Thursday, January 21, 2021

Joy and Inclusion: Open Letter to President Biden


 

During your campaign and at your inauguration you offered messages on inclusion that were strengthened by your past and promised actions. My heart is filled with joy and a sense of hope. Hope that real lives will be changed for the better because of the actions of your administration and our collective commitment to help. I come to these beliefs as a person with a disability who has promoted disability rights for most of my life, spanning 76 years.

 You understand that for government to be enlightened requires leadership that reflects diverse perspectives. Your leadership team includes accomplished individuals who come from backgrounds and have had life experiences that equip them to bring America’s diversity to decision-making tables in Washington, D.C. What we have yet to see is the inclusion of people with perspectives of those who have lived with disabilities. You may say those appointments will come, and they should. But what I urge is something broader than appointing people with disabilities to run disability programs. You need people with disabilities at all levels throughout government. I especially propose appointing people with first-hand experience with disability to decision-making ranks of all departments and units that touch the lives of human beings. Such people are some of the best problem solvers and team players on the planet.

If we want meaningful inclusion throughout American society, then disability perspectives must be present at all decision-making tables in government. People with disabilities may need accommodations, but those should not be solely understood to mean separate or special treatment or programs or disability-related appointments.

 I recommend five things to build into your ongoing appointment process. 

·      Consider qualified individuals with disabilities when filling positions in the Departments of Defense, State, Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Energy, and Interior as well as in the Departments of Education, Labor, Veteran Affairs and Health and Human Services

·      Consider people with disability perspectives for appointments to all kinds of input groups such as committees, boards, and commissions 

·      Ask all government leaders to promote and consider disability perspectives in hiring

·      Mount targeted recruitment campaigns by reaching out to disability organizations for qualified candidates

·      Recognize that disability perspectives are available to you from leaders in the disability community, everyday citizens with disabilities, and their parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and advocates

 I know you and your administration are thoughtful and include persons with disabilities in any list you give referring to race, sex, gender and other characteristics. This is very important. But much more is needed and expected in this new chapter in American history that people with disabilities want to participate in writing. They have seen discrimination and fought against it. They have experienced abuse yet maintained their dignity. They have witnessed inequity and changed laws to overcome it. They have faced barriers to opportunities and access and knocked them down. They are represented in every subgroup in America, 60 million people wanting to contribute to a new, vibrant America where opportunity, choice, and prosperity are within reach of everyone. They know the need for and value of partnering with others. They accept compromise when diverse strategies lead to shared goals. They are patient and practical, respect facts, recognize honesty, they are smart and creative, and seek and offer respect. These people could and should flourish within and partner with your administration. The results of their full inclusion will mean greater speed of implementation and broader impact of the goals you have set for us to achieve together. You and the First Lady have direct experience with disability. Make sure others in your administration come to understand its value and use it to reflect an inclusive federal work force, a model for others to replicate.

 Sincerely,

 

Patricia Morrissey

Friday, November 27, 2020

It Is Time to Support the International Council on Disabilities, Attend USICD's Virtual Gala, December 3, 2020, 2 to 4 ET

Not another Zoom gathering! You bet. It's up to you to help us build our momentum and we have it!

As the result of the election, Make America Great Again has been replaced by Build Back Better. Slogans are statements that imply direction. Symbols like walls confirm intent. Symbols like open doors celebrate opportunity. USICD is in a key position to help the incoming Biden-Harris team demonstrate that the U,S. will open doors and will not be spectator. 

Our organization has the experience, the standing, the will, and the ideas to work with and through transitional partnerships to – 

 

·      Assist local leaders achieve disability rights, 

·      Shape inclusive economic development initiatives, 

·      Bring people together to create practical solutions for reducing poverty among the disabled and opening opportunities for women with disabilities, and 

·      Educate policy makers about the importance and benefits of having the disability perspective represented at all decision-making tables.



A new day has dawned. It is up to each of us and all of us to ensure that promotion and understanding of disability rights become as visible and pervasive as wearing masks.

Please join us for a great two hours -- elected officials will be honored, screen stars will share their approach to inclusion and entertain, generous sponsors will make the case for disability rights, and I have pushed for a door prize (no one knows how to do it virtually).

 

Thank you.


