Should athletes with disabilities have to pay more to participate?

My friend Eliza Cooper is blind, and she was planning to race in last Sunday’s NYC Swim’s Brooklyn Bridge Swim across the East River. Eliza is a strong swimmer – she’s completed six, count them, six, triathlons already.That's Eliza on the right with her guide Megan Leigh. (That’s Eliza on the right with her guide Megan Leigh.) The distance from Manhattan to Brooklyn is less than a mile, but last week NYC Swim director Morty Berger decided that athletes with disabilities would have to pay an extra fee to swim in the race, so Eliza didn’t participate.

Eliza is 28 years old, and I got to know her in Morristown, N.J., when I was training with my third Seeing Eye dog, Harper. We liked each other the minute we met, and when she got matched with Harper’s brother Harris, we knew it was fate, and that we’d stay in touch. She trains with Achilles International (they help athletes with disabilities prepare for races) and NY Info published an article last week after she and five other Achilles athletes were told they’d have to pay extra to participate in Sunday’s swim.

NYC Swim director Morty Berger said he added extra requirements for athletes with disabilities because of construction around the South Street Seaport and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Due to the construction, all athletes had to jump off a water taxi docked on the Manhattan side to start the race. They had to climb onto what Berger calls an “uneven” exit at the Brooklyn Bridge Park to end the race, too. And so, Berger decided that Achilles would have to ensure that its swimmers were covered under Achilles’ policy if they wanted to participate, and Achilles would have had to pay $700 for boats to trail swimmers with disabilities in case they needed help. “I am the lifeguard and I have to make the calls as it relates to safety,” Berger said. “It’s like someone saying, ‘I want to go swimming when there’s lightning out,’”

Achilles rejected the additional demands. “I told them if it was unsafe for my athletes, it was unsafe for everyone else,” Achilles coach Kathleen Bateman said in the article. Eliza was quoted in the article, too, questioning whether any other minority group would feel okay about paying extra to participate in an event like this: “We do not need extra boats or extra help,” she told the reporter.

I believe her: a few years ago Eliza was featured in a piece Eleanor Goldberg wrote after competing in the New York City triathlon with Eliza and 11 other Achilles athletes. They swam 1 mile, biked 26 miles up and down hill terrain, and ran 6.2 miles in Central Park. Eliza managed to fix three flat tires during the event and never once considered giving up. She told the reporter last week that being asked to pay extra fees to participate in Sunday’s swim was especially unfair when the race organizers don’t realize how hard she and her fellow Achilles athletes trained or how much of their heart and soul goes into the training they do. “We always find a way to do things, that’s how our team works,” she said. “For someone to say ‘no,’ it’s really disheartening.”

Eliza is busy training for her first half Ironman now. Based on her previous times, she stood a pretty good chance of winning an award if she’d been able to swim in Sunday’s race, but when I contacted her Monday, she seemed pretty resigned to it all. “Even though we didn’t get to swim yesterday, getting the word out there made me feel a lot better about what happened,” she said. She was glad the stories in the media drew attention to the injustice of it all, and pleased they generated conversation and support. “And you know what? There are always bigger and better races to be raced!”

So what do you think? I understand the organizer’s concern, but I’ve learned a lot from Eliza. If the NYC Swims director thought swimming across the East River was too dangerous this year, maybe they should have cancelled the race entirely. The other swimmers were given the option to decide for themselves whether or not to swim under those conditions, so it seems to me that the Achilles athletes should have been given that choice, too, without any extra — and expensive — requirements.

We want to hear what you think! Share your comments below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

A millennial’s take on caring for, and about, veterans

Last week I wrote a post about Amy Adams, an award winning actress who gave up her first class seat to a military serviceman. Adams is no stranger to attention through her acting, and her kindness did not go unnoticed, but, unfortunately, the good things our soldiers do for us overseas — and in our communities — often do.

Let’s face it. We live in a society where a lot of people think “reality” means a bunch of housewives living in Orange County. And okay, okay, I admit I indulge in this trash television myself, but I think of it as a getaway from the realities that are harder to face, like the tragedies in the Middle East and within our nation’s borders.

