Table of Contents
PART I: Holding a Legislative Workshop
PART II: The Legislative Process
PART III: All about AIM HIGH
PART IV: Collecting personal testimonies
PART V: Let’s Go Further: Approaching Your University or College for Support
PART VI: Speaking to Elected Representatives
“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” was the vision expressed by Abraham Lincoln. The ideal democracy, where a nation’s citizens could mold the legislation that would aid them in their pursuit of happiness. That noble dream was so daringly manifested by the founding fathers of our great Federation. Our government and laws, however, cannot be changed by complacency. The responsibility falls upon our shoulders, to create the laws that are vital for us, as blind Americans to live the lives we want.
This toolkit was created to mobilize blind students in every commonwealth and state. It hopes to serve as a sufficient resource, to educate students on the legislation that will finally create equality in the classroom and elsewhere. Included are guides on facilitating legislative workshops, writing personal testimonies, approaching universities for support, and how to prepare for our annual Washington seminar. The creators of this toolkit strive for nationwide implementation and are confident it contains the elements essential to make our legislative dreams into reality.
It would be wise to study the sections that outline the legislative process and explain the piece of legislation at hand, prior to delving into the various other chapters. If any questions or criticisms should arise during your studies, feel free to contact NABS President at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will make sure to support your inquiry.
Holding a Legislative Workshop
No matter the size of your gathering, this guide can be used to educate students on the legislation that shapes their academics, careers, and future lives. The schedule should be adjusted according to the legislation at hand and the nature of the gathering.
Before planning or hosting a legislative workshop, the moderators or facilitators must be well-versed on the legislative priorities. This toolkit gives you the elements necessary to do just that. It is vital that you read the entire kit before holding a workshop. Future sessions provide information regarding many of the sections in this guide.
Below is the basic blueprint, in chronological order, for holding your workshop. Note: the numbers in parentheses are the suggested numbers of minutes allotted for each segment.
Have distinguished individuals or the moderators make opening remarks and introductions. Tell a story about the movement to motivate attendees. A personal story or one from the Federation would be best. Provide a quick overview of the agenda and what attendees can expect. (15)
2. Know Your Facts
Find and make sure every participant has access to both the fact sheets and FAQs. Explain what a fact sheet is and how it can be used to prepare to speak confidently about the legislative priorities. Provide a brief overview and description. Explain to participants what to keep an eye out for such as relevant details pertinent to the piece of legislation. Then, break into groups, give participants time to read the fact sheet and discuss in those small groups what the key takeaways are. Leaders should join small groups to guide discussion and evaluate results. This is a prime time to have participants ask questions. (25)
3. Find Your Representatives
Also included in this kit is a description of how best to set up a meeting with your federal Senators and Representatives. Topics include the following: how to go about requesting a meeting with your Members of Congress or their staffers, how to identify your member, where to find contact info for Congressional offices, and how to request a meeting. Please keep in mind that staff can be very influential, and they are worth connecting with. (5)
4. Prepare for your congressional meetings
Each representative is unique and therefore should be approached in a certain way. With attendees you should go over: how to most persuasively frame issues for members of congress and staff across the political and ideological spectrum. How to use knowledge of a legislator’s priorities to frame the issue. After, allow the large group to have a moderated discussion to express their ideas on these topics. (10)
5. The Meeting
Provide the blueprint for how you want to speak during the meeting. You could begin with a brief statement of why this is important with a brief personal anecdote. Additionally, be cognizant of the following:
- Always know the political ideology of the legislator you are talking to and how to frame appropriately
- Know the interests of the legislator you are meeting with
- Do not let the Member derail your entire meeting
- Tell personal anecdotes but know when enough is enough
- Never talk disrespectfully about other staffers or members in meetings, even if they are of the other party
- Dress professionally
Make this component fun. Get feedback from the audience. Share the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.. (30)
6. Skit Time
There are two skits provided in this toolkit. Have moderators and volunteers act out the skits for the attendees and then transition into a discussion of what was displayed in the skit. (10)
7. Attendees Perform Skits
Attendees will be split into small groups with 3-4 members. Give each group fact sheets and a profile of the mock members who they will meet with. Give teams 20 minutes to absorb the information and make a plan among themselves on how to manage the meeting. Have leaders play particular assigned roles. Do two cycles so each group will get to do two meetings. Leave 20 per cycle so that the mock member can debrief and critique with participants after each meeting. (65)
Have the facilitator give inspirational speech that brings together all that participants have learned and serves to motivate attendees about our legislative priorities. (10)
Provide final thoughts that include the following:
- Provide more advice for Legislative Advocacy outside of the Congressional Office
- Cover key points on how to maintain relationships and influence lawmakers without going to Washington, DC.
- Meet with the Member in the state or district
- Engage elected officials on social media
- Elevate the profile of an issue and spur grassroots advocacy by writing op-eds, blog posts, and through other media;
- Send follow up emails to thank those you met with and build relationships (junior staffers become senior quickly in Washington, DC)
- Follow up with offices on specific items agreed in meetings, etc. (25)
- Say thank you and adjourn
The Legislative Process: A Guide on How a Bill Becomes a Law
This section will provide a basic outline of the lawmaking process in the United States. The information provided here is meant to assist you as you promote the National Federation of the Blind’s legislative priorities at the local, state, and federal levels.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch was established by Article I of the United States Constitution. This branch consists of two chambers, the upper chamber known as the Senate, and the lower chamber known as the House of Representatives. Our Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.
The Senate consists of one-hundred members, and each state is assigned two Senators who represent the entirety of their state. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members. The number of Representatives for each state is determined by that state’s population. Heavily populated states like California and New York will have more Representatives, while more sparsely populated states like Montana or Alaska have fewer Representatives.
To find your senators visit: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
To find your representative visit: https://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep
How does a bill become a law?
The process in which a bill becomes a law is long and complicated once you factor in the variables that go into the lawmaking process. In its simplest form, the journey from a bill to a law can be summarized in eight steps.
- An idea: Individual citizens, interest groups, for-profit and non-profit organizations can propose a legislative concept to their member of congress.
- Drafting: Congressional staff work with interested parties to craft the legislative language which will hopefully create a new law, amend an existing one, or repeal a current law in part, or as a whole.
- The change is introduced: Once all relevant stakeholders are onboard with the proposed legislative language, Members of Congress “introduce” that bill by filing it with the Clerk of their respective chamber.
