It has been almost one year since the Civics League for Disability Rights was born. On the eve of last year’s general election, ICS members and others interested in discussing issues important to the disability community gathered at ICS’s Brooklyn office for their first monthly meeting to share and learn about how to be effective advocates and activists.
Over the next ten months, the group has had many opportunities to put their advocacy skills to the test. Some have appeared before a New York State Assembly hearing on the wages of homecare workers; others have visited offices of senators and representatives in both Washington, D.C., and New York City to express their opinions on complex rehab equipment and the future of Medicaid—issues of vital importance to people with disabilities. Still others have made phone calls, written letters, or gone to demonstrations in support of their beliefs.
Stephanie Wallace, host of ICS’s podcast series Independence Radio and a member of the Civics League herself, spoke with three other members about what they’ve learned this past year in an episode that is available right now. ICS members Joe Floccari, Sharifa Abu Hamda and Michelle Jones shared what brought them to advocacy, what issues are most important to them, and how they’ve taken action over the last year.
Listen to this Independence Radio episode here.
Diverse and United
The three Civics League members display the diversity of the group—indeed, the diversity of the disability community in general. Sharifa is not only an ICS member but also on staff as outreach coordinator for Member Programming. She talks about how her Middle Eastern family pushed her to go further than she ever thought she could after contracting muscular dystrophy at age 8. She says she has gained confidence in her advocacy skills over the year from taking part in legislative visits, skills she’s eager to share with less experienced members.
Michelle had a career and family before she developed multiple sclerosis later in life. She admits to being shy at first but emboldened by her passion for justice. She joined the Civics League just after the election when she was shocked by the result. Michelle describes herself as “a little bit of a bulldog” and adds, “No one’s going to speak up for me. I’m going to speak up for me.”
Joe, who was born with his disability, is a relative newcomer to the Civics League, but he comes with experience in politics and describes himself as “very vocal and not shy at all.” “We need politics, unfortunately,” he says, because so much of what enables the independence of people with disabilities—Medicaid, Medicare and other social services—comes out of the political process.
Represent the Community
All of the participants agree and keep returning to the point that people with disabilities need to represent themselves in the political arena. Stephanie talks about her initial intimidation when going to a Congressional office for the first time. “I felt like this was over my head,” she says. But then she realized that what she was doing, really, was telling her story. “You’re putting a face to these issues,” she says. “If you are not there to represent,” Joe adds, “if we’re not out there, what noise can we possibly make?”
“Members had been asking for a group such as this one,” Sharifa says. “We decided to try it out, and it’s been great, successful and I hope it keeps going.”
We think you’ll find the conversation stimulating. Please give it a listen and if you like what you hear, check this page for the next Civics League meeting, then come on down and get active. If you can’t make the meeting, you can watch it via Facebook Live.
Please note: The Civics League welcomes Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise on September 8, 2017, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at ICS Brooklyn. Follow this link for more details.