In a blog post I wrote last fall I talked about what it felt like to see the movie The Hornet’s Nest for the first time – I still remember the impact that first showing had on my life. To put it modestly, The Hornet’s Nest is as real as it gets. The film follows Mike Boettcher, an award winning war correspondent (and superhero Easter Seals board member) as he travels to Afghanistan’s front line with his son, Carlos. Viewers follow the father-son duo throughout their mission with 101st Airborne, an elite group of U.S. troops.

For 90 captivating minutes, I was taken to the trenches of Afghanistan, watching soldiers, some younger than me, fight for their lives. I laughed and cried together with other audience members, and all of us in the theater vowed to do all we could to make a change to the heartbreak within our nation’s borders. But at the end of the night, we all returned to our comfortable lives. I was able to return to my typical college student lifestyle where my only “tragedy” was math and Friday classes.

Some of the soldiers featured in the film, who have accomplished more in 20 years than I will in a lifetime, do not have that privilege. These young veterans are some of our nation’s brightest, embodying courage and an unmatchable work ethic. They should be an employer’s dream, yet they face high unemployment rates.

Films like the Hornet’s Nest open our eyes to a necessary reality we may not want to see. I encourage everyone to watch the Hornet’s Nest, and after you’ve seen it once, request a screening in your town so you can see it again. When the film is finished, think of ways your community can support our returning heroes.

Many communities and employers simply lack the resources to support our new generation of veterans and caregivers. That’s where Easter Seals Dixon Center comes in. Easter Seals Dixon Center strengthens communities and enables veteran families to thrive where they live. In June, Easter Seals Dixon Center and the Dole Foundation launched a series of free webinars for military caregivers. Our brave military service men and women served us, now it’s our time to serve them.

Watch the free military caregiving webinar on demand on Easterseals.com/carewebinar.

 

A Soldier’s Story: Ask your local theater to screen this movie

“Never give up. Never quit.” That is Travis Mills’ motto.  And if Travis Mills has no excuses, no one else should either!TRAVIS a soldier's story An injury in Afghanistan may have left him a quadruple amputee, but it didn’t change his goofy personality, his determination to be there for his family, or his motivation to walk and run again and participate in all the activities he used to.

A co-worker here at Easter Seals recommended I see Travis: A Soldier’s Story, and thanks to Easter Seals Dixon Center’s work in serving veterans, I had the privilege of attending a screening. I got to meet Travis at the screening, and I just loved him. He is an all-around good (and hilarious) guy, and that’s not all: he is a Detroit Lions fan, too!

Travis: A Soldier’s Story is a documentary and true story of United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne. Travis lost portions of both arms and both legs as the result of an IED (improvised explosive device) on April 10, 2012, while on patrol during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. Travis is one of just five quadruple-amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive their injuries.

Watch this trailer and you’ll get a hint of what I think this documentary is all about: that family is everything for our soldiers. The goal to come home to his wife, Kelsey, and their daughter, Chloe, motivated Travis to press on during rehabilitation.

The movie takes viewers through some of Travis’ therapy and rehabilitation process. It’s real, it’s tough, and it’s this hard work and perseverance that makes our soldiers heroes.

Some may refer to Travis as a wounded soldier, but he doesn’t consider himself wounded. He is a role model through the foundations he works with and his love for giving back. Help spread his story by encouraging your local theaters to screen the movie this Veterans Day.

And as for soldiers who don’t have a strong support system waiting for them at home — if you or someone you know is a military service member, veteran or military family, Easter Seals Dixon Center may be a good resource for help with anything from financial planning for military families and job training for veterans to respite services for military caregivers and more.

 

Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

I wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” in April, and it seems now that the ride-sharing vs. registered taxi driver issue is heating up all over the country.Billy, who first told me about ride sharing. Our bartender friend Billy Balducci is the first person I remember telling me about ride-sharing. Billy can get off pretty late from work at Hackney’s, our local tavern, and he says going home using UberX works great.

Ride-sharing services like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar allow regular people to offer their personal cars for hire. The rides are usually cheaper, you can order and pay for it with your Smartphone, and you don’t have to tip the driver. “The picture of the guy who’s picking you up comes up right on your phone, so you know who to expect when they pull up,” Billy marveled, leaning over the bar to show me his phone before giving it a little more thought. “Guess that might not work so great for you, Beth!”

