United States Capitol in Washington, DC.

Now that the U.S. Congress has once again given the American people a reason to lose confidence in them by failing to avoid a federal government shutdown, there are more questions than answers. What will become of so many of the programs and services affecting people who are blind or visually impaired? What are the long-term implications? How long will the government be closed for business?

Well, at least with respect to core programmatic functions, such as special education and vocational rehabilitation, the services provided by the states, supported with federal dollars, should continue without substantial disruption. These programs are supported through mandatory funding that is not dependent on the kind of year-by-year approval of Congress that is at the heart of the current controversy.

The fate of other programs, however, is precarious. For example, it would appear that because federal employees who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the National Library Service's Talking Book Program have been sent home, patrons will not be able to download books. While it seems counterintuitive that an automated talking book download system should need to be temporarily taken offline, current law imposes a limitation on the use of governmental property and resources during these kinds of government shutdowns.

So even though equipment may be able to function just fine, it is required to be discontinued during the shutdown nevertheless. The end result - blind people are being denied access to a fundamental and indispensable source of information and knowledge. A right fought for and won, by Helen Keller and AFB in 1931. Perhaps as more of the American people feel the pinch from the congressional dysfunction that has gotten us to this point, there will be more demand for Congress to stop playing games.

And what about federal employees who are successfully developing federal regulations, such as the FCC’s much anticipated laws for accessible TV user interfaces? Will these now fall by the wayside?

Putting it another way, rather than simply pointing a finger of blame at Congress and being unhappy with the inconveniences or worse, that may very well result from this shutdown, advocates should instead point that finger to their telephone keypads and computer keyboards and let their members of Congress know exactly how they feel.

To contact your elected officials, visit http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.

US Capitol building photo courtesy of Shutterstock.