United Spinal Association and advocates from its membership division, National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA), gathered in Washington, D.C. on June 22-25 for Roll on Capitol Hill to shape policies that impact the health, independence and quality of life of people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D).
Roll on Capitol Hill (ROCH) is United Spinal’s signature policy event which highlights key advocacy priorities for its membership and the broader disability community to ensure that legislators include wheelchair users and all people with disabilities in policy debates on Capitol Hill.
“United Spinal’s 65-plus years of advocacy experience, combined with the energy and enthusiasm of our grassroots advocates, is a force to be reckoned with and provides our community a much needed voice at the policy table in DC. Roll on Capitol Hill proves that together we can make a difference,” said Joe Gaskins, United Spinal’s newly appointed president and CEO.
“This event is a tribute to the tremendous commitment of our members to get involved in policy change––not only in DC but in their home states,” said James Weisman, United Spinal’s senior vice president and general counsel.
“We’re extremely thankful to all attendees and sponsors for making ROCH 2014 a resounding success,” added Weisman.
During Roll on Capitol Hill, attendees took part in 200 congressional office visits, meeting face-to-face with their representatives and other key legislators to personally discuss issues critical to the disability community, including the need for better access to health care, social security benefits, disability rights, employment opportunities as well as accessible transportation.
On June 23, ROCH attendees participated in a full day of policy briefings from advocates, agency officials and former Capitol Hill staffers.
The day began with Keynote Speaker Claudia Gordon, Special Assistant, Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs recently with the White House Office of Public Engagement.
“It’s important to understand that individuals living with disabilities want the same thing everyone else wants––that is access and equality. We have to ensure diversity in the workplace and that includes wheelchair users and others with significant disabilities that are often overlooked. I applaud all of you for your hard work in promoting these principles and values,” said Gordon.
On the evening of June 24, United Spinal hosted a Congressional Awards Reception to recognize members of Congress for their outstanding service to people with disabilities and veterans, including:
•Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) was honored with the 2014 James J. Peters Disability Rights Champion Award for his work to ensure every American has access to high-quality, affordable health care as well as his leadership on the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2013, (ABLE Act)
•Representative Al Green (D-TX 9th) received the 2014 VetsFirst Congressional Bronze Star Award for his efforts to increase opportunities for veterans living with disabilities to reintegrate into their communities. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA 5th) was presented with the 2014 Junius A. Kellogg Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award for her extensive leadership and vocal support of disability issues.
Senator Casey, who introduced the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) of 2013––which will help people with disabilities save private funds for education, housing, transportation, and employment assistance –thanked attendees for their efforts in gaining strong bipartisan support for this legislation.
“The reason why the ABLE Act is on the verge of passage is because of you. Because of the advocates across this room and across this country who work night and day. You made it possible,” said Casey.
“Thank you all for traveling to Washington to make sure your voice is heard. Each one of you has a powerful story to tell. It is so important that members of Congress, House and Senate, hear from you directly about the challenges you face and the change you want to see,” added Congressman and wheelchair user Jim Langevin (D-2nd RI).
The following House and Senate legislators were recognized as ROCH Congressional Co-chairs for their sponsorship and leadership of the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act, HR 942/S.948, which improves access under Medicare for customized wheelchairs for individuals with significant disabilities. They include: Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS); Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY); Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI 5th); and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY 14th).
United Spinal also honored several advocates who have been instrumental in policy successes throughout the year, including Arkansas member Kesha Pilot, who helped raise over $12,000 in support of ROCH and customized wheelchairs through United Spinal’s Save the Wheelchair crowdfunding campaign.
Finn Bullers received the 2014 Advocate of the Year Award for his years of effective advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, not only in his own state of Kansas, but across the country.
ROCH 2014 provided a platform for United Spinal’s members and chapter leaders to constructively address the disability issues impacting their lives, including:
•Ensuring increased access to needed durable medical equipment, medical supplies and related services, prescription drugs and outpatient therapies
•Expanding home and community-based services and supports
•Improving access for housing modifications for disabled veterans
•Providing accessible transportation for all
•Increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and ensuring civil rights protections
About United Spinal Association
United Spinal is a national 501(c) (3) nonprofit membership organization formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio. It played a significant role in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, and made important contributions to the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Membership is free and is open to all individuals with SCI/D. United Spinal was instrumental in getting New York City to create sidewalk curb ramps and accessible public transportation that has been used as a model for many United States cities.