- Assigned to a committee: Typically, after introduction, bills are assigned to a specialized committee where members of Congress can take a closer look and decide whether they wish to pursue that bill before the entire chamber. Typically, before bills are considered before the full committee, they will have been vetted by at least one specialized subcommittee of the relevant committee.
- Debate/Vote: Bills are then brought to the floor of the chamber for debate. Each chamber has its own rules regarding debate periods. Once the debate is closed, members vote the bill up or down. If voted up, the bill proceeds to Step 6, if it is voted down, the bill dies.
- Sent to the other chamber: Here Steps 3 and 4 are repeated.
- Conference Committees: If one chamber chooses to amend the bill and passes it as amended they send it back to the other chamber. Senate and House leadership then appoint members of their respective chamber to a “conference committee” so lawmakers can reconcile the different versions of the bill. Once reconciled, Step 5 is repeated in each chamber. Bills must pass both chambers to proceed to Step 8.
- Sent to the president’s desk: After the bill has traveled the long journey to get to this stage, it finally reaches the president’s desk. At this point, the president has two options: sign the bill officially into law, or veto the bill. If the president chooses to veto a bill, then the bill is sent back to both chambers of Congress, where the bill must get two-thirds of the vote in order to override the president’s veto.
All about AIM HIGH
Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Fact Sheet (Last updated in February 2020)
Until a market-driven solution for accessible instructional materials is achieved, blind college students will be denied access to critical course content.
Technology has fundamentally changed the education system. The scope of instructional materials used at institutions of higher education has expanded. Curricular content comes in digital books, PDFs, webpages, etc., and most of this content is delivered through digital databases, learning management systems, and applications. The print world is inherently inaccessible to students with disabilities, but technology offers the opportunity to expand the circle of participation. Studies have found that, of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in grades K-12, the number who go on to pursue postsecondary education is growing.
Blind students are facing insurmountable barriers to education. Instead of fulfilling the promise of equal access, technology has created more problems than the print world ever did. Data shows that students with disabilities face a variety of challenges, including matriculation and college completion failure, solely because, in the absence of clear accessibility guidelines, colleges and universities are sticking with the ad-hoc accommodations model. Currently, schools deploy inaccessible technology and then modify another version for blind students, usually weeks or even months into class, creating a “separate-but-equal” landscape with nearly impenetrable barriers. With only an 18 percent employment rate, compared to 65 percent among people without disabilities, students with disabilities should not be denied access by the innovations that could have ensured full participation.
Institutions of higher education need help identifying accessible material and that comply with nondiscrimination laws. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act require schools to provide equal access to students with disabilities, and in 2010, the US Departments of Justice and Education clarified that the use of inaccessible technology is prohibited under these laws. In the years since, over a dozen institutions have faced legal action for using inaccessible technology, and complaints are on the rise. Most litigation ends with a commitment from the school to embrace accessibility, but that commitment does little in a vast and largely uncoordinated higher education market.
Accessibility solutions are available, but guidelines are sorely needed to stimulate the market. The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act will bring together people with disabilities and the higher education, publishing, tech developing, and manufacturing communities to develop a stakeholder driven solution to the issue of inaccessible instructional materials. With input from all relevant stakeholder communities, mainstream accessible instructional materials can be achieved, benefiting both institutions of higher education and the students with disabilities they aim to serve.
Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act
- Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education. A purpose-based commission is tasked with developing accessibility criteria for instructional materials and the delivery systems/technologies used to access those materials. Additionally, the commission is tasked with developing an annotated list of existing national and international standards so that schools and developers can identify what makes a product usable by the blind.
- Provides incentive for institutions of higher education to follow the guidelines. Institutions of higher education that use only technology that conforms with the guidelines will be deemed in compliance with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that pertain to schools’ use of technology.
- Offers flexibility for schools while reiterating that pre-existing obligations still apply. Colleges and universities are permitted to use material that does not conform to the guidelines as long as equal access laws are still honored. Conformity with the AIM HIGH guidelines is only one path to compliance; schools can pursue a different path as long as they make their materials accessible to the students.
- REMOVE BARRIERS TO EQUALITY IN THE CLASSROOM.
Cosponsor Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act.
Frequently Asked Questions on the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act
Q: Aren’t schools doing a good job of providing an accessible environment already?
A: Not exactly. Schools continued to be sued because of their use of inaccessible instructional materials, and the problem is escalating. The best way to curb the problem is to help institutions of higher education in their quest to comply with the mandate to use accessible material, which means giving direction for how to do so. Other than a handful of schools, the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities are still confused about how to accommodate students with disabilities in a digital world. Consequently, most resort to the ad-hoc accommodations model, a model that may have worked in the world of hardcopy print, but cannot meet the demands of the digital age. Just because a school has incorporated mainstream accessibility for facilities, like wheelchair ramps on campus, or provides accommodations, like the extra test time for students with learning disabilities, does not mean that the institution is necessarily meeting all legal requirements or has eliminated all artificial barriers to the success of students with disabilities.
Q: Why can’t each state or each school create its own guidelines?
A: Equal access mandates are national mandates, and the instructional material market is a national market. This calls for national guidelines. Every state could develop individual guidelines, but no manufacturer would make multiple product lines, and there is no guarantee that federal agencies would even accept each state’s criteria as sufficient. Most importantly, blind students deserve equal access across the country, not just at a few select schools or in a few select states.
Q: Where did the idea for guidelines come from?
A: In 2008 Congress authorized the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Material in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (AIM Commission). The AIM Commission examined the status of accessible educational technology and the impact it was having on students with disabilities and then developed recommendations for how to address the matter. The final report found that students with disabilities experience a daunting assortment of challenges, including blocked access to educational opportunities and even failure to graduate, solely because of inaccessible materials. The commission also found that “there is still persistent unmet need” and that steps must be taken to stimulate the creation of a viable accessible digital marketplace. Of the commission’s nineteen recommendations, the first one calls for Congress to authorize the creation of accessibility guidelines.
Q: What do the schools think about this?
A: Schools recognize the need for and value of national guidelines to ensure compliance with national accessibility mandates. The legal obligation to provide accessible electronic instructional materials already exists; the AIM HIGH Act simply seeks to stimulate the marketplace by making accessible electronic instructional materials more readily available, a solution that schools recognize is necessary and practical. For this reason, the AIM HIGH Act has been endorsed by the American Council on Education, Educause®, and other leading organizations in the higher education community.
