Defense Measure Would Remove Priority For Blind Vendors
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 21, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC--Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 25-0 to approve a defense authorization bill.
Few knew, apparently, that the measure included a one-sentence provision that would eliminate a federal program which gives blind business owners priority for certain food contracts on military bases.
The bill would affect the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936, which provides employment opportunities for blind people. The Act currently gives blind vendors priority to operate concessions on all federal property.
The sentence was inserted by committee member Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who claims it was wrong for the government to grant priority to blind vendors over those with other disabilities. Ensign told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he wanted "to put the rest of the disabled community on a level playing field with the blind vendors."
"We were trying to put some fairness in this for the other handicapped," Ensign said.
The development follows years of competition for federal contracts between programs that provide employment opportunities for blind workers, and those that provide work for people with other disabilities. The National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, which allocates contracts to groups which provide jobs for people with different disabilities, had filed several legal challenges to the government's preferential treatment of blind vendors. Last October, the Department of Defense said officials would give preference to blind vendors to run dining projects, but said it would urge subcontracts to go to other disability groups.
"Blind entrepreneurs could lose priority for military base contracts" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)