Patricia Morrissey

President

 

  

Monday, November 2, 2020

ELECTION EVE 2020

We are exhausted. Wherever we stand and whomever we support, we know very clearly that actions have consequences. President Trump has taught us many things. If you say something enough times, whether it is true or not, the number of people believing it increases and the number who will never change their mind when they hear information to the contrary becomes solid, like a stale piece of cake. What was once considered intolerable in word or action becomes tolerable. We lose the ability to be shocked. The standards for what is acceptable become extremely lax. We have not had an impact on President Trump but he has had an impact on us.

I live in Hawaii. I voted early by mail. I am comforted in the fact that so many Americans, over 90 million have already voted. Those of you who are left, please vote tomorrow.

Over the last three months I have read seven books about President Trump by people who have worked with him or spend time with him, unlike the rest of us. Their collective impressions are clear. He does not read very much. He makes decisions without much consultation. He is focused on ends that benefit him. He expects people to be loyal to him, but does not reciprocate that loyalty.

When President Trump's interests and those of the U.S. have aligned, we have benefitted -- in some trade negotiations, in reduction of our military in areas of conflict, through reemergence of economic zones, greater support for HBCUs, and high values in our 401Ks and stocks.

But, we have lost so much more -- protection for our environment, trust in government and our institutions, an open ear for those that do not agree with us, disconnect from young people who think we are clueless, and the politization of everything from public health to the judiciary. The pandemic has exacerbated our collective situation. More things have surfaced that are fraying our social order -- inequities in policing, health care, education, food security, and access to housing. 

The best thing that could happen, when all the votes are counted, is a landslide. However, whoever wins we must each hold our next president to very high standards and if he does not meet those standards immediately within the first year, we should fire him. We will have evidence very early in the next four year term. What are the standards? Truth, transparency, integrity, compassion and empathy, economic and social justice are the first standards that come to mind.

If President Trump loses we need to urge and expect the media to stop covering him. Their coverage gives him and destructive forces in this country and abroad oxygen in order to foster division and chaos. That must stop no matter how financially lucrative it might be.

I have spent my professional life successfully promoting common ground. I believe in the strength it gives to all those who participate in bringing it about. Together we can accomplish so much good. We must find our way back to problem solving together. The alternative is too scary and the America we want will be so much harder to achieve.

The future is in our hands. We do not have to give up, give in, or regret if each of us votes for the next president. The world is watching and so are 60 million individuals with disabilities who have been neglected for the last four years.

Thank you.

Common Grounder

Friday, July 10, 2020

Help Make a Big Difference by Urging Passage of HR 3373/S 3880 The Office of Disability Rights Act

I worked as a committee disability policy staffer in the House in the 1980s and held a similar position in the Senate in the 1990s. Back then Members of Congress and staffers from both parties talked to each other, worked out differences, and enacted a great deal of legislation -- amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Deaf Education Act, and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Right Act and drafted the Assistive Technology Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 30th anniversary of the ADA  is on July 26th this year. When it came to disability policy, bipartisan cooperation was alive and well in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now, we have in Congress modest legislation introduced by Representative Dina Titus (D, NV) in the House and Senator Robert Casey (D, PA) in the Senate that would make permanent the Office of Disability Rights in the State Department. It was originally established, not through law, but by Executive Branch action in the Obama administration, and President Trump has continued it. This little office is doing amazing things. Check out these links to the State Department Magazine:  https://statemag.state.gov/2020/07/0720office/?fbclid=IwAR1KoneYLQMRnphY298bipeit3OsyPoeTIP5pAgkZwATBVw54d6T3wsXgWQ; https://statemag.state.gov/2020/07/0720feat02/

The office received some funding this year and is slated by the House Appropriations Committee to receive a slight increase in funding for the next fiscal year (total $1 million), which begins on October 1, 2020. The House and Senate bills would make this office permanent, give it a leader, and help train employees of the State Department about the importance of disability rights and how to advocate for these rights through their work around the world.

In the House, HR 3373 passed out of the Foreign Affairs Committee on a voice vote and is awaiting Floor action (a full House vote). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet considered S 3880. The biggest difference between the two bills is that in the House bill the leader of the office is a special advisor to an assistant secretary (like in the Obama Administration) and in the Senate the leader of the office is an ambassador at large. President Trump has not designated an official leader for the office.

Because of the pandemic the amount of time Members of Congress are in session between now and the election is very brief. Unless we push very hard and are very vocal about the merits of this legislation it will not be enacted. Then in January 2021 in the new Congress, we will have to start over again from scratch.