Q: Will colleges and universities have to follow the guidelines?
A: No, the guidelines are one hundred percent voluntary. Colleges and universities are indeed required under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide equal access to students with disabilities, but these mandates lack criteria defining what accessibility means. The AIM HIGH Act creates the missing criteria in the form of voluntary guidelines.
Q: How will this work – the guidelines will be created, and then schools will have to change all of the technology on campus?
A. No. The AIM HIGH Act does not require retrofitting; in fact, the accessibility guidelines the AIM HIGH Act creates are voluntary. Remember: schools are currently required to use accessible materials and will be required to do so regardless of whether the AIM HIGH Act passes. If a school needs to retrofit its materials or revise its procurement policies, it is because it is not complying with the equal access requirements of existing disability law. The mandate to use materials that are accessible to students with disabilities or provide accommodations to facilitate equivalent access is not altered, strengthened, or removed by the AIM HIGH Act.
Q: Does this mean schools will need to have something readily available for a student with a disability who does not even attend the school?
A: Schools will not be forced to do anything that they are not already required to do when it comes to students with disabilities. The AIM HIGH Act will make it easier for schools to identify which items are accessible to those students and which are not and will hopefully shift the paradigm from the ad-hoc accommodations model to a mainstream access approach. Widespread use of AIM HIGH Act-compliant material will create a situation in which the arrival of a student with a particular disability does not call for any reaction because the school will already be deploying fully and inherently accessible material across the campus.
Q: Will guidelines inhibit innovation and discourage schools from using new technology because it is not accessible?
A. No. First, accessibility and innovation are not mutually exclusive; in fact, the very first digital book was developed with accessibility in mind! Some of the most innovative products on the market (e.g., Apple devices) are the most accessible, and we expect the AIM HIGH Act guidelines to stimulate more production of those kinds of materials. Since the passage of the ADA, we have seen the mainstream benefits of universal design and accessibility. Curb cuts that were originally designed for people with physical disabilities now benefit parents with strollers and travelers with luggage. Similarly, stimulating accessible technology will only enhance innovation, because an increase in the former will generate benefits for all well beyond the intended scope.
Q: What about the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act? How do these guidelines affect existing disability law?
A: The AIM HIGH Act rule of construction is very clear regarding the voluntary guidelines’ relationship with existing disability law. Nothing in the AIM HIGH Act may be construed to supersede or restrict the applicability of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or their respective regulations. Nor do the voluntary guidelines expand, limit, or alter the remedies or defenses under such acts. The development of the guidelines also does not prevent federal agencies from issuing regulations under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or any other federal law. In short, the voluntary guidelines do not in any way expand, restrict, or limit existing disability laws, their legal recourses or protections. The goal of the commission is not to change the existing legal framework, but rather to work to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines within this framework, which will ensure that institutions of higher education are fully compliant with existing legal requirements.
Q: What about those instances in which accessible digital options are not yet available? What are schools expected to do then?
A: Again, schools are already required to provide equal access to students with disabilities under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Institutions may choose to use only technology that conforms to the voluntary guidelines created by the commission authorized by the AIM HIGH Act. Schools still must comply with existing disability law.
Q: How much is this going to cost?
A: There is no score, but the bill will likely call for a very small number, less than $100,000, to fund the commission’s development of the guidelines. We do not anticipate the development of guidelines will be an expensive endeavor. Not only is this a modest undertaking, but the amount expended will be miniscule compared to the amount taxpayers are currently investing in enforcement actions, investigations, and litigation against schools that are failing to comply with existing access requirements. Worse, every time a blind student changes majors, delays his or her education, or drops out of school, society loses an asset. The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities currently hovers around sixty percent, and many unemployed individuals with disabilities rely on government assistance for survival. There is no way to measure the untapped talent and lost productivity that results when an entire population fails to reach its potential, but tangible change can be made with a small investment to propagate meaningful guidelines.
AIM HIGH Skit 1: No Access
Overview and Characters:
Plot: This scene takes place over the phone between two characters at Inaccessible University, a top-tier Midwestern University known for its rapid growth and slow-paced strides in providing reasonable accommodations for students.
Alexa McAccess: a freshman student at Inaccessible University.
Ms. User Unfriendly: The Dean of Academic Affairs at Inaccessible University.
Ms. Unfriendly: Thank you for calling Inaccessible University. I’m Ms. Unfriendly. How can I help you?
Alexa: Hi, I’m Alexa, and I’m enrolled in Astronomy 210… I have an exam approaching. I’ve been trying to request accommodations for my exam and I’m getting very little help with securing them.
Ms. Unfriendly: What accommodations do you need for the test?
Alexa: Standard accessible astronomy equipment, a talking calculator, Braille charts and raised diagrams are the accommodations I need in order to be successful in the course.
Ms. Unfriendly: Um… I don’t know how you plan to get all of that. I have the text in a PDF file, but the rest is not our responsibility. I would appreciate if you didn’t bother this department or the university demanding things that we are clearly not able to give you.
Alexa: I don’t understand… You provide the course, so to keep in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, I should be able to take the course at the same level as everyone else. Since the only way I can participate on an equal level with my peers is with these accommodations, my request is neither unfair nor unwarranted.
Ms. Unfriendly: We are making it possible for you to attend by signing you up and having the text in screen reader-friendly format.
Alexa: The PDF file is not accessible. But even if it was, accessibility extends beyond just a textbook. For equal access to occur, I should be able to accomplish the same course-related tasks my nondisabled peers are accomplishing with the assistance of various access technologies.
Ms. Unfriendly: Well, there are no guidelines in place to tell us that, now are there? I can work with the instructor to edit the curriculum to make it easier for you to pass, or I can give you an independent study period if you’d like. Which do you choose?
Alexa: So, you want me to sit at home and lose out on everything my peers are learning? I hope you can understand why I’m refusing both of your offers.
Ms. Unfriendly: Well, I don’t have any way to know what materials are accessible and if the accommodations you’re requesting are reasonable.
Alexa: Well, today is your lucky day! I have a contact for you. I’m a member of the National Federation of the Blind. We’re collecting support for a bill known as the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, which is frequently referred to as the Aim High Act for short. The Aim High Act will facilitate the creation of accessibility guidelines which will help universities demand mainstream accessible technologies from the higher education marketplace. Supporting this bill will help all universities avoid situations like this from occurring in the future.
Ms. Unfriendly: I don’t know, it seems like a long shot.
