By Reveca Torres
My nervousness started as I began to pack and had to decide what to wear…What does one wear to speak to all those important people that make decisions in our country. I consider myself smart and articulate on many matters but the truth is what I was about to do was new to me. I’ve been disabled 19 years and even as a teen my parents let me do the fighting for things I needed and wanted. I’ve become quite good at being that lady that writes letters when she’s been wronged or sees injustices. I don’t keep quiet and sit pretty. I am not aggressive, but I am firm and persistent.
I was invited to attend Roll on Capitol Hill with United Spinal in Washington, DC on June 22 to 25th. To be honest, I am not a person that is very knowledgeable on politics and government. So, as much as I have been an advocate for myself it made me nervous to be an advocate representing a whole community of people with disabilities.
With my bags packed I got on a plane and arrived early Sunday morning. I decided to grab a map, explore and take a stab at public transportation, something I like to do whenever I’m in a new city. In the evening, when I arrived to the welcome reception I saw many familiar faces which both eased my nerves and also made me feel like I needed to step up my game.
Monday was a day filled with information and excellent speakers. I was in a room with over 100 advocates from all over the country learning about the most up to date information in regards to Health Care, Social Security, Customized Rehab Technology, the ABLE act, Medicaid expansion, and transportation among other topics. After talking to the other participants my nervousness turned into excitement, and after listening to the speeches I became overwhelmed and felt like maybe I didn’t know enough… But looking at those around me I realized that as individuals we can each only know our own experiences and share that with others in hopes of educating and making some change in this world.
Tuesday not only was the weather great but I was with the perfect team: a quad (me), a para (Pat Maher), a walking quad (Steve Burns), and a person who has been a caregiver to people with SCI for over eight years (Aileen Rangel). We were ready to kill it on the hill! We prepared with a chart, color coded and all, that would help us quickly reference which issues each legislator was/was not supporting; we discussed and decided which one would cover what topic depending on our experiences; we went into meetings expecting opposition but were pleasantly surprised. Everyone was very receptive and welcoming.
I felt empowered and honored to have shared those few days with people like George Gallego, founder of Wheels of Progress and the recipient of AARP Leadership Award (NY); Finn Bullers, big time healthcare advocate (KS); Teal Sherer, actress and producer of My Gimpy Life (TN); Matthew Tilford, Ekso Bionics ambassador (CA); Jenn Wolff, director of Users First (IA); Ian Ruder, editor of New Mobility (OR), and so many more. There was such a range of backgrounds, personalities, and stories that I feel like Roll On Capitol Hill 2014 could not have been better represented!
My first visit to Washington, DC was a success! As I sat on the airplane flying back to Chicago I couldn’t help but smile and feel giddy that I somehow made a difference in just a couple days and that next year, 2015, the 25th anniversary of the ADA, wheelchairs will invade the capitol and our nation will have no choice but to turn their heads, look, listen and Do!