A Voice in Congress For People Who Are Blind

MWEB EOY with Rep Upton

Last week’s Virtual Public Policy Forum sponsored by NIB and the National Association for People Who Are Blind (NAEPB) provided more than just a chance to celebrate the outstanding 2020 Employees of the Year featured here on NIB Connection the last two weeks. It was also an opportunity to give people who are blind a voice in Congress on issues affecting employment and the AbilityOne® Program.

The policy and advocacy-related sessions on Tuesday featured comments by NIB Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer Angela Hartley; NAEPB President Reinhard Mabry, who is also president and CEO of NIB associated nonprofit agency Alphapointe; and a congressional staff panel from the House Committee on Education and Labor. Shea McCarthy and Gary Palmquist with Thorn Run Partners, the government relations firm for NAEPB, also presented on their firm’s capabilities, developments on Capitol Hill and how agencies can work to develop champions in Congress. Closing out the Tuesday program was a video featuring VisionCorps’ Employee of the Year nominee Mike Hora, a valued member of NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment program.

The Wednesday morning program opened with remarks by NIB President and CEO, Kevin Lynch. Next, NAEPB public policy committee vice president Renee Vidrine, who also serves as president of Lighthouse Louisiana; and NAEPB public policy committee assistant vice president Cindy Watson, who also serves as president and CEO of Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., in Seattle provided an informative presentation and answered questions following their remarks. NIB government relations advisor Charles Cooper with Signal Group offered comments on the congressional landscape and prospects for moving forward on AbilityOne Program transformation, and NIB Public Policy Vice President Rick Webster provided an overview of key ongoing issues and offered some additional insight on topics such as wages and SSDI reform, before adjourning so agency personnel could make final preparations for their virtual meetings with members of Congress. Wednesday concluded with a wonderful video presentation by Sedrick Veal Employee of the Year nominee from Envision.

To date, NIB associated agencies have held or will be holding at least 80 virtual congressional meetings, bringing the concerns of employees in their agencies to Congress, with the number of meetings expected to grow during the month of June. During the Forum, NIB staff and its government relations advisors participated in a small number of key congressional meetings, and a number of associated agencies engaged Congress on AbilityOne Program transformation, asking House offices to cosponsor H.R. 2373, the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act.

All in all, it was an exciting and productive two days, with more virtual congressional meetings to be held as the summer progresses.