Alexa: That type of thinking will infringe on the progressiveness of this institution. Don’t deny AIM High!
AIM HIGH Skit Two: Coming to the Table
Overview and Characters:
Plot: A proud NABS member explains the impact of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act in terms of all-party inclusivity and its necessity to achieving equal access. While doing this, a skeptical aide to an on-the-fence Representative attempts to find a crack in the framework.
Love H. Determination: a member of the National Association of Blind Students, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind. She is also a college student at Access Tech University, an institution that already wrote a letter to this senator announcing its collective support for the passage and enactment of AIM High.
No-Way Jose: an aide to House Representative Status Quo, one of the most combative opponents of AIM High.
Love: Hi, I’m Love H. Determination. We recently spoke about the benefits of the passage of AIM HIGH.
No-Way: Yes, I remember you… I’m No-Way Jose, and I work for Representative Status Quo, as you are no doubt aware. Do you have new information or points we haven’t already discussed?
Love: Yes, actually. Has the Senator considered the information I previously presented? And, have you gotten a chance to review the follow up information I sent along?
No-Way: So, I’ve read the letters from the members of your organization and from your university, but I’m not sure how this piece of legislation will further enhance a blind college student’s academic progress and performance. Colleges already provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.
Love: You are certainly correct in that the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act require institutions to provide equal access to students with disabilities, but there is no guidance that lays out exactly what that equal access looks like in the digital sphere. And, as technology develops, so does the potential for students to better access their course materials. Our goal is to facilitate the creation of such guidance in conjunction with colleges and universities, and other interested stakeholder groups.
No-Way: So, what you’re saying is that even though technology is constantly developing and improving, students still don’t have equal access? How does that work exactly?
Love: Yes, technology is amazing. Instructors and institutions are moving with the times, but these innovative programs and devices oftentimes do not include seamless accessibility options that would bridge the gap for students with disabilities. The use of inaccessible modern technology in the classroom makes it difficult for blind students to have the same college experience as our sighted peers. As a result, we are not able to participate in classwork on equal footing with our sighted peers.
No-Way: Well… That sounds like a technology problem. Why is legislation necessary?
Love: Inaccessible educational technology is an issue that affects not only the blind students in Congressman Status Quo’s district, but blind students across the country. Since both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act are federal laws, and the mandate for equal access is a federal mandate, it only makes sense that congress creates a national solution by enacting the Aim High Act. Institutions of higher education have the burden of complying with the law, and developers and manufacturers want to produce technology that their higher education customers will purchase, which makes all of our communities interested stakeholders in this process.
No-Way: So… Suppose for a minute that Congressman Status Quo decides to support this bill… What are the next steps?
Love: It wouldn’t be as difficult as it might seem. This bill outlines the creation of a commission that will bring together all of the major players concerned with achieving equal access in the digital space. Together, they will develop accessibility guidelines that will make equal access the norm rather than the exception for electronic instructional materials. With representation from all the relevant stakeholder communities, this commission will be the most well-rounded and best-equipped group around; in short, it will be able to come up with a fair, feasible solution that will benefit all. Think about it… All of the groups I just mentioned have an incentive to get this job done and to get it done well.
No-Way: Explain the incentive.
Love: Higher education institutions always promise fulfilling experiences for all, including students with disabilities, and insurance of equal access will help make that a possibility. Publishers will benefit because if their materials are better understood, then said publishers will get better business in the long run… And fewer complaints, of course. Developers of access tech will benefit because their work will be more widely recognized, and with the passage and implementation of this bill, will increase awareness of access tech as a whole. And of course, people with disabilities will benefit because their educational experiences will finally be comparable with those of their sighted peers. In addition, the government will benefit because it will be able to do some good for a constantly underrepresented group of people. No matter which way you look at it, this bill is beneficial in every respect. So don’t deny AIM High!
Collecting Personal Testimonies
The third section of the toolkit emphasizes how critical the passage of AIM HIGH is. Congress will not support a bill if they do not see the benefit. This is why collecting both positive and negative personal testimonies from students is so important. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents, whether it be through a letter, over the phone, or in person. The following are resources that may be helpful as you seek personal testimonies from students in your state.
Collecting testimonies from your state student division is a great place to begin. Ask members to write testimonies at seminars or at state convention. Remind members during conference calls as well. If your affiliate does not have a student division, we recommend using the following resources to collect testimonies.
Disability Services Office (DSS) at Your College or University
The DSS office will not release the names or contact information of students because the law prohibits them from doing so, but they may be willing to share information with students on your behalf. Provide them with this section of the toolkit, or better yet, give them the entire toolkit so that students have a better understanding of AIM HIGH before writing a testimony.
Most rehabilitation agencies have a counselor(s) that primarily serve students and young adults. Contact them and ask them if they are willing to share this toolkit with their caseload in addition to asking for testimonies.
Most, if not all states, have some type of training center for the blind. The training center does not need to be affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. Contact the director and ask if he or she would be willing to add testimonial writing into their curriculum. If not, ask him or her if they are willing to distribute the toolkit to students.
Larger cities sometimes have non-profit agencies that offer services to blind people. These organizations may not know much about the National Federation of the Blind, so establishing a relationship with the organization is recommended before asking them to distribute this toolkit to their clients.
It is slightly more difficult to get in touch with school systems, but if you have a contact, especially if that person is a teacher of blind students, ask them to give you the contact of previous students they have had.
Collecting personal testimonies can be a bit difficult at times, but the resources provided above should be good starting points. Remember to share the templates and examples before you have anyone write a letter.
Note: These are two samples of student testimonies, both written to members of congress. The first is concerning a student having a negative experience involving access technology and/or accommodations. If you have had a similar experience, we urge you to write a letter similar to this one, outlining your own experiences and how the situation might have been improved. The second sample testimony outlines a student who had a good experience in postsecondary education concerning accommodations. If you relate more to the second letter than the first, it is still imperative that you write to your members of congress immediately, to let them know about your experience and to raise awareness about the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act.
Testimony 1: The Bad experience
400 East Wells St.
Baltimore, MD 21230
August 1, 2017
Dear Senator/Representative ___:
My name is Federation Pride, and I am currently a student at NFB University. I began studying at this institution in the fall semester of 2016. I am a physical science major with a concentration in astronomical studies. I aspire to be a project coordinator in space exploration at NASA after I graduate, but I wanted to share with you a dilemma that could hinder this goal.
