Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA),July 23,2014, the long awaited reauthorization of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The bill, which passed the House and the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, also reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A press release from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), which played a major role in crafting the legislation, says the new law will meet the demands of a rapidly changing workforce. A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce anticipates the shortage of participants in the U.S. workforce with a post-secondary education will reach 11 million by 2022. The new law increases the focus on regional and local efforts with the elimination of 15 federal programs. State and local workforce development boards will see changes to their composition designed to make them smaller, more nimble and more strategic.

The new law includes some significant changes to the Rehabilitation Act provisions authorizing vocational rehabilitation services across the country. Major changes for persons with disabilities include:

  1. An increased focus on preparing youth with disabilities for competitive integrated employment;

  2. The transition of Centers for Independent Living (CILs) from the Department. of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services;

  3. Changes in the certification process for vocational rehabilitation counselors.

One controversial section of the original Senate bill (known as Section 511), focused on transitioning youth into subminimum wage employment. A compromise reached in the final law requires vocational rehabilitation offices to complete a series of steps before sending any person into a subminimum wage employment setting. These steps include providing a chance to work in a competitive integrated setting, or supported employment if deemed necessary.

A one-page fact sheet on the bill is available on the HELP Committee’s website.

H.R.3749: The Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2013

H.R. 3749, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2013 was introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney and Gus Bilirakis, Dec. 12, 2013.  This bill is to provide for a Medicare demonstration project to evaluate the fiscal impact of covering low vision devices as durable medical equipment under part B of the Medicare program.

Low Vision device means a device prescribed by a physician, that magnifies, enhances or otherwise augments or interprets visual images irrespective of the size form or technological features of such device and does not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses or a device that is otherwise available for non-prescription retail sale to the general public at a cost of less than $500.   

Eligible participants are those individuals enrolled in Part B, seen by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, had a clinical evaluation that determined and certified through a prescription, that furnishing a low vision device to the individual is medically necessary.  The demonstration is requested to last 5 years. The estimated cost is 12.5 million dollars.

Advocates are encouraged to contact their members of the U.S. House of Representatives and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 3749.

February is National Age-Related Macular Degeneration Month

February is National Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Low Vision Awareness Month. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people 65 and older. AMD affects a portion of the retina, in the back of the eye, called the macula. This part of the eye is highly sensitive to color and fine detail. The macula is used in tasks such as reading and recognizing faces from across the room. There are two types of AMD, “wet” and “dry.” Dry AMD is the most common and progresses more slowly. Wet AMD is caused when unhealthy blood vessels form under the retina and leak or bleed, causing damage to the macula.

New treatments for AMD in recent years offer improved outcomes for patients, particularly with the wet form. Increased research into risk factors such as smoking, diet and nutritional supplements may further reduce the vision loss associated with this disease.

Early detection of AMD is the key to minimizing vision loss. A complete eye examination including dilation every one to two years is important, as is reducing risk factors such as smoking and overexposure to sunlight’s UV rays.

Window-Eyes now free!

Microsoft is offering a new way for visually impaired users of its Office software a better way to interact with its tools, thanks to a newly revealed agreement with GW Micro. The two companies announced today that the Window-Eyes screen reading software from GW Micro will now be offered for free for owners of Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013, along with paid subscribers to Office 365.

The website has more details on this free software offer, which will enable visually impaired users to access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook via computer speech or Braille in over 15 languages. In a press release, GW Micro believes offering better access to software like Window Eyes will become more important in the years to come "as the number of people with age-related macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases increases."

In its own press release, Microsoft stated, "Whether people want to use Office at home, school or work they now have more flexibility and an improved opportunity to take advantage of our latest software innovations." Microsoft Speech Platform will be the default synthesizer for Window Eyes but additional voices can be purchased if the robotic tone of the default is not to the user's liking.

