UCP Interns Visit Capitol Hill

 

This post was co-written by UCP Programs and Development Interns James O’Connor and Rebecca Zewdie

 

During our time interning for UCP’s National office, we have had the opportunity to learn about a range of policies that affect the lives of people with disabilities everyday. On June 22nd, we were given the chance to attend our first policy briefings on Capitol Hill. It was really interesting to get a taste of how the issues we have been learning about get discussed by advocates and other stakeholders here in DC. The briefings we were able to attend focused on issues surrounding employment for individuals with disabilities and Assistive  Technology (AT).

 

Employment (Rebecca’s perspective)

 

The first session of the day was a policy briefing that happened to be focused on the elimination of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Hosted by Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS) in a small room in the Longworth House Office Building, I was shocked to see attendees of the event standing in the hallway because the room was so packed. That was my first glimpse at how important discussion of this particular issue  is to many people with disabilities, their families, and advocates.

 

Some of the speakers on the panel included those personally affected by Section 14(c), a longtime member of several Congressional committees, and a man who advocated to phase out 14(c) in the State of Maryland. It was an incredible experience to see what goes on behind the scenes of bills and how people work  together to advocate for policies they believe in. It was also important for me to see the significance of health care policy, and the ramifications it could potentially have on individuals.

 

Among the speakers at the briefing, there was one man who helped change this law in his home state. Ken Capone, a resident of Maryland, helped pass the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act (EEA). The EEA mandates that the State of Maryland must phase-out  the payment of sub-minimum wage to those with disabilities by the year 2020. His ability to advocate for, and eventually to make, a critical change at the state level was inspiring. His contribution in Maryland will now prevent any individual with a disability from receiving a wage that is below the State’s standard for people without disabilities.

 

His in-depth analysis further solidified my drive to advocate for causes that are important to me. As I aspire to be involved in the health field one day, the briefing further affirmed  my chosen  career path. Attending this briefing also made me see the need for more conversations surrounding employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

 

Assistive Technology  (James’s Experience on Capitol Hill)

 

For people with and without disabilities, technology is a part of everyday life. As I’ve seen from day one of my internship here at UCP, Assistive Technology (AT)  is an integral part of the lives of many individuals with disabilities. I have witnessed first-hand how important AT is to someone like my supervisor, Karin. AT — such as her speech recognition software–  plays an important, daily role in enabling her to do her job. Because of the work I have done researching and advocating for technology-related legislation, it was exciting to learn that Karin and I would both be attending a technology-focused luncheon hosted by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).

 

The luncheon featured panelists speaking about AT and how it has helped them or their family members manage medication, go on vacation, exercise, access the web, communicate, and much more. I was particularly compelled by Jason Owen, who was in a car crash in 1990 that left him unable to communicate. With the help of AT, he has become an author, a motivational speaker, a self-help coach, and a mentor to people around the country. Listening to Jason, I realized that AT is not only a tool for survival; it can enable people to really excel.

 

After the panel, there was an assistive technology exposition with booths showcasing technology ranging from adapted Google Glasses to remote presence technology. I have seen how important something as simple as a motorized headrest can be, but to see some of the incredibly advanced technology available was breathtaking. Every technology at the expo was designed to make communication, travel, exercise, or work possible and practical for anyone and everyone.

 

As I learned more about AT, I came to realize that much of the technology I was admiring was funded by Medicaid for many of its users. I was disheartened to learn that the Senate’s healthcare bill could leave this technology out of reach for many of the Americans that need it. This fact, as well as everything I saw and learned at the luncheon, emphasized for me how important it is that I be an advocate and ally to those in the disability community through my work here at UCP.

UCP’s Summer Interns Soak In Affiliate Visit

by Kyle Khachadurian, External Affairs Intern, Kaitlyn Meuser, External Affairs Intern and Michael Wothe, Affiliate Services and Public Education Intern at UCP’s National Office

 

outside pathways academy

Recently, we took a trip to UCP of Central Pennsylvania (UCP of CPA) in order to get a taste of what an affiliate does and how it operates. The first thing we noticed is that UCP of CPA is huge! Working in UCP’s national office, we interact with people through referring them to their local UCP affiliates and/or other resources. Seeing, firsthand, an affiliate that treats the slogan “life without limits” in such a direct way refreshed all of us.

 [Left: Staff from UCP National and UCP of Central Pennsylvania at Pathways Academy]

The work going on at UCP of CPA is quite spectacular. We were able to visit several of their departments and programs: Pathways Academy, a residence for adults with disabilities that is fully equipped with SmartHome technology. The SmartHome technology consists of sensors on all of the windows, doors, and even chairs and beds to let the house staff know if any of the residents may have left and need assistance. 

interacting CACC kids 2

[Right: Interacting with children at the Capital Area Children’s Center]

Our next stop was at their Capital Area Children’s Center, which is a preschool for young children, ages six weeks to five years old, with and without disabilities. The school has 75% of its students without disabilities and 25% with a range of disabilities. Aside from various therapies, which happen in the classroom, the children with disabilities are taught the same things, at the same pace, as the children without disabilities– and it works. When we visited, a 4-year-old girl came up to us and said hello. She started telling us how she was graduating the following day. We later learned she was non-verbal when she began school there! It was absolutely incredible to be able to see the “real world” results from the programs at UCP of CPA.

The last stop on our UCP of CPA journey was at their Assistive Technology/Changing Hands Center. There, we seemingly saw every kind of assistive technology you could possibly think of, and several that you’d never think of, such as a button shaped like a face. There was also a pile of board games that were all in braille. After that, we saw the Changing Hands Center that was a sort of “exchange” for mobility aids and devices. If someone needs a type of device, he or she calls and asks for it. If UCP of CPA has one available, the device gets cleaned, and the person comes to pick it up free of charge. You can also donate old equipment that you no longer need to the Changing Hands Center.

AT includees games

[Left: Checking out board games in braille]

The striking thing about the work this UCP affiliate is doing is that their passion for what they are doing is apparent and absolutely infectious. It was great to see the positive impact technology can have on the lives of individuals with various disabilities, as well as the positive impact that early intervention and inclusion can have on young children — seen from the bright, smiling faces of the kids enrolled at UCP of CPA’s Children’s Center. Nearly all of the staff we met has a connection with cerebral palsy or other disabilities, be it a family member, friend or loved one. They treated us like we belonged there, and we truly felt welcomed. UCP of CPA is a shining example of the great work UCP affiliates are doing across the United States, in Canada, and Australia!