We Need Specialized Tech, But It Costs Too Darn Much

September 13th, 2019

Paul Schroeder, VP of Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives at Aira, stands at a crosswalk holding his smartphone in his left hand, pointing the camera in front of him. Paul is also holding his white cane in his right hand. In the background, there are large traffic cones and barriers, as well as a construction site, on both sides of the crosswalk.

Paul Schroeder, VP of Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives at Aira, stands at a crosswalk holding his smartphone in his left hand, pointing the camera in front of him. Paul is also holding his white cane in his right hand. In the background, there are large traffic cones and barriers, as well as a construction site, on both sides of the crosswalk.

What Can YOU Do?

Technologies have transformed our lives, and this is especially true for those of us who are blind. Our technology tools are essential to independence, but those who cannot afford the specialized technologies we need are severely disadvantaged. The cost of technology for people who are blind or have low vision can be quite high, with even basic high-powered magnifiers costing several hundred dollars while Braille displays can cost several thousand dollars. Perhaps, you’ve thought, shouldn’t a government program help by bringing down the cost of expensive tech – especially since people are more likely to gain education and employment if they have the right tools for accessing information? Fortunately, our partners – the two national blindness advocacy organizations, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) – are taking action to address the expense of technology, and you can help. ACB has proposed a change to Medicare to allow coverage of low-vision technology, and I’ll write about that later this Fall. For this article, I’ll focus on an interesting approach championed by NFB: a refundable tax credit.

The Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA)

H.R. 2086, S. 815

The NFB has a long and remarkable track record of advocacy. Recently, the organization has put forward an idea to help with the cost of specialized assistive technology through proposed legislation called the Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA). Put simply, this legislation, now before Congress, would provide blind individuals a refundable tax credit of up to $2,000 to offset the cost of access technology. The cryptic numbers listed above, H.R. 2086 and S. 815, refer to the ATAA bill numbers in the US House and Senate respectively.

What Can You Do?

The NFB is urging individuals who want to support this idea to call their two US Senators and their Representative in Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the Access Technology Affordability Act. The best way to reach your Senators or Representative is by calling the US Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking to be connected to the office. When speaking to your Representative (who is a member of the US House of Representatives) you should ask them to co-sponsor the bill H.R. 2086, and for your Senators you should reference S. 815. You can also email the office of your Senators or Representative through their website. The best way to find that website is by accessing www.congress.gov and clicking on “Members.”

By the way, you can also search that same website to find out if your Senators or Representative has already co-sponsored the bill. Just type the bill number in the search box.

If you experience any difficulty using the website, remember, you can always connect with an Aira agent for assistance navigating any website.

The power is in your hands to make a difference. Members of Congress are there to represent your interests, and if you think that a little bit of help might make it easier for people to afford the technology that is essential for our independence, then, by all means contact them and tell them why this is important to you. Describe the technology you use, or that you’d like to acquire, and let them know how much it costs.

Stay tuned as we’ll explore other sources in a future article. For example, many individuals receive assistance from vocational rehabilitation, and there are some other resources worth considering.

Written by Paul Schroeder, Aira Vice President for Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives