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ADVOCACY, ADVOCACY, and ADVOCACY

By Doris Ray (Director of Advocacy and Outreach)
06/16/2016

When Ed Roberts, heralded as the “Father of the Independent Living Movement”, was asked what are the three most important services a center for independent living can offer, he borrowed from the famed American comedian W.C. Fields quipping, “Advocacy, Advocacy and Advocacy, but not necessarily in that order!”
 
Humor aside, Roberts was emphasizing the necessity to take charge of our own lives by participating in self-advocacy as individuals, and collectively through community and systems advocacy, and the pivotal role that centers for independent living have played as consumer-controlled, consumer-run organizations in facilitating the winning of our human and civil rights.
 
So, in inaugurating a new regular column on advocacy, we draw from the inspiration and vision of Roberts and the other founders of the Independent Living (IL) Movement by dubbing it “Advocacy, Advocacy and Advocacy”  Its focus will be both individual and systems advocacy opportunities in which YOU can participate, inform You about current issues of concern at local, state and federal levels, and highlight the victories that we can celebrate as a disability rights community.
 
While ECNV systems advocacy in the winter and spring centered on state and local issues, our focus shifts to the national level during June and July, particularly because Congress is now considering very important legislation which could significantly impact the lives of nearly every American who has a disability.
 
CILs working together with other disability rights groups won the great national victory of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as well as the ADA Restoration Act and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, both of which re-enforced Congress’s intent that ADA protects all Americans with disabilities regardless of the type of disability one has, and ensures equal access to facilities, programs, goods, and services offered by public and private entities.
 
Believe it or not, the ADA has faced many challenges over the past 26 years from individuals and some segments of society that seek to limit our hard-won rights, or repeal the ADA altogether.  Now, in 2016, we face another one of those challenges.  Several bills before Congress seek to significantly limit our ADA rights.  One, in particular, HR 3765 seeks to limit the right of an individual, or an advocacy organization, to file a lawsuit against a public accommodation, such as a business or commercial facility, that has failed to meet its obligation to remove barriers to access by individuals with disabilities. 
 
Known as the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015, HR 3765 requires anyone filing an ADA lawsuit under the barrier removal provisions of ADA Title III to provide the alleged violator with notice that it is violating the ADA and give them 60 days to respond.  If they acknowledge a violation, they must include a plan for how they will make “improvements” to access, and they will have four more months to actually make the improvements.  Improvements are not defined.
 
Barrier removal has been a continuing obligation of all public accommodations for the past 26 years.  The purpose was to insure that over time even businesses and other entities operating out of facilities that were built prior to enactment of the ADA would begin the process of improving access to persons with disabilities.  Now after 26 years have elapsed, we would have to wait six months or more before exercising our right to seek a remedy under the ADA.  HR 3765, for example, is advancing and a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on it in mid-May.  There is no telling how quickly it will proceed through the committee approval process and on to the House Floor.
 
We must act to educate Congress about how important the ADA is to us as Americans with disabilities, our families, and supporters.  We will have that opportunity on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 on the 26th anniversary of the day that ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush!
 
Show your support for the ADA by joining ECNV, people from other Virginia CILs, and disability rights advocates from every state and U.S. territory for a National Disability Rights March and Rally to celebrate our rights under the ADA, and send the message that we will NOT tolerate any weakening amendments to the ADA.  We will also advocate our rights under the ADA to receive long term services and supports in our own homes and not be forced into nursing homes or other institutions.
 
Following the rally, ECNV will join other advocates in meetings with our senators and representatives.  In addition to educating them about our concerns about any legislation that would compromise our rights under the ADA, we will be requesting their support for measures that provide funding for accessible and affordable housing and transportation as well as consumer-directed personal assistance and other long term services and supports that promote community integration of individuals with disabilities and prevent unnecessary institutionalization.
 
To prepare you for this very important advocacy event, ECNV will be sponsoring a workshop on Friday, July 14, 2016 from 3:00-5:00 p.m., which will feature a briefing on the legislative priorities being advanced by the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the national association comprised of CILs and independent living and disability rights advocates nationwide.
 
Volunteers wishing to help with organizing ECNV participation in this event are welcome!  For more information about participating in the march, rally and Hill visits, see the Save the Date Boxes that accompany this article, or contact Doris at ECNV by phone at 703.673.4489 (V/R) or by email at dorisr@ecnv.org.  
 
Following the rally, ECNV will head to the Capitol Hill offices of our senators and representatives along with other Virginia’s with disabilities from across the state and people with disabilities from every state and territory from over 400 CILs.