Members and Staff of United Spinal Association gather in front of the US Capitol at the 2019 Roll on Capitol Hill. (Photo courtesy of United Spinal Association)

Members and Staff of United Spinal Association gather in front of the US Capitol at the 2019 Roll on Capitol Hill. (Photo courtesy of United Spinal Association)

United Spinal Association and more than 100 member advocates from across the country gathered in Washington, DC, on June 23-26 for the 8th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill, an advocacy event to help shape disability policies for wheelchair users and  people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D).

“We often use the slogan ‘nothing about us, without us’ to drive home the point that wheelchair users are fully aware of what works and what needs to be fixed when it comes to disability policies. That’s why it’s important they have a voice and play a role in the legislative process,” says James Weisman, United Spinal’s president and CEO, in a media release.

This year, with approximately 250 Congressional office visits completed in one day and a record turnout of new member advocates, Roll on Capitol Hill attendees advanced key issues in face-to-face meetings with their state representatives, including:

  • Promoting universal accessible autonomous or self-driving vehicles that include wheelchairs and wheelchair users;
  • Improving access to quality affordable healthcare for people with disabilities and maximizing appropriate rehabilitation outcomes and therapies;
  • Improving access to community care for veterans with disabilities

On June 24th, attendees participated in the “Advocacy Academy,” a full day of policy briefings from fellow advocates, Federal agency officials along with representatives from automobile manufacturers and coalitions as well as the SCI/D research and assistive technology sectors that focused on pertinent legislative issues impacting the disability community.

Attendees were also provided insight on how to perform successful meetings with their congressional representatives and to utilize the power of their personal stories to demonstrate how specific legislation impacts their lives.

Keynote speaker Finch Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, US Department of Transportation,  discussed the agency’s work on new accessible transportation and automated vehicles (AV) guidelines and a renewed focus on both innovation and safety in AV and related accessible technologies.

On the evening of June 25th, United Spinal hosted a Congressional Reception to recognize members of Congress for their outstanding service to people with disabilities and veterans. Honorees included:

  • Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL) – 2019 James J. Peters Distinguished Veterans Legislator Award
  • Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) – 2019 Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), a power wheelchair user who received the organization’s first Roll on Capitol Hill Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award in 2012 for his work to promote productive, independent lives for people with disabilities, also made a guest appearance.

“I want to thank each and every one of you for showing up and making your voices heard. Your advocacy on Capitol Hill reinforces disability awareness and inclusion. I will do everything I can as your advocate to make sure our visions and goals are realized,” Langevin states, the release continues.

Kenny Salvini of Washington State and Rob Wudlick of Minnesota also received the 2019 Finn Bullers Advocates of the Year Award for their leadership and long-term commitment to policy and advocacy issues impacting the SCI/D and broader disability community.

“It’s pretty humbling to see 100 people in wheelchairs rolling around Capitol Hill sharing their stories. The greatest benefit for me is meeting the different leaders from across the country. Every time I come it seems I make new friends for life,” Salvini comments.

[Source(s): United Spinal Association, PR Newswire]