United Spinal Association and over 100 member advocates from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. on June 23-26 for the 8th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill to ensure wheelchair users and all people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) have a seat at the table in shaping disability policies.
“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,” said James Weisman, United Spinal’s president and CEO.
For 8 years, Roll on Capitol Hill–United Spinal’s annual signature policy event–has provided people with SCI/D a channel to hone their advocacy skills and be proactive in fighting for their rights and independence, at both the state and national level.
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.
The keynote speaker at the Roll was Finch Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, US Department of Transportation, who 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 everyone 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 said.
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,” said Salvini.