Friday, September 2, 2016

Ask Rep. Cohen to support Disability Rights

The Disability Integration Act has been introduced in the House

Allison Donald

By Allison Donald
Organizations within the disability rights movement have been working diligently to build a coalition in support of the Disability Integration Act.  As a result of that hard work the DIA was introduced into the house in July by Republican Congressman Christopher P. Gipson (NY).  This is an important victory because, as people with disabilities we realize how much of a pain staking process it can be to access long term supports and services in our respective communities.  

I accompanied the staff of The Arc of the Mid-South to speak with Congressman Steve Cohen (TN).  We were met with warm smiles and good intentions from our US House representative who is not currently a co-sponsor of the DIA.  Rep. Cohen and his assistant, Mr. Henry listened intently and took notes.  Each person spoke about the lack of affordable accessible integrated housing, subpar paratransit, lack of employment opportunities, and being stuck on waiting list for years.  After listening to the conversation for about 20 minutes Congressman Cohen said:

“I had not been made aware of any legislation that could improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

When he made that statement I found an opening to introduce him to the Disability Integration Act (DIA).  He made note of the bill number (HR 5689) and seemed enthusiastic about the bill as all politicians do when they are sitting in the room with their constituents.  I didn’t want to sound like a lobbyist, but I did impress upon him the importance of him acting on behalf of the people in his district that have disabilities and depend on those services so they can live as they choose.

Rep. Cohen is a person with a disability.  He has firsthand knowledge of what it is like, because the Congressman had polio.

As we were leaving the meeting, Congressman Cohen mentioned to one of the staff members of the Arc of the Mid-South that when he was younger he “suffered from polio.”  He continued to say that’s why he has taught his staff to take pictures on a two count instead of three, because he can’t stand that long.

I thought it was pretty harmless until he said: “I do have a brace that I try not to wear at times, because I don’t want to be seen as a person with a disability.”  

I wanted to tell the Congressman that most people cannot take off their disability as if it were an article of clothing.  Tennesseans don’t need empathy we demand action. We asked Rep. Cohen to support the DIA because his constituents demand to participate in the community and not be segregated in expensive institutions. Please support the DIA and ask Rep. Cohen to become a co-sponsor.