For the people who grew up in NC, like I did, March is typically an exciting and busy month. March of 2017 was no exception. Although for me it didn’t include as much basketball watching as it normally does, I had an inordinate amount of duties to fulfill in the realm of advocacy. It’s funny how it corresponded with the NCAA tournament, although we didn’t plan it that way.
My March Madness coincidentally started on the first day of the NCAA tournament. I happened to be busy celebrating the ten year anniversary of our state Protection and Advocacy organization, Disability Right NC (DRNC). We celebrated by screening a film called “Bottom Dollars: A Rooted in Rights-Original Documentary.” The film explores the troubling fact that many people with disabilities still regularly make sub-minimum wage and work in segregated environments, instead of working in communities of their choice and making comparative compensation. Although I wish more people had come out to the film’s showing, we had an in-depth community conversation with the people that did attend.
A few days later, I attended two different meetings. The first one was the quarterly DRNC meeting in Greensboro. I don’t normally like to double-book myself, but several months ago I agreed to participate in an expert panel on augmented communication devices. Halfway through the board meeting, I left to attend that seminar. The panel went well, as there were three experts of all different ages and experiences, and even I learned a few things about communication aids that I wasn’t aware of. The embarrassing part was that I had left all my communication devices at home, but I was able to discuss my experiences anyway.
The following Sunday lead me on my way to Washington, DC to participate in the ARC 2017 Disability Policy Seminar for the first time. I was mostly interested in the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and talk to the legislators, which was a good thing. I missed the first half of the opening day of the seminar because Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) agreed to speak to me alongside The Executive Director of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities that day. In the past, I‘ve experienced mock Hill visits, but this was my first live interaction with an actual legislator.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even though legislators have been elected to their impressive offices with their fancy titles, they are still real people. They like stories they can connect to. I connected with Rep. Foxx because she had visited the opening of my high school years ago. I mentioned that to her, and she remembered visiting my high school on several occasions. Then I moved into my purpose for coming, which included protecting Medicaid and certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which are beneficial for people with disabilities. The two examples I talked about were the pre-existing conditions provision and the elimination of lifetime caps.
Many times, the legislator is unavailable, so they send one of their aides to speak with the constituents on their behalf. This was my experience with NC Senator Richard Burr. The thing to remember is, that opportunity is still there to advocate, as the aides do a lot of the behind-the-scenes bill drafting and research. I think it was a successful Hill visit because I was able to tell my personal story and back it up with a few facts. Although we might differ on various policies, they seemed genuinely interested in helping ensure good healthcare to many people like me.
I began to feel like an expert in the meeting with Burr’s aide. Mostly because I sat between the Executive Director of the NC Council of Developmental Disabilities as well with the CEO of The Arc of NC, along with other representatives of the various disability rights organizations in NC. The organizers said that this was one of the largest attended Disability Policy seminars, with over 900 participants from across all 50 states. Maybe we all played a role in the fact that the House had to pull the vote from repealing the Affordable Care Act. As I write this, they haven’t reintroduced the bill, although there’s still the opportunity they might. I encourage all those who advocate, to continue their work. The Congress is in recess for the holidays for the next couple of weeks, so It would be a good time to meet with them in their districts.
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On April 25, 2017
- 0 Comments