Prevent Blindness America Launches New Awareness Campaign and Online Educational Resource Just for Women

Women are at significantly greater risk of blindness or visual impairment than men. In fact, according to the 2012 "Vision Problems in the US" study, 66 percent of those experiencing blindness are women, 61 percent of those suffering with cataracts are women and 65 percent of those with age-related macular degeneration are women. The causes for these conditions, including age, hormonal factors and certain autoimmune diseases, are often very different for women than for men and the precautions and treatments may differ as well. To address these issues, today, Prevent Blindness America (PBA) launches "See Jane See -- Women's Healthy Eyes Now" a web-based educational campaign dedicated solely to women's vision health. See Jane See and the dedicated website,, offers free information and downloadable tip sheets created specifically for women on a variety of issues across the age spectrum. Information will also include symptoms, causes and treatment options for a variety of conditions. Please visit, or call (800) 331-2020.

New Technology for teaching Math and Science to Children with Vision Impairments

One University of Alabama Huntsville professor is working to open the world of mathematics to blind students with an online class that uses new non-visual teaching methods.

Derrick Smith, an assistant professor of education at UAH, and Erica Slate-Young, a visiting assistant professor of education at UAH, developed a computer software and education program that allows blind and visually impaired students to type math using regular keystrokes on a regular keyboard. Previously, blind students needed to first learn a computer code called Mathematical Markup Language in order to type math.

Blind students already must learn a special type of Braille called the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics, which is read horizontally. However, the way people talk and write about mathematics often doesn’t translate to this writing system.

“When you multiply a fraction by a fraction, you take the top times the top and bottom times the bottom,” Smith recently told, “For a blind person it’s not set up like that.”

Smith’s project would help visually impaired students overcome the obstacles they face in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that stem from the very visual nature in which these subjects are taught.

Smith and Slate-Young have received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research program to continue with their project.

We hope their innovations lead more visually impaired students to succeed in these fields where the barrier to entry has been very high.

Accessible Prescriptions: An Update on Legislation

On July 9, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. Section 904 of the act authorized the US Access Board to convene a stakeholder working group to develop best practices for making information on prescription drug container labels accessible to "people who are blind or visually-impaired or who are elderly."

In October of 2012, the Access Board formed an 18-member working group composed of representatives from the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, the American Association of Retired Persons, and other national advocacy organizations, along with representatives from industry groups, including Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Express Scripts, and Target. The goal was to create and publish best practices guidelines for accessible prescription drug container labels, including "guidance to pharmacies on how to provide accessible prescription drug container labels to patients with visual impairments to enable them to manage their medications independently and privately, and have the confidence that they are taking their medications safely, securely, and as prescribed."

The completed best practices guidelines were published on the Working Group's web site in July of 2013, and the National Council on Disability is preparing an awareness campaign to inform consumers and pharmacists of these best practices. Currently, these best practices guidelines are just that: guidelines without regulatory enforcement or penalties for non-compliance. But after 18 months the Government Accountability Office will undertake a review to assess the extent to which pharmacies are following the best practices and identify remaining barriers to information on prescription drug container labels.

Should be available in Pharmacies early Spring 2014.

2013 Employment Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

National Disability Employment Awareness Month kicks off with some uplifting information about employment for people with disabilities.

Federal Efforts

In response to President Obama signing a 2010 Executive Order to increase federal employment of individuals with disabilities, the US Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy worked with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which, in turn, worked with federal agencies to create plans for hiring people with disabilities. This federal initiative is intended to provide a model for industries to follow in their own hiring practices.

Not all of the agencies are equally effective, and not all people with disabilities or vision loss have had easy transitions into federal positions. There are numerous success stories and a few not-so-positive examples of how these processes have worked for people with vision loss. That said, 200,000 people with disabilities now work for the federal government, the most in 20 years, and the rate of new hires with disabilities has increased.

The US Department of Labor is working on a rule that would require government subcontractors to follow similar steps for employing people with disabilities and veterans. The language of the rule is under some debate: some are concerned that the wording is not specific enough, while others feel that the government shouldn't create these types of regulations in the first place.

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month and beyond, take the time to spread the message that qualified individuals with disabilities can be great employees.

Legislative Updates Archive

  1. 2013.01 Legislative Updates.docx

  2. 2013.10 Legislative Updates.docx

Legislative Updates

Information about the Cogswell-Macy.docx Act