Transportation Alternatives & Accessibility: Strengthen transit and transportation services to ensure that people with disabilities across the state can get where they need to go. Transportation is among the greatest challenges for people who are blind/visually impaired. Because they are transit dependent, access to employment, health care, services of daily living and social connections are limited.
- The 2017-18 state budget brought a 2% per year increase in the funding of the Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities County Aids. When factored across 72 counties, this is a minor increase for this key funding.
- The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired (WCBVI) requests a minimum of a 2% increase per year in the 2019-20 state budget. A 3.5-5% increase would better meet the needs of elders and people with disabilities who are unable to drive.
- According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, state transit aid is $4.8 million below the 2011 funding level. According to the Department of Transportation, this funding shortfall has led to “transit service reductions, fare increases for many systems, and a decline in overall statewide ridership.” WCBVI supports increased transit funding and options across the state which would enhance quality of life for people with vision impairment.
Pedestrian Right of Way Legislation. WCBVI supports passage of pedestrian right of way legislation that updates language regarding pedestrian safety for people who are blind/visually impaired in the following areas:
- Updates to current laws regarding pedestrians using white canes or guide dogs
- Increased education and public awareness regarding drivers' responsibilities to enhance the safety of persons using white canes or guide dogs
- Increased enforcement of pedestrian safety legislation to guarantee the safety of pedestrians who are visually impaired or blind.
- Increase penalties for the violation of laws designed to enhance the safety of pedestrians who are visually impaired or blind.
Employment Opportunities: Support initiatives to increase competitive employment for people with disabilities.
People experiencing vision loss have unique needs related to obtaining and maintaining living wage employment. These include specialized training in assistive technologies, workplace accommodations, transportation access, and employer bias toward persons with visual disabilities. Consequently, people who are visually impaired rely on the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and professionals with knowledge of visual disabilities to obtain the resources, funding, and training in assistive technology, alternative skills training, and education or assistance to employers in order to reach their career goals.
Using its own data, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has determined that persons with visual disabilities may require a greater initial allocation of resources and training. Once employed, people who are visually impaired remain reliable, valuable, tax-paying employees and small business owners who add significant value to Wisconsin's workforce.
- WCBVI supports both the Transition Incentive and Special Education Transition Readiness grant programs. WCBVI supports continued funding of these important mechanisms that help school districts invest in successful post-secondary outcomes for students with disabilities.
- The Department of Workforce Development, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, provides valuable training and technology assistance for people who are visually impaired seeking employment. Additionally, DVR is the state licensing agency through which it supports the Business Enterprise Program, an important path to employment for people who are blind/visually impaired. DVR requires appropriate and sufficient Wisconsin general purpose revenue (GPR) and federal funding to maximize its ability to serve people with visual disabilities to reach their employment goals.
Civil Rights and ADA Compliance: Prevent discrimination and promote full community inclusion of people with disabilities.
Many important consumer protections are established through the administrative rules process, and WCBVI is concerned by proposals limiting the creation of administrative rules or sun-setting all administrative rules. This could have a negative impact on the health and safety of Wisconsin consumers, especially people with disabilities.
Proposed Service Dog Legislation
In synergy with the passage of AB 771, the goal of WCBVI is to bring Wisconsin's statutes regarding service animals up to current federal ADA standards. Any proposed legislation must define a service animal as one that provides an identifiable, defined task or service to its owner/handler. Per federal ADA legislation, task-based service animals are the only animals having mandatory access to businesses and additional venues of public accommodation.
AB 771 defines criteria for allowing emotional support animals in housing. It also assesses penalties for those who purposefully violate this law. WCBVI may support similar penalties for those who fraudulently claim access to public accommodations for impostor service animals. Wisconsin needs its statutes regarding service animals to be up to date with federal standards to remedy the uncertainties currently faced by businesses and public venues regarding which animals may be allowed access to their premises.
Education: Support investments in Wisconsin public schools.
Excellent educational opportunities, including access to specialized educational services for students who are blind/visually impaired, is key for successful workplace and societal engagement.
- State funding for special education has been flat for the past 10 years, creating unmet needs for students with disabilities. WCBVI requests a budget increase for public schools in the 2019-20 biennium. This includes maintaining at least the current level of funding for the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, in Janesville, which has dedicated programs, outreach, and specially trained professionals serving the needs of students with visual disabilities throughout the state. All public schools with CESA affiliation and outreach from the Wisconsin Center in Janesville provide the appropriate assistive technology and accommodations, including braille, to best serve students who are visually impaired. Private schools are not required to provide these certified professionals, technologies and accommodations.
Health Care and Long-Term Care: Protect and strengthen health coverage for people with disabilities.
People with vision-related disabilities, whether purchasing their own health coverage or accessing Medicaid, are vulnerable to changes in these systems, especially if they are income-limited, suffer from traumatic eye injury or disease, require surgery or medication, or have other health conditions.
- While the 2017-18 state budget maintained current eligibility and funding for Wisconsin’s Medicaid programs, WCBVI is concerned by discussion taking place on the federal level regarding Medicaid block grants or per capita caps. These types of federal funding changes would result in significant funding cuts for Medicaid in Wisconsin. WCBVI opposes per capita caps or Medicaid block grants in future federal and Wisconsin budgets.
- WCBVI requests that the 2019-20 Wisconsin budget include a 10% increase allocation of GPR funds to support the work of the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI). In fact, this office has received a reduction of state GPR support in past years. At the same time, the numbers of people with significantly changing vision is increasing as individuals live longer and Baby Boomers age. OBVI professionals deliver excellent value for GPR dollars. Services by OBVI professionals often cost less than $1,000 per case, an expenditure which can make the difference between the ability to remain in one's home or placement in a CBRF or skilled nursing facility. OBVI requires sufficient funding, including a 10% increase in Wisconsin GPR dollars, to maintain the necessary level of professionals to effectively serve the increasing population of adults with significantly changing vision.
- Wisconsin is the only state that does not provide a residential-based adjustment skills training program for adults experiencing significantly changing vision. WCBVI requests that the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired receive the necessary authorization and funding to conduct a residential skills training program for adults with significant vision loss that is at least six weeks in duration. Currently, DPI makes available a one-week skills training program. A one-week program is not sufficient for adults who are visually impaired to learn the skills necessary to remain independent and empowered to live their lives as they choose.