The theme for the event: ‘Do Nothing About Us, Without Us’, captured the ongoing desire of people with disabilities to play a key role in shaping policies that affect their lives.
“We Roll on Capitol Hill because it’s our right, as Americans, to be heard,” said Paul J. Tobin, United Spinal’s president and CEO, who is a navy veteran and power wheelchair user.
“The concerns, beliefs, and most importantly the voice of the disability community belongs in the dialogue when policies are created that affect us. It is time to be involved in the conversation, and this gathering is an important step toward achieving this objective,” he added.
Armed with their personal stories of living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), United Spinal’s members and chapter leaders met face-to-face with their representatives to offer real solutions and alternatives, and explain the real-life implications of arbitrary cost-cutting proposals that threaten:
• Civil rights protection for people with disabilities
• Medicaid-supported home care services.
• Rehabilitation and appropriate wheelchairs.
• Medical equipment, such as catheters.
• Adequate coverage of prescription drugs.
“Our personal stories have the power to influence elected officials far better than any lobbyist. They are the strongest tool we possess as disability advocates. They break down barriers. They allow people to see beyond our wheelchairs for who we really are. Our stories put a face to our issues––removing them from stacks of mundane legislative papers to the real life challenges we face daily,” Tobin said when speaking to attendees.
Roll on Capitol Hill began with a legislative policy conference on June 25, providing activists in attendance insight from guest speakers on disability-related policies that need improvement––as well as the opportunity to share their ideas on how to effectively advocate on behalf of the United Spinal 37,000 members and nearly one million Americans living with SCI/D.
June 26 was devoted to Congressional visits and concluded with an awards reception in the Cannon Caucus Room, 345 House Cannon Building.
“Being here in the Capitol, lobbying with so many impressive people for a cause so near and dear to my heart has been unbelievably empowering. I’m excited about the future,” said United Spinal member Nick LiBassi (NY).
“(Legislators) want to hear from me. They want to hear from the constituents. That’s what I got in every meeting. They just really listened more intently than they did when I’ve taken part in other lobbying events,” commented Jen Wolff, also a United Spinal member (IA).
United Spinal awarded Congressman and wheelchair user James Langevin (D-2nd RI) with the Junius Kellogg Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award for demonstrating courage, energy and dedication in promoting productive, independent lives for people with disabilities.
“By coming to Washington to share your stories and experiences, you enlighten and educate us as lawmakers and put a very important face on issues that affects millions,” said Langevin as he accepted the award from Tobin and Association members from Rhode Island.
VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal, honored U.S. Representative John R. Carter( R-31st TX) with the VetsFirst Congressional Bronze Star Award in honor of his pursuit of legislation to ensure that veterans with disabilities who use service dogs have access to veterans affairs facilities.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) received the James J. Peter’s Disability Champion Award, named in honor of James J. Peters, who led United Spinal Association for 31 years and after whom the Bronx VA hospital is named.