP team or 504 team determines
    that other specialized educational services and assistive technology devices are more appropriate for the visually impaired student’s educational needs.

    The provision of other specialized educational services and assistive technology devices shall not preclude instruction in Braille and the use of
    Braille. E. Each IEP team and 504 team may determine that a visually impaired student is eligible to receive instruction in the use of the appropriate
    Braille mathematics code in addition to Braille and the use of Braille.

    F. No visually impaired student shall be denied the opportunity for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille solely on the basis that the student has some residual vision.

    B. G. As used in this subsection, unless the context requires a different meaning, “program” means a modified program that provides special materials or services and may include the employment of itinerant
    teachers or resource room teachers for the visually impaired. The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired shall prepare and deliver a
    program of special education services in addition to the special education provided in the public school system designed to meet the educational needs
    of visually impaired children students between the ages of birth and twenty-one 21 and may prepare and deliver such programs for such individuals
    of other ages. In the development of such a program, the
    Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired shall cooperate with the Board of Education and the school boards of the several school divisions. The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired shall assist the Board of Education and the school boards of the several school divisions
    with in-service training in Braille for currently employed teachers of students who are blind and visually impaired.

    C. As used in this section:

    “Braille” means the system of reading and writing through touch and is commonly known as standard English Braille Grade 2.

    “Program” means a modified
    program which provides special materials or services and may include the employment of itinerant teachers or resource room teachers for the visually
    impaired.

    “Visually impaired” shall be defined by the Board of Education and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

    Click here to go to our 2016 Richmond Seminar Page.

Join Us at the 2016 Richmond Seminar – Jan 18 – 19

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia is a powerful force advocating for blind Virginians. Please join us for the Richmond Seminar on January 18- 19, 2016 to ensure our voice is heard in the offices of the General Assembly.

If you have never attended a Richmond Seminar, we strongly encourage you to attend and participate in representative democracy in action. Everyone is assigned to a team with an experienced leader. The General Assembly members and their staff are very receptive and welcoming. They know we are organized, articulate, and well versed in the subject matter. We will put everyone on the team to work, sharing our issues and answering the questions of legislators and their staff.

The issues we will bring to Richmond will most likely include:

  • Requiring a research based reading media assessment as part of
    every blind and low vision student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) so Virginia’s students who need Braille will get Braille;
  • Defending Virginia’s Randolph Sheppard priority ; and
  • Support for Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired
    (DVBI) as a separate agency.

The final list of issues will be presented at the board meeting.

We have bills being drafted that will need co-sponsors. Chapter Presidents should make contact with their General Assembly members in their local offices before the end of the year. If you need assistance in identifying them, contact Michael or Tracy. A meeting with them will go a long way in establishing the recognition that is needed for our visit to Richmond. All Chapter members are encouraged to participate.

Our board meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 18 which is Martin Luther King Day. The Board Meeting will be held from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at The DBVI Library and Resource Center, 395 Azalea Avenue, Richmond, VA 23227.

Our General Assembly visits will be Tuesday, January 19.

The affiliate will reimburse transportation expenses and hotel expenses.

Chapter presidents should arrange cost effective transportation for their chapter members. Individuals are expected to share hotel rooms and must obtain hotel reservations themselves at the NFB of Virginia rate. If you need assistance identifying a room share, please contact Michael or Tracy.

Hotel rooms are available at the Crowned Plaza Hotel Downtown, 555 East Canal Street, Richmond, VA 22319. Hotel rooms can be reserved by telephone at 804-788-0900 or 1-855-472-7802 and asking for the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) group block.

Click here for online reservations

The deadline to make reservations is January 6, 2016.

The group rate is $99 plus state and local sales tax (currently at 13.3%).

Guest will receive $10 off overnight parking.

check In is at 3 PM and Check Out is 12 PM.

Do not delay, book your room today.

Chapter presidents must provide the names of the individuals planning to attend from their chapter to Michael and Tracy by Wednesday, January 13,
2016 so we can establish teams in advance. If you have any questions, please contact Michael Kasey at (540)760-3885 or michaelgkasey@verizon.net or Tracy Soforenko at (703)635-2085 or tracy.soforenko@gmail.com

2015 Richmond Seminar & January NFBV Board Meeting Workshop

By: Michael Kasey and Tracy Soforenko

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia is a powerful force advocating for blind Virginians. Please join us for the Richmond Seminar on January 19-20, 2015 to ensure our voice is heard in the offices of the General Assembly.

