NIB/NAEPB Advocacy Day – Washington DC

Advocating for people who are blind or have low vision.

Before I lost about 85% of my vision 10 years ago, I would have never imagined that soon I would be confidently roaming the halls of Congressional office buildings in Washington DC. That is exactly where Kim Zimmer, CEO, and I (Suellen Porter, Customer Service Manager) were on May 10, 2023.  We were attending the NIB/NAEPB Advocacy Day:  Connect the Dots. We were visiting the offices of Congressmen Glen Thompson and Dan Meuser, and the office of Senator Robert Casey. 

The right for people with disabilities to choose their own career paths has become my political passion.  Over 70% of blind or visually impaired adults in the United States are under or un-employed. The AbilityOne Program is a federal program that was established in 1938 to create employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Through our partnership with National Industries for the Blind (NIB), NCSS offers employment opportunities by manufacturing, purchasing, and shipping products to federal agencies and the military all over the world. 

Kim and I were asking our legislatures to amend the federal Rehabilitation Act to require State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies to provide their clients with information about AbilityOne jobs offered by non-profit agencies, like ours.  We also asked that they hold hearings to ensure that all government agencies are following federal mandates through purchasing AbilityOne products.

Providing employment opportunities is essential for people who have sight impairment or blindness. Without these opportunities, many individuals would be unable to find employment. As a result, they would struggle financially while relying more on government services to supplement their income and financial needs. Not only is employment a financial need, but it also gives individuals self-worth and dignity. Employment allows individuals to be part of the community. Interactions at work may lead to friendships and relationships that will also allow the individual to grow as a person rather than being isolated.

The Legislative Directors and Aides we spoke to in all 3 offices were eager to listen to our concerns.  They agreed that all people with disabilities have the right to choose where they work, and that Congress needs to exercise more oversight to ensure that the AbilityOne Program continues to grow to provide more opportunities for the disabled community.  We are assured that our elected officials are listening to our concerns and that they will continue to do their best to help keep us employed.

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