As we enter 2019, the Council is putting forth five dreams related to our current Legislative Priorities, that will inspire us and urge us to press forward. We believe these dreams could, with hard work and cooperative effort, be accomplished by the year 2027, when the Council will celebrate its 75th anniversary. The dreams outlined below may take years, but having “in-a-perfect-world” goals enables us to remain hopeful, to work towards objectives, and to determine the steps that will get us there.
Our dreams all promote a mindset of equity. Equity is different than equality because it urges people to go beyond offering equal services and opportunities – it instead encourages the availability of resources to meet the needs of an individual. For example, let’s say our plan was to give a bike to everyone. If we gave everyone the exact same bike, that would be an example of equality. On the other hand, if we took into account each person’s needs and interests, we would give them a bike based on those needs and interests. That way, a person who wants to ride with a sighted guide would get a tandem, and someone who loves riding off-road would get a mountain bike.
Equity is important because having practices that are fair and impartial stops discrimination based on assumptions of capability or stereotypes. Bringing a fair and impartial mindset to our Legislative Priorities and dreams makes a difference because it encourages us to focus on making the future better for everyone. We want to inspire Wisconsinites who are blind or visually impaired to bring about an attitude and paradigm shift among the sighted community toward greater equity and empowerment for everyone.
Dreams: (1) By 2027, the Council wants transportation options that stretch beyond municipal boundaries. (2) Work toward greater efficiencies and effective use of Specialized Transportation for the Elderly and People with Disabilities funding to combine rides to better serve individuals and produce cost savings.
Why the dreams matter: According to a Wisconsin transportation survey done by the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Groups, more than 40% of respondents said they do not have access to public transportation in their communities. Having an efficient and effective transportation system enables all people to participate in community life. This change would benefit people in the BVI community, as well as people with other disabilities, elders and more.
What the Council is doing to make the dreams a reality: The overall transportation budget is currently $6,069,418,900. The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation in Wisconsin, of which the Council is a member, is requesting a $36 million increase for transportation services funding. This funding will provide the necessary funds for public transit systems and road maintenance. The Council is also currently advocating for a 10 percent increase in Specialized Transportation funding, which includes paratransit funding. The budget for Specialized Transportation is currently $14,477,800 for 2018-19.
What individuals can do: Individuals can get involved by participating in transportation decisions in their communities and attending transportation meetings locally. Attend public hearings about public transportation issues following the state budget release in February 2019. For example, the City of Madison is currently seeking input on a bus rapid transit system – which Milwaukee recently completed. Other examples include going to planning meetings where street/sidewalk development is part of the conversation. Advocate for walkable streets in your community, including the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS).
Dreams: (1) Increase turnout of voters with disabilities so that it is comparable to voter turnout of people without disabilities. (2) Align Wisconsin law with the federal provisions of the ADA.
Why these dreams matter:
Increasing Voter Turnout:
According to estimates by the City of Milwaukee, more than 340,000 people in Wisconsin with disabilities are eligible to vote. According to statistics from the American Association of People with Disabilities, in 2000, 42 percent of people with disabilities voted as compared to 52 percent of people without disabilities.
The Council is a member of the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition. During the 2008 Presidential Election, the 2010 Wisconsin Recall election, and the 2012 Presidential Election, the Coalition reached out to people with disabilities in Wisconsin who were eligible to vote. Since 2008, voter turnout by people with disabilities has increased by 15 percent. Increasing voter turnout, poll worker education and promoting accessible voting machines as a convenient and hassle-free way anyone can vote will foster greater access and engagement for all voters.
Wisconsin Alignment with Federal ADA:
Aligning Wisconsin laws with the federal ADA will eliminate confusion, and the Council hopes to see greater alignment by 2027. Our plan is to start with the Wisconsin service animal law.
Current Wisconsin service animal law states that any animal-with the exception of kangaroos-can be considered a service animal. This causes confusion for business owners and the general public when they encounter animals in public-legitimate or otherwise. The federal ADA defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse that is trained to perform a specific task for a person who has a disability.
According to Share America, it is estimated that 500,000 people in the United States have service dogs, including guide dogs, and also dogs trained to perform tasks other than guiding. This is 50 times the total number of those who have guide dogs: 10,000. The numbers in Wisconsin are not known.
Service dogs and white canes help people with visual impairment move through their surroundings safely.
Affecting change in the Wisconsin service animal law impacts more than just those who are blind or visually impaired. Other people who use service animals include: people with mobility disabilities, diabetics, police officers, rescue workers, people who have PTSD, people in wheelchairs, people who are deaf, etc. Any veterans who fall into any of the aforementioned categories might also use a service animal.
What the Council is doing to make the dreams a reality: The Council is a member of the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition and is working closely with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to make voting a more accessible process. The Council is drafting service animal legislation that aligns with the ADA as a start to the law-alignment process.
What individuals can do: Most importantly, get out and vote. Voting is how representatives are chosen and that determines, in large part, what legislation is passed. Voting also has baring on school referenda, community ordinances, court seats-including the Wisconsin Supreme Court-and state Constitutional changes. When you vote, use the accessible voting machine. Machine use motivates clerks to keep the machines updated or get new equipment when they see there is a demand. This machine makes voting accessible for everyone, and also opens up another voting station, making the line move faster and decreasing wait times at polling places. If you encounter accessibility issues at your polling place, contact your alderperson, City Clerk or the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition (disabilityvote.org).
To work toward state law and federal ADA service dog law alignment, start by helping to educate business owners and animal owners about the need for safety for service dogs in businesses.
Striving for these dreams will spur us forward to create a more equitable future for everyone. The Council needs your help to make our dreams a reality. Will you commit to taking one or more of the following steps in 2019:
- Contact your state representative and state senator about the Council’s priority issues. Go to and enter your address under the “Who Are My Legislators?” tab or call 1-800-362-9472.
- Attend listening sessions held by your local government or state elected officials. There will be public hearings on the state budget in April or May of 2019, which the Council will promote.
- Attend the Council’s Legislative Day on Tuesday, April 9, to meet with your state legislators in person. If you are interested in attending, email Adam at agrassnickle@WCBlind.org or call 608-237-8120.
- Write a Letter to the Editor or an Op-ed in your local newspaper to help highlight the Council’s dreams and ways to make them a reality.
Watch for the Legislative Emails in February and March to read about the three other dreams the Council has for an equitable future in Wisconsin.