Last semester, I attempted to take the course Astronomy 210 at my school. I was denied the chance to be successful in the course. Part of the scaling software that is used for the course relies on visual indicators to assure proper inferences are made on the stars we study. Unfortunately, this software is not compatible with the screen access technology that I use to accomplish my school work. As a blind student, I am aware that both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act require my institution to provide me with the same access to information that my nondisabled peers enjoy, but my Disabled Student Services office was unwilling to work with me and the publisher to make my access to the necessary information a possibility. Despite this, I attempted to work around this issue on my own, trying various screen access software and, at one point, asking a sighted classmate to help me gain access to the material. None of these solutions worked, so the bottom line is that I had no access to course materials, no way to pass the course, and perhaps more importantly, no way to gain the knowledge that I am sure will be necessary in attaining my career goal.
All of this was extremely disappointing, especially because I was eventually asked to drop the course as a result. My institution did not know how to make this part of the course accessible to me, and since the course was founded upon the ability to use and gain information from the software I mentioned above, I was unable to participate. Let me put that into more simple terms. The college and publisher didn’t know how to do something, and since they couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take the class with any hope of passing.
This lack of access is a huge barrier not only between me and my career goals, but more importantly, it represents a much larger issue. That issue is that even though I face the inability to take a course due to the lack of information regarding accessible technology, people fail to recognize that this is a continuous issue for persons with disabilities across the nation. In short, the issues I’m writing to you about today affect a great number of others in similar situations, so something must be done to remedy this immediately.
Of course, I must recognize that both my university and the publishers were completely willing to make the course accessible, or as much so as they could. The issue is that they received no guidance on how to do so, and without any guidance, they are not equipped to handle similar situations in the future.
As a result, I must urge you to declare your support of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act. This bill will be integral to the futures of all blind students and it will work to mitigate problems like the one I’m facing. Why? Because with the passage of the Aim High Act will come the creation of guidelines put together by persons with disabilities, colleges and universities, publishers of course materials etc. These guidelines will help other institutions of all types understand how to make their products and courses accessible, so that no other blind students face the problems I outlined above. Your support of this bill will not solely improve my life, but the lives of all blind students. Thus, I urge you to support the Aim High Act, and to strongly encourage other Representatives and Senators to do the same.
Personal Testimony 2: The Good Experience
400 East Wells St.
Baltimore, MD 21230
August 1, 2017
Dear Senator/Representative ___:
My name is Federation Pride, and I am a student at NFB University. I began studying at this institution in the fall semester of 2016 and am a Sociology major with a concentration in Criminology. I aspire to be a criminal defense attorney in the future, and I want to take this opportunity to share with you an anecdote portraying how my university supports my dreams in pursuing this goal.
Last semester, I took the course Sociology 310 at my school and was pleased because the university went to great lengths to provide me with the tools to be successful. The course was a research methods course aimed at studying of trends in imprisonment in terms of race and societal class. When I received the syllabus, I was intimidated by the amount of materials and software that were needed to pass the course. Keep in mind that as a student who has previously faced access barriers, finding out that I would be using a ton of software I had never encountered before seemed like bad news, to say the least. I was prepared for a dreadful experience, but the Disabled Student Services office went to great lengths to ensure that all of my materials and software were completely accessible, even taking into account the screen readers and other pieces of assistive technology I rely on. The obvious work they put into ensuring my academic success helped me earn the highest grade the university has seen a student leave that class with, and everything they did helped me achieve this independently. I am mentioning this not because I want to show off, but because it shows the good that accessible technology can help blind students like me accomplish.
This refreshing acquisition of materials that provide accessibility for blind students like myself is standard at this university, but not at every post-secondary institution. I am aware of other blind and otherwise disabled students who are not afforded the opportunity of independently attaining academic success, due to lack of accessible instructional materials. I am hyper-aware of the fact that oftentimes, this lack of accessibility does not stem from an unwillingness to make things accessible; rather it comes from the inability to do so, which is primarily due to lack of accessibility guidelines.
For this reason, I urge you to support the passage of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act. It provides guidelines for all post-secondary institutions and all other institutions with a vested interest in accessibility for students with disabilities, such that said institutions will be fully aware of what does and does not work in terms of accessibility. Passage of this act will help ensure that both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act are upheld. Your support of this legislation could be the catalyst of the continued success of students, regardless of disability, through guaranteed accessibility.
Dear (state) Congressional Delegation:
(Introduce yourself, include what degree or major you are pursuing [1 sentence])
(Here, insert a brief overview of an anecdote you experienced in higher education. [5-7 sentences])
(Outline the importance of having these materials/technologies/software [2 sentences])
(Describe, in detail, the outcome of not having said course material, in order to personalize your experience and emphasize the need. [5-7 sentences])
(Assert the importance of equal access to education [2 sentences])
I urge Congress to support legislation involving equal access to education. Voluntary guidelines will benefit both administrators, faculty, and students of higher education. By creating these guidelines, colleges and universities will then have direction in providing sufficient and equivalent course material to print-disabled students.
(Thank your Congressmen for their consideration [1-2 sentences])
(First and last name)
Let’s Go Further: Approaching Your University or College for Support
Step 1: Preparation
When speaking with administration within an institution of higher education, we must recognize the fear that comes with bringing up national legislation. With that in mind, avoid legislative terminology altogether. Instead, take the ideas and main points from our legislative language and transform that into the “ask.” The most important elements to discuss are the need for equal access to course work for print-disabled students, the need for voluntary guidelines for colleges and universities to follow, and the creation of a purpose-based commission comprised of all key stakeholders. Prior to even considering approaching your university to obtain a letter of support, you must ensure that you are well versed in the legislation. Chances are that this is the first interaction your university has ever had with this type of initiative. First impressions are everything, particularly when you are being fit into a very tight schedule with said administrator. So, if you are reading this, yet you have not meticulously studied the legislative process description, the fact sheets and FAQs, all included in this toolkit, please go and do so. Once again, immerse yourself in the meaning behind the language presented on the fact sheets, not the facts about the piece of legislation itself.