We both laughed. I was confident I could figure out a way to tackle that problem. What I was more concerned about was what might happen if a ride-sharing driver showed up and didn’t want to let my Seeing Eye dog in the car, and that’s what my piece in the Chicago Tribune is all about. It opens with an account of me heading to court in 2007 to testify against a cab driver who had refused to pick my Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me up outside the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Avenue back in 2007. Now how could a cab driver ever refuse these two smiley faces? My husband Mike can see, and he helped me hail a cab outside our apartment building the morning I had to go testify. And yes, truth really is stranger than fiction: A cab driver refused to pick me up on the way to court! The guy slowed down for Mike, but then when he saw me standing there on the curb with Hanni, he said, “No dogs!” and sped off. Mike took down his license number and I reported the second cab driver, too.

Chicago cab drivers are required to take classes to learn about service dogs, and they have to pass a Public Chauffeur Licensing Exam before getting a livery license. They know they are required to pick us up, and the cab drivers I reported were fined for refusing to do so. More importantly, each had their livery license temporarily suspended.

I found an NBC News story that said a blind man in San Francisco complained to UberX after one of their drivers refused to pick him up with his guide dog. UberX apologized and gave him $20 credit toward his next ride. The driver was not penalized. From my Tribune article:

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services,” but since the vehicles used by ride-sharing companies are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, this is a legal gray area.

The blind man who was refused the ride might take civil action, but that could take a lot of time. And money. And that’s my problem with this whole ride-sharing thing. I didn’t have to pay a cent to report the Chicago cab drivers who disregarded the law, the cases were resolved quickly and efficiently, and the drivers were penalized. If a driver from a ride-sharing service refuses to pick me up with Whitney, my current Seeing Eye dog, I will have little recourse. The burden will be on me to pay to take the ride-sharing service and the driver to court.

So for now, I’m sticking with rides in regulated Chicago cabs. As it says in the final line of my op-ed piece, “I’m not against innovation, but I believe the new services should be subject to some regulation and required training — just like cabs.”

 

Amy Adams’ first class seat for a first class citizen

Amy Adams photo by Sachyn Mital

As a self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, I get a kick out of the “Stars, they’re just like us” column in my weekly light reading. Society puts celebrities on such a pedestal that pictures of our favorite stars pumping gas, reading a book, and (gasp!) grocery shopping, are considered newsworthy.

On June 27, one simple act of kindness broke into Twitter, the entertainment world and major global news outlets. Amy Adams, one of Hollywood’s top stars, quietly gave up her first-class seat to a serviceman sitting in coach. Adams didn’t trade her seat for publicity reasons, and if an ESPN reporter with a large following hadn’t been on the same flight and seen the exchange, this would not be news.

Jemele Hill, a co-host of ESPN2′s “Numbers Never Lie” show was on that flight with Amy Adams, though, and she tweeted about what she saw.  “I noticed Ms. Adams was in first-class and as I was getting seated, I saw the flight attendant guide the soldier to Ms. Adams’ seat. She was no longer in it, but it was pretty clear that she’d given up her seat for him,” Hill said in a story on ABC News. “I was incredibly impressed, and I’m not even sure if the soldier knew who gave him that seat. I guess he will now!”

An act like this headlining ABC News tells us just how rare a gesture it is. The deed is praiseworthy and shows Adams as a class act.

We view celebrities as selfish and aloof, focused on their own popularity and out of touch with those outside of the Hollywood scene. This phenomenon begs the question…would WE ["average" Americans] do the same?

I love random acts of kindness. One of my favorite college memories involved girls leaving “you are beautiful” notes on bathroom mirrors throughout campus. During the holiday season I am quick to buy a coffee for the person behind me in the Starbucks drive-thru line. Yet I am mortified to realize that if I had a first-class seat, I would not have thought to give it up for a first-class citizen.

My hope is that Adams’ deed will inspire a trend of honoring those whom have done so much to honor our country. Not everyone can afford a first-class ticket, but a genuine “thank you” doesn’t cost a thing. I am challenging myself to thank the service men and women in my community, and I encourage you all to do the same.

Get in touch with Easter Seals Dixon Center’s many military services that assist service men and women, veterans and their families.

 

Before Sunday’s World Cup finale, watch this blind soccer video

I love soccer, so this past month I’ve been in World Cup heaven!

