United Spinal Association reports in a news release that during its 4th annual “Roll on Capitol Hill” (ROCH) on June 7-10, members and advocates from its national network of chapters gathered in Washington, DC, to help shape policies that, it notes, impact the health, independence, and quality of life of people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D).

The Association notes that this, its signature policy event, is held to ensure that legislators include wheelchair users and all people with disabilities in policy debates on Capitol Hill.

Attendees participated in 200 congressional office visits, meeting face to face with their representatives and other key legislators to personally discuss issues that impact the disability community. Issues discussed included the need for greater access to individually configured wheelchairs, as well as accessible transportation, medical supplies, prescription drugs, and Medicaid, according to the release.

“Your courage to speak out and shed light on the issues that affect your quality of life is something that should be commended. There’s no question, your voice will make a difference for our entire community,” says Tom Aiello, a United Spinal Association board member and disabled veteran, during his welcome remarks, in the release.

“And what a fitting occasion, as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, to come together on Capitol Hill to advocate for greater rights and opportunities,” Aiello adds in the release.

Keynote speaker Sharon Lewis, principal deputy administrator for community living and Department of Health and Human Services’ senior advisor on disability, reminded ROCH attendees during her June 8 keynote speech that it was also the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care act, which, she says in the release, is considered to be the critical piece missing for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The one place that we have allowed discrimination to stand until 5 years ago is within our field of healthcare and health insurance. It’s important to remember that the Affordable Care Act and the [ADA] have a very important relationship, as you think about the work you’re doing here in DC at Roll on Capitol Hill and the importance of access to health care and health related services as a civil right,” she says in her keynote, per the release.

ROCH attendees spent the rest of June 8 participating in a full day of policy briefings from advocates, agency officials, and former Capitol Hill staffers, the release says.

The release explains that on the evening of June 9, United Spinal Association hosted a Congressional Awards Reception to recognize members of Congress for their outstanding service to people with disabilities and veterans.

These honorees included:

  • Rep Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-08), who received the 2015 Disability Rights Champion Award for her leadership role in expanding the rights of veterans, veterans with disabilities, and the broader disability community.
  • Rep Rob Wittman (R-VA-1st), who received the 2015 Vets First Congressional Bronze Star Award for his efforts to increase opportunities for veterans living with disabilities and to help them reintegrate into their communities.
  • Senator Patty Murray (D- WA), who received the 2015 Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award for her extensive leadership and vocal support of disability issues.

Consumer advocate Willis Washington was also honored with the 2015 Advocate of the Year Award for his years of effective advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, not only in his own state of Oklahoma but across the country.

“As our representatives and the general public become more aware of the issues wheelchair users deal with on a daily basis, they become more understanding. And that’s where true progress begins,” Washington says, in the release.

James Weisman, United Spinal Association’s executive vice president and general counsel, was also recognized for his 38 years of advocacy work to expand the rights of people living with disabilities, and for his commitment to ensure that wheelchair users in New York City and across the country have access to transportation.

“Deep down, I truly love what I do. Every day presents the opportunity to help people overcome a variety of challenges,” Weisman says.

“That’s what makes the job so enjoyable: to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, and share what I’ve learned over the years working within this great community,” Weisman adds in the release.

The release explains that the legislation and public policies United Spinal Association members and others advocated for during ROCH 2015 included:

  • HR 1516/S 1013, Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act of 2015. This will create separate recognition for complex rehab technology wheelchairs under Medicare.
  • Adequate funding, without limiting grants or caps for Medicaid, including home- and community-based services such as personal care attendants, transportation, wheelchairs and other equipment.
  • HR 2071, Safe Streets Act of 2015. This bill encourages communities to consider safety improvements for all users in transportation project planning.
  • A long-term surface transportation bill with adequate funding measures. Any bill should ensure an accessible, affordable, reliable and safe transportation system for all in urban, suburban, and rural settings; and equal access to employment in the transportation sector.
  • Ensure that all individuals with a medical condition or disability requiring certain prescription drugs or urological prosthetic supplies have access to those prescribed by their health care providers

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