A Trip to DC: Press Briefings, Panel Discussions and Sharing the Room with the President

It’s not every day you share the stage with a rising star in the television world, but it happened for me!

Ben speaking on a panel

Ben speaking at the Capitol Visitors Center

In Washington, D.C., I had the distinct honor of participating in the release of Easterseals’ brand-spanking new “State of Disability Equity and Access,” a special report showcasing the improvements made for the disability community since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 33 years ago. More importantly, the report serves as a call-to-action for the necessary improvements to ensure full inclusion for future generations – a compelling reason to travel 12 hours by car to D.C., I’d say.

On stage at the historic National Press Club, I joined the transportation panel, moderated by MSNBC’s Symone Sanders. She’s incredible, and if I’m being honest, I felt right at home on stage interacting with one of television’s most popular hosts. I’ve never met an unfriendly microphone! Our panel discussed developments that have eased travel for people with disabilities, but I focused on the importance of improving the airlines to be more accessible for wheelchair users.

This isn’t a new story. A decade ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with a plan and a petition, advocating for more accessible airlines, desiring a system where I could fly without having to get out of my own wheelchair. The reality is, as I told The Advocate, I haven’t flown since my injury – it’s too dangerous. The current system risks major harm to my chair, and even possibly long-term health concerns. It’s not right, and I’m elated that Easterseals has joined this fight for flight!

Ben and his colleagues in a group photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial

Enjoying the Lincoln Memorial at night

Prior to my on-stage, under-the-lights discussion with Symone Sanders, we officially unveiled the report during a press briefing at the Capitol Visitors Center – a fairly new addition to the Capitol Building. Tucked inside a room that has been used for major press briefings, I spoke alongside Easterseals CEO, Kendra Davenport; Jessica Tuman, VP, VOYA Cares; Ehrhardt Preitauer, president and CEO, Caresource; and outstanding disability advocate Emily Ladau, and Kathleen Perez of the Coelho Center, who helped produce the report. Boy, was I in good company, with a group of passionate inclusion activists assembled in DC with a vision for the future. Every time I travel to D.C., something special happens – this time was no different.

Speaking of special, for the first time, our group visited the Lincoln Memorial and laid our eyes on D.C., at night, where you can actually see the reflection of the Washington Memorial in the reflecting pool. We saw and snapped a photo with Cory Booker as he was leaving the Capitol. I was even in the same hotel, the Washington Hilton, as the President of the United States!

Ben and Senator Cory Booker in front of the U.S. Capitol

Meeting Senator Cory Booker

Yep, when we arrived at our hotel, the woman behind the desk asked us, “will you be leaving the hotel in your car tomorrow? If so, it will be difficult if not impossible, as this place will be crawling with Secret Service.” I had to ask, “why is that?” The woman replies, “the president will be here.” My mother retorts in a very serious tone, “the president of WHAT?” The woman replies, “the President of the United States, ma’am.” Only in DC! And you better believe I worked my way into the room with President Biden!

What a trip. Sharing the same room, albeit a large conference, as the president, sharing the stage with a television star, observing the reflection pool at night, talking with Cory Booker (who, I might add, was a very kind gentleman, chatting with kids from Indianapolis before snapping a photo with me), being with my Easterseals friends, and hanging with my Change for Balance colleagues as we worked the Easterseals forum. It was absolutely another successful trip to our nation’s capitol.

Overall, my hope, and the hopes of every single one of the panelists, advocates, and champions as a part of this experience, are for the next generation of people with disabilities. Our hope is that children with disabilities will see the airlines not as a barrier, but an opportunity to explore the world. Our hope is for teenagers with disabilities to dream endlessly about their future careers, not seeing corporate America as unattainable. We have hope.

I’m a dreamer, but I believe, together, we can create a more inclusive world for all of us.

But then again, maybe I’m just starstruck from my time on stage with Symone.


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  1. Beth Finke Says:

    Great story! Great writing! And especially….great work! So comforting to have advocates like you out there working for us. Thank you, Ben.

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