Futbol, futebol, soccer…no matter what you call it, you probably also know it as The Beautiful Game. And, for me, it really is. When my friends and I talk about a match, we describe plays as beautiful or pretty. We’ll talk about how graceful a player is or how fluid his footwork is. For me, the game is very visual.

Not so for Liwiston and his Urece teammates. They play Football 5-a-side, or blind soccer. Their game is based on audio clues, everything from someone knocking on goal posts to listening for a ball that sounds like a maraca. And, boy, do they play a mean game of futebol!

This terrific video from The New York Times chronicles Liwiston and his team as they defend their regional title and hope to win a slot on Brazil’s national team. If they make the team, they’ll get to play at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. I’m rooting for Liwiston and his Urece teammates – they show me that it’s the players’ passion that truly make soccer The Beautiful Game it is.

PS: For those that may think that there’s any kind of advantage to playing with no out of bounds…I’ve played indoor soccer (with barriers) and trust me, it’s faster and harder than playing on the pitch!

 

Best ways to get around rural areas without a car

Donna Smith is the Director of Training with Easter Seals Project Action, which supports accessible transportation across the nation. Here she is with a guest post.

Getting from A to B

by Donna SmithDonna Smith and her Seeing Eye dog Farlow. Have dog, will travel.

Have you ever considered how you would travel in small town America if you didn’t drive a car? This is a concern for many people who live in rural or small town areas across the country — either they don’t have a car, can’t drive a car, or are part of a household that only has one car.

Alternatives to driving (bus, subway, rail, trolley or taxi service) are not always available outside of large urban areas of the country. Even when alternative transportation options are available, there can be many restrictions: limited hours of operation, restricted coverage area, eligible only to certain populations, lack of connectivity between service areas, just to name a few. So what do people without the option of driving do to get around in rural America? It often comes down to learning to use a patchwork of available options.

Travel training is the profession of teaching independent travel skills to people with disabilities, older adults and people with limited English proficiency. Easter Seals Project ACTION recently modified the “Introduction to Travel Training” curriculum—now we teach travel skills in rural settings, too.

Our Introduction to Travel workshops start out with making an assessment of a person’s abilities and skills for independent travel, planning out the trip and assessing the trip for safety and accessibility for the person who will be making the trip. After that, the person taking the trip is taught additional skills needed to successfully reach their destination.

Most trips in rural areas are made with a combination of walking, bus transportation and, sometimes, carpooling or volunteer drivers. How much of the trip can be made as a pedestrian depends not only on the traveler’s ability to walk or roll, but the safety and accessibility of the environment. Some questions we consider:

  • Are there sidewalks?
  • If so, are those sidewalks passable?
  • If there are no sidewalks, and the person must travel along the shoulder of the road, is it wide enough to allow for a safe distance from moving traffic?
  • Is there sufficient lighting to make walking on the shoulder feasible?
  • What kind of intersections must be crossed?
  • Is there a pedestrian crossing cycle?
  • If there is no pedestrian crossing cycle, is there clearly a safe opportunity for a pedestrian to cross?
  • Is there enough time to make the crossing?

These sorts of considerations are taken for granted in a lot of urban areas, but in rural and small town locations, there can be a very mixed bag of responses to these questions. When transportation is available to the public in rural areas, most often it is some kind of bus system. It can be a fixed-route system that runs one or more defined routes with either specific bus stops or flag stop service, or it might be a flexible route system that allows for slight deviations to pick up people at home or other locations such as a supermarket or workplace.

Even in places where bus service like this exists, people have to figure out how they can get to the bus service. If walking or rolling isn’t an option, then asking a friend or family member for a ride, finding a carpool, or using a volunteer driver are all options. Working out the details for each of these is up to the individuals involved. However, some kind of compensation is typically offered — paying for fuel, offering a rate per mile, or paying a set fee for the trip.

The National Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision
offers a Transportation Guide that is a very good resource for learning more about how to find and make use of the possible transportation options in your local area. Easter Seals Project ACTION was pleased to serve on the advisory council for this research project and contribute to this resource guide.

Easter Seals Project ACTION also offered a free webinar called “Getting from A to B: Connecting Individuals to Transportation Resources in Your Community” last month, and if you missed it, then don’t worry – you can still access it online at the “event resources” section of our event page. To learn more about travel training, check out the resources at the Project ACTION web site.

