A Teen Visits DC to Rally for Rights

IMG_7033It’s July 26th and under the hot sun in 95 degree weather, I and a good thousand individuals are all marching to the capitol building. Our chants can be heard a block away: “Don’t Roll Back Our Civil Rights! Disabled and Proud! Community Living, It’s a Civil Right!”

Ever since forever ago, there has been a fight for civil rights. It started with race, shifted focus to gender, then to LGBTQA… but there’s another group that’s also been fighting for Disability Rights. A group often overlooked and misunderstood. They can be your elderly grandmother, your cousin who got in the terrible car accident, your little brother born with the learning disability, your friend that has to use a wheelchair or your uncle who’s a veteran.

After a long trip starting at 1am (I ended up not sleeping for about 38 hrs), we had arrived at Washington DC. People from all 50 states are attending and more from Puerto Rico and Japan! Why? Well, because a number of new bills concerning disability rights are going on the floor of both houses to amend the ADA and others. That’s nice, but what does it mean?

Well, There was all sorts of acronyms being thrown around and it’s all kinda overwhelming and confusing. So, a very simplified way of looking at it is: ADA (American with Disabilities Act) was a law in the 1990s to ensure basic civil rights to everyone, regardless of sex, race, religion, age and now disabilities. Like similar Civil Rights movements, there’s still along way to go, but this was a big deal. Now groups like NCIL (the National Council on Independent Living) are fighting for more civil rights, that everyone takes for granted.

IMG_7037Some of the things on our agenda was:

Universal Housing. Everyone deserves to have a house that they can navigate freely. All universal housing means is house that’s easy for anyone to navigate, no matter their age or ability. This means building public housing right the right time, so anyone can live or visit easily. Simple things like making the house have no front steps, wider doors and hallways. It’s cheaper for everyone one if the house is build right the first time. Why not build a house that’s just easy for your grandfather with the walker or your friend’s mom whose in a wheelchair to get around as it is for someone who doesn’t have a physical disability. 

Transportation. It can be a challenge for everyday citizens to get around rural communities, let alone citizens with disabilities who may rely on public transport to get around. For example, here in Cortland our buses have very few stops, only operate during weekdays from 6-6. So those who need to rely on public transportation, are severely limited by where and when it stops. Other transportation services, such as Uber, are a great and welcome service that aren’t limited to hours and places. However, there are cases of discriminating against those with disabilities and many of the vehicles used are not accessible to those who use walkers, wheelchairs or have service animals.

IMG_7031 (1)Shop Accessibly. You walk into a store, and you don’t think much about it. Well, what you didn’t realize was that you had to go up a step on to an awkward sized platform and through a narrow doorway. These kinds of store fronts are fairly common, especially in older rural towns. And these aren’t easy for those with disabilities to navigate through. But wait! I hear you say. Isn’t there a law or something about this? Well, yes. But a proposed amendment wants to make it harder for those with disabilities to file complaints.

Keeping All Students Safe. Believe it or not there are still schools who restrain and seclude students. An Act coming up is aimed at banning this behavior altogether except if there is danger of someone in physical harm. There will also be a ban on restraints that cause difficulty breathing, chemical restraints and similar barbaric ways of suppressing. I can’t believe this sort of thing still happens honestly. It’s pretty messed up.

It was for these civil rights and more that I was participating.

IMG_7105So after the long, sweaty walk we enjoyed a lunch in font the Capital building. We even got a brief tour through the underground..and thankfully air conditioned.. passages that connected the Capital building with Cannon House and Russel Senate! We meet with NY Representative Hanna’s people and NY Senator Gillibrand’s people to discuss the upcoming legislation and what we wanted supported and denied. For me that was the most stressful part of it all, but all and all, it was fun, eye-opening, and I’m glad I participated.


Author: Claudia Kolts

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