If you have never attended a Richmond Seminar, we strongly encourage you to attend and participate in representative democracy in action.

The issues we will bring to Richmond will most likely include:

  • . Requiring a research based reading media assessment as part of
    every blind and low vision student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) so Virginia’s students who need Braille will get Braille;
  • . Ensuring that Ride Sharing Services (such as Uber and Lift) use
    accessible technology and allow passengers to take guide dogs; and
  • . Support for Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired
    (DVBI) as a separate agency.

The final list of issues will be presented at the board meeting.

We have bills being drafted that will need co-sponsors. Chapter Presidents should make contact with their General Assembly members in their local offices before the end of the year. If you need assistance in identifying them, contact Michael or Tracy. A meeting with them will go a long way in establishing the recognition that is needed for our visit to Richmond. All Chapter members are encouraged to participate.

Our extended board meeting and workshop is scheduled for Monday, January 19which is Martin Luther King Day. The Board Meeting will be held from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM in the Assembly Room of the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for
the Blind and Vision Impaired, 401 Azalea Avenue, Richmond, VA 23227. .

  • A) Agenda for Board Meeting – We will cover the following topics:
    • . Facilitated Workshop on affiliate Goals and plans for the coming
      year
    • . Affiliate Social Media Strategy
    • . State Convention Lessons Learned & Ideas for the 2015 State
      Convention
    • . Richmond Seminar briefing for participants
    • A detailed agenda for the board meeting will be provided in January.
  • B) Boxed Lunches – A member of the Richmond chapter, Leon Anderson,
    will be providing boxed lunches on Monday afternoon at a cost of $10 per lunch. You will have a choice of either a Turkey & cheese sub or a ham & cheese sub. All boxed lunches come with chips, fruit and a snack. Beverages will be available for $1. 20% of the proceeds will be donated to the Richmond chapter.
  • C) General Assembly Visits – Our General Assembly visits will be
    Tuesday, January 20. Everyone is assigned to a team with an experienced leader. The General Assembly members and their staff are very receptive and welcoming. They know we are organized, articulate, and well versed in the subject matter. We will put everyone on the team to work, sharing our issues and answering the questions of legislators and their staff.
  • D) Affiliate Funding – Transportation and hotel paid by affiliate!<

    The affiliate will reimburse transportation expenses and hotel expenses.

    Chapter presidents should arrange cost effective transportation for their chapter members. Individuals are expected to share hotel rooms and must obtain hotel reservations themselves at the NFB of Virginia rate. If you need assistance identifying a room share, please contact Michael or Tracy.

Hotel rooms are available at the Crowned Plaza Hotel Downtown, 555 East Canal Street, Richmond, VA 22319. Hotel rooms can be reserved by telephone at 804-788-0900 or 1-855-472-7802. The NFB rate is $94plus tax per night.
The deadline for booking hotel rooms is January 8, 2015. Do not delay, book your room today.

NFBV Richmond Seminar Hotel Reservations

It should not be required but just in case; the 3-digit booking code is NFB.

Some notes from Brian McCann who organized the agreement with Crowne Plaza:

  1. The link above is set for one guest but you can revise the search by
    using the revise search link. Don’t go back to the reservations page and start the search over, this will take off the discount rate.
  2. Your credit card is NOT charged a deposit for a room hold.
  3. Total EST price for the room after taxes is $106 per night.
  4. Cancellation Policy: Canceling your reservation before 6:00 PM (local
    hotel time) on Monday, 19 January, 2015 will result in no charge. Canceling your reservation after 6:00 PM (local hotel time) on 19 January, 2015, or failing to show, will result in a charge of 1 night per room to your credit card. Taxes may apply. Failing to call or show before check-out time after the first night of a reservation will result in cancellation of the remainder of your reservation.”

Overnight self parking is regularly $12 but we have arranged the discounted rate of $7 for hotel guests. See front desk for details.

Chapter presidents must provide the names of the individuals planning to attend from their chapter to Michael and Tracy by Wednesday, January 14,
2015 so we can establish teams in advance. If you have any questions, please contact Michael Kasey at (540)760-3885 or michaelgkasey@verizon.net or Tracy Soforenko at (703)635-2085 or tracy.soforenko@gmail.com