 

Hanging with Sen. Harkin, Ben Trockman and others on Capitol Hill

Me (2nd from right), Ben Trockman (center) and our cohorts

I had such fun hanging out with Ben Trockman at the Easter Seals Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC last month, and I loved reading the post he wrote last week about our visit to Capitol Hill. Here are some more details on ways all of us advocated for the funding and programs that support employment for adults, seniors and veterans with disabilities while we were in DC.

First off, Easter Seals provided an advocacy training seminar to empower the affiliates for our appointments the next day with U.S. Representatives, Senators or their staff. During this time, we were reminded of some staggering statistics regarding employment and people with disabilities and veterans:

  • 80% of people with disabilities who want to work are NOT represented in the workforce, compared to 70% of people without disabilities who are.
  • Gulf War veterans represent 1/2 of all unemployed veterans.
  • Female veterans are the fastest growing homeless population.
  • The over-65 age group is the most employed demographic population.

49 Easter Seals affiliates (a total of 200 representatives) were set to make 231 appointments, 91 of those being with our Senators and Representatives. This map shows where we came from and what areas we serve:

Our agenda was to urge our Senators and Representatives to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program and the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Here’s why:

  • We want individuals with disabilities, older adults and veterans to get jobs.
  • Too many people struggle to find meaningful work.
  • Congress MUST increase access to employment services and supports and improve employment outcomes and opportunities for these populations.

Claudia Gordon

During the advocacy summit, we heard from Claudia Gordon, a former Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement at the White House and currently Special Assistant to the Director in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Gordon is the first African-American lawyer who is deaf, and she gave an inspiring presentation about the obstacles she overcame to be where she is today. She is the public engagement advisor to the disability community.

The OFCCP has set a goal for federal contractors that could result in an additional 600,000 jobs for people with disabilities in the coming year. In addition, the OFCCP is requiring federal contractors to collect more data on disability and veteran employment.

Other Hoosiers joined Ben Trockman and me to meet with Indiana’s representatives and senators to discuss how Easter Seals is making a difference in the communities they represent and serve. Ben was an intern with Easter Seals and is an ambassador for people with disabilities, and he spoke about the importance of employment for young adults. Ben was excited to announce that he was just offered a position with Old National Bank in Evansville as their Community Outreach and Employment Specialist, in which Ben will work with Easter Seals and other employment providers to ensure that people with disabilities, veterans and seniors are accurately represented in the workforce.

On Tuesday, June 24, we were scheduled for six meetings on Capitol Hill:

  • Rep. Susan Brooks with Legislative Director Megan Brooks (IN-05)
  • Rep. Andre Carson with Legislative Assistant Erica Powell (IN-07
  • Sen. Joe Donnely with Legislative Assistant Devin Benavidez (IN-S)
  • Sen. Dan Coats with Legislative Assistant Sam Blevins (IN-S)
  • Rep. Marlin Stutzman with Legislative Assistant William Young (IN-03)
  • Rep. Larry Bucshon with Legislative Assistant Sarah Killeen (IN-08)

Sen. Harkin

Ben Trockman already wrote about how Senator Tom Harkin spoke at our reception dinner at the end of that very busy day. Ben was noticeably thrilled to spend one-on-one time with the Senator who was a founding advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Assistive Technology Act, and an overall advocate for people with disabilities in the United States. I had so much fun at the advocacy summit, and Ben was a hoot to hang out with.

At Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis where I work, our advocacy for employment opportunities for people with disabilities goes far beyond our time spent on Capitol Hill. From providing young adults in high school with employment skills through the NEXT Project to assisting adults with disabilities with resume, interview skills and job coaching in our employment services division and working to reintegrate veterans into the workforce, Easter Seals Crossroads is committed to empowering people with disabilities through employment, as are many of our fellow Easter Seals affiliates across the country.

View photos and learn more about Capitol Hill Day with Easter Seals by following #CapHill14 on Twitter!

 

Sara’s July 4th playlist: Red, White and Blue, I Love You

Today’s guest post is from military wife, mother and Easter Seals Dixon Center administrative coordinator extraordinaire, Sara Heidenheimer, who has previously written about military relationships for Easterseals.com.

Red, White and Blue, I Love You

By Sara Heidenheimer

I’m that patriotic person you see in the parking lot with an American flag on her car.  The one who always decorates for Flag Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and, of course, July 4th.  It’s one of my favorite holidays –– a big party celebrating how our country began.

