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Letter from the CEO: Going Local with Advocacy

As a part of our mission at IBVI, we’re interested in more than just the quality of work and the employment of people who are blind or visually impaired. We care about them having fulfilling lives, and we work hard to get them the support they need. 

One way we support the blind and visually impaired community is by advocating for public policy change. For years, we’ve made annual visits to Washington, D.C. to show support for the AbilityOne Program, as well as other bills—and we’ve even hosted “policy day” at our own offices in Wisconsin. But recently, we’ve turned towards our own backyard in Wisconsin for political change, and our efforts are already making a difference.

We’re proud to have supported a bill this year in the Wisconsin State Senate and House that provides a $1,500 transportation tax credit for people who are blind or visually impaired. It’s a bill with bipartisan support that was drafted by State Representative David Steffen (R-Howard) and State Senator Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield).

To help tell the story of our advocacy efforts for this bill, it’s only fitting that I let two of our employees share their experience. We have a dedicated team of people who seek out these opportunities, led by Jeff Young—our National Public Policy Advocate—and Kevin Fortune—our new Local Public Policy Advocate. We proudly have formal roles for them (in addition to their “day jobs”) and are amazed at the impact they’re already making.

Let’s hear from them on the roles they played:

Jeff Young – National Public Policy Advocate:

“This bill is important because one of the biggest challenges for being a blind person is transportation, especially crossing county lines. I’m thankful that Milwaukee has a good bus system, but crossing county lines is very difficult, especially when you need to do it every day during your commute. 

We went to Madison twice to testify, sharing our story with both the House and the Senate. There were actually quite a few people at these two hearings who were willing to testify, which made a difference. Other organizations also showed their support by writing letters to their senators and representatives.  

I see this as a pilot program, it’s a good start but there’s so much more we can do to help the blind community. We could have even asked for more in this instance, but it’s a foot in the door for other legislative opportunities. What I think is rewarding about it is that the politicians listened to us, and they saw the benefit of it on both sides of the aisle.

Ultimately, if this bill helps just one person get a job that they otherwise couldn’t have gotten because of this tax credit, then all of it is worth it.”

Kevin Fortune – Local Public Policy Advocate:

“I recently became our first local public policy advocate, and I bring past advocacy experience to the table, which helps support public policy in situations just like this one.

Around the time this bill was being drafted, Senator Hutton took a tour of our facility in West Allis where he saw firsthand the importance of fulfilling employment for people who are blind or visually impaired. After that, I went to Disability Advocacy Day in Madison, and that’s where the bill really started to get some support. At the Senate hearing, we shared our stories and why we thought this bill was critical, and I have to say, I think we blew them away.

With this bill passing the Senate and House, I can’t help but feel grateful. It doesn’t always work like that. There can be a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, but this bill has received support from both sides. It’s really a win-win for everyone involved.

It’s all about relationships in getting something like this done. Yes, writing letters is important, but things really happen when you get to know people. When these legislators saw how this bill would impact us, it became a priority for them to make it happen.

When it comes to IBVI, I’m also grateful for their commitment to advocacy. Yes, in this case, it does help them find more workers who are able to commute, but even so, this bill is about the entire blind community, not just people who work at IBVI.

Actions speak louder than words at IBVI, and our bosses and the entire team have affirmed our work. We’re the best kept secret in Milwaukee, we’re a great organization that is doing meaningful work for the US government and military around the world, and this bill will help not only IBVI, but the entire blind community.”

What’s Next?

The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Tony Evers, who is expected to sign it into law. The credit will then likely take effect next year for 2024 taxes, but a lot of that is still yet to be decided.

What’s clear, though, is that we’re proud of these wins for the blind community locally, and we will continue to work to support efforts to improve the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired, whether that be in Washington, D.C., Madison, or right here in our offices at IBVI every day.

Blind Employment Awareness Day is coming up in May in Milwaukee, where we get an official proclamation from Mayor Johnson, and we take time to talk about the importance of blind employment. Stay tuned for more information on how to get involved!


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