The Bureaus of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) is the state agency responsible for implementing the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act, which creates opportunities for blind adults to run concessions businesses and cafes in government-owned property. The law was enacted in the 1930s to address the extraordinary high rates of unemployment among blind adults, currently at 60%.
The Act requires an Elected Committee of Blind Vendors to have oversight over program administration in each state. The Pennsylvania Elected Committee convenes regular Committee meetings with BBVS in this capacity. For many years members of the Committee made audio recordings and reduced those recording to a written transcript which served as the meeting minutes. As individuals with blindness, Committee members are unable to make or review written notes. Accordingly, recording the meetings was a reasonable accommodation that enabled the Committee members to create accurate meeting minutes.
In 2010 the director of BBVS prohibited the continued recording of meeting minutes. BBVS began to take its own minutes of the Committee meetings, but these minutes were incomplete and at times inaccurate. The Committee of Blind Vendors contacted the Disability Employment Discrimination project at the Public Interest Law Center in November 2014. The Committee was concerned that its watchdog role was undermined by its inability to take meeting minutes to record what had been agreed to with BBVS.
Law Center Independence Fellow Julie Foster contacted BBVS to discuss the Committee’s request for reasonable accommodations under Title II of the ADA. BBVS initially asserted that the Pennsylvania Wiretapping Act precluded recordings without permission. However, granting such permission is precisely the kind of reasonable accommodation the ADA requires. By addressing BBVS’s concerns regarding possesssion of the audio recording, the Law Center successfully negotiated an agreement that allows the Committee to record the meetings and have the recording transcribed, redacted and transmitted to all the Randolph-Sheppard program vendors in Pennsylvania. With these accurate meeting minutes, the Pennsylvania Committee of Blind Vendors can continue its oversight role to ensure fairness of the Randolph-Sheppard program in Pennsylvania.