In nearly every campaign stop I make, I note that our Massachusetts State Legislature can do two things very well:
- It can “keep the lights” on for Democracy by continuing to move forward innovative initiatives when currently no such movement is possible out of Washington.
- And the Legislature can and must—especially now—be a front line of defense for our communities—rising to defend people in Massachusetts from relentless attacks on our human and civil rights.
As Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress attempt to roll back the gains made by the Americans with Disability Act, that front line of defense is needed now to help defend the rights of people living with disabilities, which comprise one in five Americans.
This year the GOP-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 620, which has an innocuous title: The ADA Education and Reform Act. In reality, H.R.620 would essentially remove up-front responsibility for businesses and/or public places to be accessible.
Accessibility in its fullest sense is the right to be seen and not be forced to live on the margins of our communities. It is at the core of what people living with a disability and their allies are demanding. Should Massachusetts fail to come forward at a moment such as this, we risk allowing what’s happening in Washington to further erode our humanity.
Here’s what I value and would fight for should I have the privilege of serving as State Senator:
- We must challenge and help transform the stigmatization faced by people living with disabilities. Disability rights advocates speak passionately about the waves of suspicion, blame, and judgment they face on a daily basis. The Massachusetts State Senate must be a watchdog for this insidious reality, making sure that state policy not only does nothing to perpetuate it, but helps alleviate it.
- Attached to the stigma is the pervasive challenge regarding expectations. That’s why the Legislature must lift the horizon on expectations for what people living with disabilities want, need, and can achieve so that government is not adversely limiting what’s achievable.
- We have to see the broad continuum of people living with disabilities and ensure that policy reflects government’s nuanced responsibility across abilities—from physical to developmental to emotional to cognitive.
- And, we need to proactively create legislation that makes it easier for people living with disabilities to be present and to engage deeply. Joannah Whitney, a disability rights advocate told me recently, “We’re building a world that makes it harder for people with disabilities to be present.” This heightens the risk of isolation. We need a focus across issues — education, housing, employment, public transportation, infrastructure, and health care — that robustly breaks down barriers to full engagement and provides the resources needed to fulfil the mission of associated programs and initiatives. And this focus must not be an afterthought, we have to lead with it as central.
Joannah also noted that the real question for us is, “What legacy do we want to leave with regard to disability rights?”
That question of legacy lies at the heart of what it is to be a lawmaker. On this critical issue, as your state senator, I shall seek urgent and transformative inclusion and equal rights for all across all abilities.