Step 2: Who to Approach
Now that you are an expert in the legislation, you need an opportunity to show off your knowledge to your university. The most tempting option would be a familiar administrator such as your disability services coordinator. Approaching someone like this would be a mistake. Very few people in the university have the liberty to write a letter supporting some sort of legislative action, and all those individuals are at the very top of the food chain. Your priority would be to reach out to the President of the university. If you are insistent, your chances are solid. If you have no luck with the president, go directly to their chief of staff. Be sure to follow up with emails to the provost or significant vice president, as those individuals may do the trick. Get on the calendar early by securing that 20-minute meeting face-to-face. Whoever it may be with, keep the disability services offices out of the conversation. If you have a decent relationship with your disability service office, inform them about your efforts, but go above and beyond, bringing in those that have power in changing policies at the university level.
To go even further, make sure you build a strong relationship with the student government body on your campus. Many universities enable their student government to pass resolutions that the university must pursue. In addition to exemplifying persistence with high-level administrators, make sure the verbiage presented in the Student Government resolution is synonymous to that posed to the admins.
Step 3: Making Your Move
Walk into the office, request a meeting, and assert the urgency of this issue. Send a follow-up email once the meeting is scheduled, express how appreciative you are of your university, how you feel that this forward step would not only benefit you as a student, but future students, as well as the reputation of the university itself. In drafting this follow-up email, it is crucial that you identify your university within one of the below categories:
Leader in accessibility
- This college or university thrives within the realm of accessibility
- Appropriate accommodations are provided in a timely manner
- Alternative formats are understood, offered, and discussed
- This school is open and eager to learn about more resources that will further enhance accessibility for print-disabled students, recognizing they are ahead of the game, but this is a rarity
On the way to universal accessibility, but not there yet
- This category falls between a college deemed as a leader in the fight for equal access to education and those that struggle with providing appropriate accommodations time and time again
- This school cannot put into either extreme category, so falls between both
- They recognize the need for accessibility, want to explore options, but do not necessarily know how to reach that point
- It is clear that this college or university struggles with meeting simple accommodations requests
- This school does not understand what resources are out there or routes in which to find such assistance
- Many times, this school has failed to provide equal access to course materials, with anecdotal examples to support such claim
- This college or university needs work with accessibility, and sees the benefit in having such voluntary guidelines in transforming into an institution with universal accessibility
Place your college or university into one of the above categories, outlining where said school stands within that email. It is important that, regardless of the category in which your school falls, the push for equal access to education is presented in a positive light.
Step 4: Preparing for the Meeting
What will grab the attention of your audience? What story can you tell that will ignite their empathetic spot? How do you end the “ask” strong and confidently? Once again, thoroughly know the ins and outs of the legislation, especially the FAQs. Revise your pitch from beforehand and practice with friends. When you attend the meeting, you are representing the National Federation of the Blind, your school involvements, and most importantly blind students across our nation. Business professional is necessary. If you are unsure of the appropriateness of an outfit, that typically means you should not wear it into your college’s president’s office.
If you cannot answer a question, no need to worry. You can always follow up. It is important to be honest and not make up an answer simply because you feel as though a forced answer is preferred over a thoughtful response. Have the contact information of the national office’s Government Affairs Specialists to provide if the university is willing to collaborate. However, remember, the priority is obtaining the letter.
Step 5: Post Meeting
Send an email thanking them for their time. In that same message, attach a draft letter that they can use as a tool when crafting their own letter of support. If they do not respond with an intention of writing one, it would be appropriate to regularly follow up, facilitating the process as much as possible. Persistence always pays off. Be sure to provide the information asked of you, be clear and concise in communication, and be proud that you are spearheading this effort. You are changing the landscape for current and future blind students. Always remember that.
Sample Email Draft
Note: The following is a sample of an email draft you might send to the president of your university to gain support, immediately after a meeting date is set up. This email should be sent prior to the face-to-face meeting. It is also a good idea to present them with a draft of a letter that they can revise and sign. Please read the section entitled “Approaching Your University for Support” before sending an email or drafting a letter for your university president.
Dear President (INSERT Surname):
I hope this message finds you well. My name is (Insert NAME) and I am a blind student at (INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL). I am currently studying (INSERT FIELD OF STUDY.) This morning, I scheduled an appointment to meet with you on (INSERT DATE AND TIME OF APPOINTMENT.) I am exceptionally eager to connect with you regarding an issue that impacts the well being and success of students on this campus.
As a leader in and out of the classroom, I am frequently seeking out ways to positively impact our campus as a whole. The vibrant campus culture and academic prowess are apparent to all. Perhaps, (INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL) could play a more significant role in enabling print-disable students, in not only the classrooms, but in classrooms across the nation. No matter how much we do, it always seems as if there are barriers when providing equal access to course materials for people with disabilities. More often than not, it is not the college’s fault for such hindrances, instead it is the lack of resources and awareness threaded through our education system in general. There are solutions out there and it is up to students, like me, to enlighten institutions of higher education with the sole purpose of leveling the playing field for students with disabilities.
Other highly reputable institutions, such as Wake Forest University, have joined in on the conversation. It’s time for our school to grab a seat at the table and influence the current and future generations of people with disabilities. So far, my experience at (INSERT UNIVERSITY NAME) has been (INSERT CATEGORY SELECTION FROM GUIDE AND PROVIDE BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH ACCESSIBILITY). I very much look forward to a fruitful discussion surrounding the way in which we can make a difference together.
Example letter from Wake Forest University
Wake Forest Letter of Support 7.11.16.pdf
June 30, 2016
The Honorable Lamar Alexander, Chairman
US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable John P. Kline, Chairman
US House Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Alexander and Chairman Kline:
I write about a pressing issue that I hope you will join me in working to address. Technology has transformed the way we facilitate the teaching and learning process, and when it comes to students with disabilities, this transformation offers countless possibilities. For example, before modern technology, the only way to make print material accessible to a blind student was by modifying the text into a format like Braille or audio; this equivalent facilitation was sufficient, but it was burdensome. The digital world allows us to bypass these processes and invest in mainstream systems that are accessible to everyone.
Despite the advances modern technology offers in supporting students with disabilities, more progress can be made. To further support students with disabilities and educational institutions in their efforts to provide equal access in today’s classrooms, developers must explore accessibility solutions. For this to happen, schools must learn what accessibility looks like and then streamline the demand for it. If more schools are ever going to gain this knowledge and start collaborating, we need direction from national experts. I learned from my students that there are indeed national efforts to develop accessibility guidelines for material used in higher education, and Wake Forest supports this initiative. The educational technology market is a national market, and our obligations to provide equal access come from the federal government. The creation of a purpose based commission comprised of leaders in higher education and developers from the technology sector that can explore the development of national guidelines is a solution that spreads knowledge about accessibility and stimulates the market, ensuring broader commitment to digital equality.
