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Letter from the CEO: Advocating for Blind Employment on Capitol Hill

At IBVI, our mission is to provide meaningful employment to people who are blind or visually impaired. But our passionate staff and leadership realized long ago that there’s so much more that we can do beyond the walls of our facilities. It’s our mission to educate and advocate for the rights of people who are blind on a local, regional and even national level. Every year IBVI sends a small team to Washington D.C. to talk with lawmakers, senators, and DC staffers on Capitol Hill on “Public Policy Day”. This year IBVI met with other advocacy groups from across the country to build relationships and share priority issues and concerns with Congress. Our CEO, CJ Lange, has a first hand account of everything that happened at this year’s Public Policy Day:

This year’s Public Policy Day was a brilliant success for getting the word out about AbilityOne and blind employment initiatives to US senators and representatives. On May 10, our Public Policy Advocate, Alison Fortney and I joined the group of roughly 200 other staff members from across the country from other agencies like IBVI on Capitol Hill. Every year on Public Policy Day, different Public Policy teams from across the country make the journey to D.C. and come together and advocate for specific initiatives and bills to be passed to help people who are blind or visually impaired. While we’re all there for our own reasons, we know that we’re all advocating for a better and more inclusive world. There’s a team mentality and togetherness in the air that’s truly inspiring. Our employees, allies and friends look forward to our meeting on Capitol Hill every year, and this year was no different.
During our meetings on Capitol Hill, our IBVI team had the chance to meet up with Senator Ron Johnson and representative Brian Steil (while squeezing in a quick introduction with Tammy Baldwin, too). We received a lot of positive feedback and support. It’s hard to believe it was already six years ago when Ron Johnson attended an IBVI ribbon cutting ceremony at our new facility. Since then, Senator Johnson has been a big advocate and supporter of our products and services that provide jobs for people who are blind or visually impaired.

It was only a year ago that we last saw Representative Brian Steil after he came to our Janesville facility to take a tour and hear about some of our new and ongoing initiatives. One of our primary focuses while in D.C. was advocating for a 0.5% increase in the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, that hopefully will result (if passed) in a 1% AbilityOne utilization goal for the Department of Defense. This would increase the amount of funds available for military and government spending which would create more work, orders, and jobs for both IBVI and other associated agencies across the country. Both Johnson and Steil were aware of the bill, and both seemed to be very much in favor of voting for it to pass.

While we were in Washington D.C., I asked Alison about some of her highlights from this year’s Public Policy Day and she had some insightful thoughts and comments to share:

“It’s been a while since I was last in Washington, D.C., and this year it was great to reconnect with friends and fellow advocates from other organizations, while also joining forces with new advocates, rallying around outcomes that would have a positive effect on IBVI, other agencies across the nation, as well as blind and visually impaired individuals seeking employment,” said Alison. “Whether we’re meeting with congressional representatives, senators or their staffers, we’re grateful to be able to come together and share meaningful conversations about the policy changes and issues we’re supporting. It was a humbling feeling to be met with reciprocity and to hear how interested they were in assisting us this year.”

Tammy Baldwin and her team have also always been very supportive of our initiatives on Capitol Hill. Because Senator Baldwin has an immediate family member with vision impairments, she has always been one of our strongest supporters (she even has braille on her cards). Although Tammy was busy and we knew we could count on her support, we still arranged a meeting with one of her staffers and were lucky enough to catch her between meetings for a quick handshake and a photo. Senator Baldwin’s team was very supportive of our request to amend the Rehabilitation Act to require State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies to provide applicants with all of the information regarding appropriate job options, specifically including jobs offered by AbilityOne nonprofits and uncompensated employment options.

It’s always a humbling experience to have the opportunity to advocate for positive change on a national level. It’s one thing to be a part of an organization that champions meaningful employment for people that are blind or visually impaired, but it’s an even better feeling when your state representatives are aware and passionate about fighting for these issues on our behalf. After a successful week on Capitol Hill, we can’t wait to make our return next year, and hopefully we’ll see our legislator friends even sooner.

To learn more about IBVI’s commitment to advocating for policy changes at a national level, check out our blog about last year’s Advocacy Day or help contribute to the cause by reaching out to local legislators to urge for increased rights and funding for people with disabilities.


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