Blind World Magazine

Senate HELP Committee Holds Oversight Hearing.

October 20, 2005.
Press Release.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee announced its oversight hearing for October 20, on the Javits-Wagner-O'Day and Randolph-Sheppard Programs on October 12, giving interested blind and disabled citizens barely a week to prepare for the hearings today. The announcement appeared in the Congressional Record of October 12, explained Krista Merritt, Policy Analyst for the American Council of the Blind.

"Certainly there are problems with both programs," comments Chris Gray, President of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). "The Randolph-Sheppard program has shrunk in size over the past 10 years from a high of roughly 3,500 blind business owner/managers to now below 2,800. One reason for our loss in opportunities is competition from the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped.

"Unlike organizations serving the blind and made up of the blind, NISH has positioned itself as one of the 'new-style' nonprofit organizations with high-salaried chief executives and low-paid disabled workers. Time and time again, NISH has attempted to overturn the 60-year-old legal provisions that protect blind people's ability to own and run their own business in the vending program," Gray said.

"Some of the problems in both programs can be laid at the feet of Congress, but all Federal agencies come in for some blame, not the least of which is the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration, (RSA) which has oversight responsibility for both programs," Gray explained. Himself blind, Gray works as a technical writer for a major software company in San Francisco. He is a volunteer chief executive officer of the American Council of the Blind, the nation's leading consumer based advocacy organization representing blind and visually impaired Americans.

Richard Bird, President of the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, the oldest and largest organization of blind and visually impaired individuals working in the Randolph-Sheppard program, criticized the committee staff's handling of the hearing in a letter dated October 17 to Committee Chairman Senator Enzi (R-Wyo.).

Bird wrote: "In the first place, we only learned of the subject of the hearing on Wednesday, October 12, 2005, leaving us very inadequate time to be able to communicate our concerns on important issues to the members and staff of the Senate HELP Committee. If your staff did not, in fact, get around to scheduling this oversight hearing until October 12, then it says volumes about the efficiency of the committee's work. If they planned it earlier and simply did not notify us earlier, then it speaks volumes about staff insensitivity to the rights of program participants to communicate their views to the United States Senate.

"In the second place, the staff did not invite a licensed blind manager to testify at the hearing, or to name a representative to speak on our behalf. Similarly, no one from any state licensing agency (SLA) was invited to testify ...

"We have worked with the staff of the HELP Committee for the past several years attempting to negotiate a workable settlement to the efforts of National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH) to break the priority right for the blind and visually impaired to manage military troop dining facilities on DOD bases," Bird said.

"The HELP Committee staff, particularly the representatives from Senator Kennedy's and Senator Ensign's staff, have not always been open and forthcoming with us on their personal, private agendas," Bird added. Himself blind, he operates a vending machine based business located in the main post office property in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Right now we are taking a wait-and-see attitude to what comes out of these oversight hearings to determine if the committee will be responsive to the input of blind vendors from around the country," Bird noted.

RSVA is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. The American Council of the Blind is organized with 71 state and special-interest affiliates, such as RSVA, with members in every state and Puerto Rico.

For more information on ACB, visit the web site at

Sharon Lovering (
American Council of the Blind
1155 15th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
Phone : 202-467-5081 ext. 15
Fax : 202-467-5085

American Council of the Blind

Source URL:

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