I urge you to consider the establishment of this commission, whose work on development of national guidelines can stimulate systemic change in a way that enforcement actions are unable to. I also ask you to think globally about what will help us in our quest to provide equal access for students with disabilities, and how increased leadership in the area of accessibility can serve higher education’s interests. I also invite other institutions to collaborate with one another in efforts to incorporate an accessibility policy and criteria for procurement that will relieve administrative burdens and reduce accommodations costs. This process includes engaging students with disabilities and national consumer groups in our policy planning conversations. I have learned that the best way to meet the needs of blind and other students with disabilities is by talking to them directly.
I look forward to taking our objectives to the next level. Together, we can change the landscape for students with disabilities. I hope you will support these initiatives.
Sincerely, Nathan O. Hatch
Speaking to Elected Representatives
What is Washington Seminar?
Washington Seminar is an incredibly important gathering in our nation’s capital, generally attended by about 500 blind individuals, with everyone from students to successful professionals. It occurs around the end of January and/or the first few days of February. At Washington Seminar, there are various workshops, meetings, and smaller seminars, but the overall goal is essential to the lives of all blind individuals—to ensure that blind persons in America have equal rights and equal access in all aspects of life.
For NABS, this is an opportunity to ensure that blind students receive an education comparable to that of their sighted peers, complete with fair accommodations that promote academic and scholastic success, so that blind students leave higher education equipped with the skills and knowledge to attain gainful employment. In particular, we are focused on the passage of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act (AIM HIGH). Among other things, this would ensure that colleges and universities are aware of what fair accommodations for blind students are, how they would provide them with the knowledge to ensure accessibility to all students seeking to pursue post-secondary education. Join us on Capitol Hill to pass legislation, meet Congresspeople, and improve the lives of blind students—and blind people—everywhere!
How to Have the Most successful Washington Seminar Experience
- Know the Issues: Be sure to take time to research all the issues that NABS, the NFB, and your local chapter and affiliate are advocating for. Acquire knowledge from the legislative committees of the affiliate you belong to, NABS, and the Federation as a whole. Having this information not only prepares you to speak about relevant issues impacting blind people, but also prepares you to answer questions that a delegate, aide, or senator may ask.
- Know your Elected Officials: Take the time to research your Representative and Senators. As a student, your responsibility is to make sure that your delegate or senator knows you are their constituent. Use online resources, NFB chapter leaders, books and articles, or your school registrar’s office to find this information. Remember that if you are a high school or college student, the area you live in has representation. If you are a student who commutes or a residential high school, college, or training center student, the area you go to school in also has representation, both in the NFB and in Congress.
- Connect with your local chapter: Speak with your affiliate and chapter Presidents. They are key to knowing the issues affecting the area you live or attend school in. They will also help you connect with a group of individuals with whom you will be able to meet your representatives in Congress. NABS is a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, and your local student division is a proud division of your state affiliate of the NFB. Working with the chapter and affiliate leaders will show cohesion and convey full support of student issues and legislation to Congress as a whole, and to your representatives in particular.
- Use your Resources: There is a plethora of information about elections, representatives, policies, and how they affect students; all of this is available either online or in publications. Use your resources to conduct research on issues that affect your life. Doing research will help you form your own opinions, which will aid you in speaking to your representatives in Congress. People are great resources too. Become a regular part of NABS conference calls and your state student division’s conference calls. Doing this will connect you with students who face similar academic issues, people who are also interested in making a difference for all future blind students. Find a roommate for Washington Seminar. You never know… That person might turn out to be a great resource or friend too.
- Plan your trip in advance: Washington Seminar is always on the heels of the holiday season, which sometimes poses financial obstacles if you have not prepared ahead of time. Begin saving far in advance if possible or, at the very least, make transportation arrangements (and all associated transactions) before the holiday season; this will help you offset upfront costs in January or February. Looking for roommates beforehand will greatly lower costs for you and your roommates… One less thing to worry about!
- Pack and dress professionally: Remember… we are on Capitol Hill. As such, it is integral that you dress to impress. Even if you don’t own a ballgown or a three-piece suit, dress conservatively. Think business professional. First impressions mean a lot to people, so if you’re dressed professionally, you will seem more prepared to meet with important legislators.
- Attend NFB and NABS Events: The seminar isn’t just meetings with legislators, though that is perhaps the most important aspect of the event. There will also be seminars, fundraisers, and other opportunities for you to network, reconnect with old friends, and create bonds that will be useful in the future.
- Volunteer with NABS: Take some time to help NABS with creating a memorable Washington Seminar. Whether you participate in an exciting panel discussion or our signature NABS event on Monday evening, we always need volunteers. Volunteering with NABS is a great step toward leadership and shows Federation leaders that you have the potential to lead and willingness to help build our movement.
- Take Copious Notes: Taking record of the information you gather in meetings, halls, or social events is always helpful for future reference, or just for a journal or memory book. Be sure to bring your handy braille display, slate and stylus, pen and notepad, or other method of notetaking. If you think you’ve come across valuable information, someone in your affiliate or student division might also benefit from hearing it.
- Don’t Be Nervous: Legislative officials are people, just like us. As your representatives, they are interested in your opinion. Take your time when you’re speaking--let your voice be heard! Washington Seminar is the most direct way of letting our legislators know what we need as blind students and individuals. Have confidence that your actions will make a difference. Understand that your attendance at Washington Seminar is a testament to the endless work and commitment you put into our movement. No matter what, the Federation is grateful and proud of the work you do, and your participation is vital.
Contacting Your Congressmen
A Conversation about (H.R. 5312/S. 3095) (AIM HIGH)
Before acting on any material contained in Part IV of this toolkit, it is essential that you review the information in Part II. It is imperative that you understand the mechanics of the legislative branch, since this section discusses how you can (and should) reach out to them for support.
The purpose of this section in particular is to provide you with the tools and the knowledge for contacting your representatives and senators. As you might remember from Part Two, a bill will not pass unless it has substantial support… And as you might also remember from Part III, that is why your testimony and your support are crucial to our movement. Remember, we are promoting the rights of blind students, and working to ensure that all blind students have equal access to all aspects of education.
