- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dear Sgt Shaft,

I just recently started in the Washington, D.C., area and had to order new business cards, and I could not find a place that does braille for my cards. Is there a local subcontractor that your office uses? Thank you.

Bradley Page

Dear Bradley,

I referred your query to Gale Watson, director of V.A. Blind Rehabilitation. She suggested that you contact the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Check out its website: https://www.clb.org/braille-production.html. 

Shaft notes

• Kudos to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, California Democrat, for his support not only for America’s blinded veterans, but also to the well being of all visually impaired Americans. He has demonstrated that in a recent letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius below.

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

As you know, prescription medications delivered by pharmacies in the United States are labeled almost exclusively in print, as are the accompanying instructions, warnings and descriptions. This type of labeling is inaccessible to a person who is blind. We applaud the efforts of the Veterans Administration Medical Centers on this matter. Over the last eight years, our nation’s veterans have received the benefit of Audible Prescription Reading Devices (APRD). The APRD chosen by the V.A., Called ScripTalk, allows individuals who have difficulty reading their prescription labels a better way to manage their own medication regimens. To date, over 10,000 U.S Veterans and 260 V.A. hospitals and clinics are using this proven technology.

Just like our nation’s blind and visually impaired veterans, all Americans need to be able to safely, privately and independently access their medical information. Technologies such as ScripTalk have emerged as long-term, bona-fide tools that make prescription labels accessible to blind customers; however, the overwhelming majority of insurance providers refuse to cover this service, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

We strongly urge you to cover this technology in accordance with current laws meant to protect blind consumers. We believe that pharmacies and insurance providers that refuse to make or cover accessible prescriptions and pharmaceutical products, are in violation of federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that individuals with disabilities be given equal treatment in regard to public accommodations. Title III of the ADA specifically addresses the responsibility of pharmacies to modify practices and communication with people who are blind by providing them with effective communication aids that are equal in access, rather than minimally adequate.

In addition, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) extends the rights of blind patients by protecting the right to privacy, in addition to access. HIPAA privacy regulations require pharmacists to abide by requests that personal communication of information be made by alternative means. Without the proper technology or communication aid, a blind person’s right to medical privacy is compromised.

Finally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits an agency that receives federal funding from excluding or denying persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in or receive program benefits and services. Because CMS is a government agency, refusing to include access technology in your insurance formulary puts CMS in direct violation of this law.

You have the responsibility to enforce the laws that have so far been ignored. We call on CMS to approve and cover APRD devices like ScripTalk. CMS must meet this legal obligation in order to protect a blind individual’s right to access, privacy and freedom from discrimination.

The Sarge concurs with Mr. Filner and thinks that it is disgraceful that CMS refuses to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation legislation.

• Congratulations to Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat. The Military Coalition (TMC) presented him with one of its highest awards in recognition of his leadership on behalf of veterans and their families, especially his role in passing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. Mr. Akaka received the 2010 Award of Merit at the Reserve Officers Association Building on Capitol Hill.

“Sen. Akaka has taken the lead on almost every aspect of veterans’ benefit improvements this year. We’re especially grateful for his leadership in winning compensation and health coverage for caregivers, many of whom have had to sacrifice their jobs and homes to provide full-time care for a wounded loved one,” said Joseph Barnes, TMC co-chair and national executive director of the Fleet Reserve Association.

The Military Coalition represents the interests of more than 6 million members around the world, including active duty, National Guard, Reserve and retired members and veterans, as well as their families. For more about TMC, click here: https://www.themilitarycoalition.org.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected].

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