Protesters Claim House Bills Target The Blind

Saturday, March 11th 2017, 10:40 pm
By: Grant Hermes

More than a dozen blind Oklahomans held a protest at the steps of the state Capitol and stood against a set of bills they say unfairly target them.

One of the bills is House Bill 2230 which would allow county jails to be exempt from giving the blind priority treatment when hiring managers to run commissaries.

That priority status is a provision of a federal law that's been in place for more than 80 years. It was designed to give otherwise capable, but blind people a chance to live a normal life in the workforce. Currently, the only blind person running a commissary is in Tulsa County.

“We're concerned that more people are going to be kicked out of their job because of this,” National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma president Jeannie Massay said Saturday while she sat in her Norman office with her white cane. 

HB2230 was authored by Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

The other bill is House Bill 1861. That bill would divert funds away from the Department of Rehabilitative Services program helping the elderly blind. Instead, the funds would go to a non-profit to do the work, something advocacy groups say could lead to lower quality care.

“We believe that the older blind in our state and in every other state deserve to have people who believe in their capacity as human beings,” Massay said.

The bill's author, Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, disagreed. 

"There has been a plethora of misinformation and scare tactics employed about HB1861,” she said in an email sent Saturday. “The facts are that DRS is not able to provide the quality of service to aging blind individuals in the state that should be expected."

In the end, advocates say they don't think the bills are malicious they just want their voices heard.

“I don't necessarily think people wake up in the morning and say let's really be mean to blind people,” Massay said. “At the end of the day, when it comes to cutting a budget and maybe having to make some hard choices, I think this was an easy one for them to do.”