Advocates ‘Roll’ on Capitol Hill for Disability Rights

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by Mary Chapman |

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Roll on Capitol Hill

In an effort to make sure those with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) are included in disability legislation, the United Spinal Association and some 200 advocates recently gathered virtually for this year’s “Roll on Capitol Hill.”

The annual event, in which advocates met with lawmakers, gives organization members an opportunity to have a say on subjects that affect their health and independence. They relate what it’s like to be a wheelchair user, and lobby for disability rights at state and national levels.

“We need events like Roll on Capitol Hill more than ever,” Vincenzo Piscopo, United Spinal president and CEO, said in a press release. “The stories we tell about being able to land our dream job, move to our dream cities, and live truly independent lives, or proudly roll across the stage at graduation continue to be matched by those who remain underserved by our society. There’s so much work to be done,” he said.

This year, advocates emphasized key issues, including ensuring that everyone, including those with disabilities such as multiple sclerosis, has accessible, secure, and reliable broadband (high-speed Internet). They also stressed the need for increased access to transportation so that individuals with disabilities may participate in their communities and maintain their health and independence.

Participants also sought enhanced access to telehealth — the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to provide care — and home and community-based services. They lobbied for greater access to caregiving for veterans as well as expanded healthcare eligibility for veterans who live with illnesses brought on by exposure to toxins.

Advocates asked for more funding for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Model Systems, which offer those with SCIs a comprehensive multidisciplinary system of care, scientific investigations, and resources.

Before the June 14-16 event, participants attended a virtual training session in which they learned more about the organization’s policy goals from experienced advocates and legislative staffers.

At the event’s conclusion, United Spinal hosted a Congressional and Corporate Advisory Council Reception to honor those who have helped advance disability rights and inclusion. Honorees included: Natalie Barnhard, who received the 2021 Finn Bullets Advocate of the Year Award; U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, who earned the 2021 James J. Peters Distinguished Veterans Legislator Award; and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, of Nevada, who was presented this year’s United Spinal Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award.

“This Award is such an honor because I’m able to bring awareness to the changes I am working hard to make here in my community,” Barnhard said. “As an advocate, I hope to make lasting changes for people who live with SCI/D with their physical recovery and create a better quality of life for everyone through physical rehabilitation, accessibility, care, and support.”

More information about policies addressed by United Spinal at Roll on Capitol Hill is available here.

“Thank you for letting me know my voice matters,” said Davita Carter, an advocate from Illinois. “This is such a cool organization and I hope this is just the first of many years that I can be a part of Roll on Capitol Hill. I’m excited.”

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