Even better, it’s one day that I can be super patriotic and no one stares at me.

I think growing up in Texas had a lot to do with my strong sense of country (both our nation and music!).  We Texans are not only very proud of our state, we’re also very proud of our country.  And, both JG’s (my husband) and my grandpas served in the military, so we’ve always been aware of what’s been given up for us.

Me and my son, and my patriotic hair accessory

This is going to be my first year in Washington, DC, for the 4th, which is super exciting because this is where it all began. (Well, I guess that honor could go to Boston or Philadelphia, but I think DC overrides them because it’s where the President lives.) If I’m lucky enough to get tickets to the rooftop of the Easter Seals Dixon Center building, we’ll be up there cheering away with our flags and red, white and blue t-shirts. If we don’t get tickets, we’ll brave the crowds on The Mall. We’re not going to live here forever, so I really want to share this cool experience, watching the fireworks go off next to the Washington Memorial, with my family.

Busting these out for the 4th

I also want to share a little bit of my favorite holiday with you, so I’ve created a special July 4th playlist. We’ll be listening as we drive into DC for the fireworks…hope you’ll sing along with us, too. And please share your playlist picks in the Comments section below!

Sara’s July 4th Playlist:

  • Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly – Aaron Tippin
  • Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue – Toby Keith
  • Only in America – Brooks and Dunn
  • God Bless the USA – Lee Greenwood
  • God Bless America – U.S. Navy Band
  • The Stars and Stripes Forever – U.S. Navy Band
  • Born in the U.S.A – Bruce Springsteen
  • Star Spangled Banner – Whitney Houston (I get chills every time I hear this, especially when it is sung well.)
  • America, the Beautiful – Ray Charles
  • R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A– John Mellencamp

What’s on your July 4th playlist? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Legislation worth advocating for

Me and Sen. Harkin

Last week my friends and colleagues from Easter Seals Southwestern Indiana, Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, and Easter Seals Arc Northeast Indiana stormed Capitol Hill to meet with our Indiana legislature. Our goal was to advocate the passing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, along with other pieces of legislation that would increase employment opportunities for veterans and people with disabilities.

Our group of seven from the Hoosier state was accompanied by over 200 people from over 40 Easter Seals affiliates — including our executive staff from Easter Seals HQ –- and all across the country; it was the day of disability advocacy in DC. Well folks, it seems like our hard work on Capitol Hill is paying off. On Thursday, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act cleared the Senate, and is now on the way to the House.

In all honesty, I couldn’t be more excited and more proud of all the work from Easter Seals. It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to visit their state senators and congressmen and women’s offices to advocate a piece of legislation. Not only did we meet with these folks — we made a difference — and this piece of legislation is now going to impact thousands of lives in the United States. That’s an astounding accomplishment!

On top of all of the exciting work we did on Capitol Hill, our trip was capped off by a reception where we had a chance to hear from and meet Sen. Tom Harkin — a hero in the disability community — and a man who has been a champion for disability rights for over 30 years.

Although Sen. Harkin was only supposed to make a few remarks at the reception, he ended up speaking — from his heart — for over 20 minutes. He covered a wide range of disability issues that he and many others have been working hard on for many years, like the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the recent Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities. Needless to say, his words got the crowd of Easter Seals folks very excited, emotional and passionate; especially when he shared his feelings of how the United States is the leader in every aspect of disability law and legislation. Easter Seals does, after all, support the international human rights treaty of the United Nations, which is largely based on the ADA. Pretty cool.

After his remarks, I had the opportunity to speak with Sen. Harkin for about 10 minutes. I have to say, the impact of simply having a short conversation with Sen. Harkin was not something that I expected. I have known how important he has been in the disability community throughout the years, but I did not expect to be so emotionally overwhelmed and sincerely excited after meeting Tom.
Our short conversation has reinvigorated my enthusiasm about continuing my drive to improve the accessibility of airline travel for people in wheelchairs (something I’ve been working hard on for the past few years), starting an Accessible Airlines Petition and drafting an Accessible Airlines Proposal.

It is people like Sen. Harkin that drive me, drive Easter Seals folks, and continue driving the world to be a better place. Let’s all continue taking a stand whenever you have the ability to do so, and when you find something worth advocating — well — get out there and do it!