Realistically speaking, it will not always be possible to speak directly to your senator or representative. In fact, you may never speak to the members who represent you… But don’t worry about that, because every legislator has well-qualified staff who help them develop their positions on bills. That means that if you can persuade a staff member, you’re likely to have that congressperson’s vote, even though you may never speak to members of Congress directly. After reading this toolkit, you should be very well-equipped to carry on an informed discussion with your legislators.
Finding Your Congressional Representative
Most members of Congress have multiple offices—at least one in Washington DC and additional office(s) in their home state. Congress members can only be re-elected if they are able to connect with and represent their constituents, and the best way to connect with constituents is to have a fully staffed office near them. Since representatives and senators have multiple staffed offices, every staff member is in contact with the corresponding congressperson… And if they aren’t, then they know people who are. Rest assured that if you declare your support for AIM HIGH, it will be heard by the right people.
Of course, in order to declare your support, you have to know how to contact your legislators. Fortunately, it is incredibly simple to find your representatives’ and senators’ phone numbers. Since they are prominent public figures, their contact information is everywhere on the web. If you perform a web search of your members’ names, you should find links to their websites. On these websites, you will find the addresses and phone numbers associated with their various offices.
So Many Offices!
As was mentioned earlier, each congressperson has multiple offices—at least one in Washington DC and at least one in their respective district or state. Of course, the staff at the district or state office will have differing responsibilities from the staff of the Washington DC office. In the district and state offices, the congressperson’s staff is responsible for assisting constituents with issues relative to the federal government. Casework at the district or state level could involve the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the United States Postal Service (USPS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), the military, or any other federal governmental institution. The Washington DC office is the one that deals directly with legislation. The staff of the Washington DC office are responsible for fielding calls from supporters of bills, determining whether their congressperson might support the bill, responding to correspondence regarding bills scheduling appointments with the legislator, etc. Of course, after saying all that, you might be tempted to just talk to the Washington DC office. Don’t be, because all of the legislative offices know how to get in touch with the members of Congress … And they must do so frequently.
So then, with so many offices, which one should you call? Ideally, you should call every one that corresponds to your district and state. The more your support is declared and the more your testimony is heard, the more value it has. Remember that the more support a bill has, the more likely it is to gain support. So, don’t just call your representatives and senators… Let your family and friends join in on the fun. Help us promote the rights of blind students across America!
What happens when I call? (Not if, but when)
When you call any of your representatives’ and senators’ offices, you will be greeted by a friendly voice, usually that of an intern or junior staff member. At this point, we encourage you to introduce yourself, giving your name and saying that you are a blind student. Add what level of school you’re in and if you’re in college or beyond, name the institution you’re attending. Then express that you would like for your representative to support the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act. Make sure to include the bill number if applicable the and the entire name of the bill to make your point very clear.
At this point, it is likely that you will be asked for some details about the legislation. This is not a quiz. They want to understand you, as the constituent. You should go into as much detail as you are comfortable with, outlining any accessibility issues you have had as a result of this act not being made into legislation. Talk about how it would benefit you, as a blind student. Be sure to include plenty of facts but make it personal too. This way, whoever you’re talking to will know that this legislation would have a direct and personal effect on you, the student. Your remarks will be added to some form of catalog of constituent concerns. In case follow-up is necessary, whoever you’re speaking to will likely ask for your contact information. We suggest that you provide it, if you are comfortable doing so. Lastly, they will ask if you have any other concerns or remarks. At this point, if you are interested in some follow-up, or if you have any other concerns, now would be the time to bring them up.
If you decide to call congressional offices in Washington DC, we suggest that you ask for the staffer whose portfolio covers education legislation. At this point, you will likely have to leave a voicemail. Try to keep it brief, but make sure to include your name and phone number, and that you would love to have a conversation with that person regarding the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act.
There are just a few more things to remember. Always be courteous when talking to a member of a congressperson’s staff. The way you approach the conversation could make all the difference in whether your congressperson decides to support AIM HIGH. Try to keep your conversation to the point—don’t ramble. It’s always a great idea to ask for a response letter from your congresspersons. This will clarify their views on AIM High. If you receive a response letter, please do not hesitate to send them to John Paré at email@example.com.
Washington Seminar is an important annual event hosted by the National Federation of the Blind; however, our legislation is a priority year-round not just once a year. It is critical to maintain contact with your Senators and Representatives once you return home.
Requesting a Meeting
Try to request your meeting a week or two in advance because the member of Congress’ staff is more likely to meet with you if you request your meeting weeks in advance rather than a few days before. Requesting an appointment by email is the best way to get a hold of your Senator or Representatives’ staff. Continue to email them if you do not here back; persistence is key.
Make folders with fact sheets, FAQ’s, letters of support from institutions of higher education, and your personal testimonial. It is important for the staff member to reference these in your meeting in case they have any questions. You may be asked a question that you may not know the answer to, and that is okay. Tell the staff member that you will get back to them or give them the contact of a governmental affairs specialist at the national office in Baltimore, Maryland.
You want to begin by making a good impression, so dress professionally, and conduct yourself in a professional manner. If you are bringing along members from your chapter (which we strongly suggest), remind them of the professional attire required.
If you are meeting with the Representative’s office in your district, stress how much their support of AIM HIGH would impact you, as one of their constituents. Remember to consider the political ideology and public priorities of the legislator so that you can tailor your pitch to suit them.
It is important to follow-up with an email thanking the staffer for taking the time to meet with you. Make sure to say that you hope the Senator or Representative will consider sponsoring AIM HIGH. Conclude by signing with sincerely and your name.
National Federation of the Blind AIM HIGH Website: https://www.nfb.org/programs-services/advocacy/legislative-agenda/accessible-instructional-materials-higher-education
“I’m Just a Bill” by School House Rock: (For a fun and easy explanation of the legislative process): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyeJ55o3El0
The House Education and Workforce Committee Website: https://edworkforce.house.gov/
For a more detailed explanation of the legislative process: https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/How+Our+Laws+Are+Made+-+Learn+About+the+Legislative+Process
To view AIM HIGH legislative language and lists of current cosponsors for H.R. 5312 or S. 3095, visit www.congress.gov.
To find your senators visit: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
To find your representative visit: https://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep
Thank you so much to our members for making this toolkit possible. Your dedication is so appreciated as we continue our fight for equal access in the classroom. Our hope is that this toolkit empowers you to begin or continue your advocacy efforts. Thank you to the following people for your contributions, ideas, feedback, and guidance as we created this legislative toolkit.