This legislation is a good idea and it is not controversial. It only affirms the value of an existing office in the State Department and gives it a leader. What level that leader is surely can be negotiated in conference between the House and the Senate.

The Office of Disability Rights would help the U.S. guide and promote disability rights worldwide. Through this office the U.S. could bring about transformational change. If individuals with disabilities and their governments learn to work together — poverty will be reduced, how to decide and implement inclusive economic empowerment will become commonplace, and respect for disability rights will be understood, protected, and respected. Now with the pandemic and the demand for concrete examples of sustainable social justice, Americans desperately need to see something on which elected officials work together and support – legislation that promotes rights, stimulates empowerment, and potentially strengthens U.S. standing in foreign lands.

Making this office permanent has real traction and provides us with a way to measure impact. For one thing, all State Department employees will be trained in disability rights. Just think about the capacity building reach of this one action!

It is time to step up and take action. There are some opportunities that transcend partisan-driven expected outcomes. This is one. By advocating for disability rights we demonstrate our collective commitment to reach others worldwide through our State Department to address a clear, longstanding need — marginalization of people with disabilities and its high costs to societies – we can be on the right side of history by passing HR 3373/S 3880. What a way to celebrate the ADA's 30th year!

Please call your elected officials in Congress and ask them to support this legislation and ask that it be given a vote in both the House and Senate before they close down for the election. You can share this blog post with them and your friends and family and ask them to urge action as well.

Thank you,
Pat Morrissey
President, U.S. International Council on Disabilities

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Almost Nine Minutes: did it trigger a transformational change in our approach to social justice

 Almost 9 minutes is a very long time. Try sitting still for that long. Try thinking about one thing for that long. Try holding your breath for that long. You can’t do it. How many of us have watched somebody die? How many of us have watched somebody die for almost 9 minutes?  How many of us have watched somebody die for almost 9 minutes when it could have been stopped or prevented?  Because of what happened to George Floyd, most of us have.

Beyond seeing his murder over and over, beyond being shocked, three things really scare me, frighten me —  the casual state and persistence of the murderer, the indifference of the murderer’s colleagues, and the limited actions by  civilians present.  The only explanation that I can come up with is related to accountability or rather the lack of it. The murderer thought he would face minimal consequences. His colleagues feared his reaction more then any consequence, if they had intervened.  The civilians that witnessed the murder live, feared the police.

The 11 days of peaceful protest comprised of people from all walks of life, all ages, all races, and all backgrounds, the 11 days of coverage on social media and television, and the 11 days of  commentary, tell us that we are at a  place where we have never before been. In spite of the pandemic, we all feel the need to do something substantial, sustainable, and meaningful to ensure that African Americans no longer fear the police and no longer fear the rest of us because we question the acts of African Americans. How do we take away their fears?

First, we need to understand the fear of African Americans.  I think we do now. Second, we need to immediately listen well, respect, and show it to everyone through our interactions. Third, we need to intervene immediately when we see a life threatened, even if we can only handle a 911 call in addition to videoing the event. Fourth, we need to vigorously instill these proactive behaviors in children. Fifth,  we demand new ways in which to screen candidates for police academies; demand swift enforcement of law against police who violate it; apply swift clear, unequivocal standards to any police officer who allows a colleague to violate the law; and install strong civilian oversight of policing policies, training, and interventions.

 The change that we thirst for at this moment requires each of us to commit to being on guard, speaking up, intervening when necessary, and protecting the rights of African Americans. If elected and appointed officials do not help us do this, then they need to be replaced.

There are many things we need to change and we need to work on all of them, but the first is to change the culture in police departments. Murder is murder. Letting it happen cannot be tolerated. We have an opportunity to change America so that African American mothers and fathers no longer have to explain to their children how to explicitly behave to save their lives in the presence of police. We need to act now. We must act now to bring true harmony to our country. We have a long road ahead of us. We must start new, frank conversations. Solutions are out there, we just need to support and implement them. Putting police departments who are unaccountable on notice is the first step.

Thank you,

Pat Morrissey

Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Time for an Outbreak of Kindness

The Coronavirus Pandemic has taken us all by surprise. It is rapidly changing life as we know it. And, even when it is over, will leave a lingering impact on us (We will always have 12 rolls of toilet paper in our closets, plenty of Clorox wipes too.). May I suggest that we use this uncertain time to reach out to those we know who have a disability or who are senior citizens to see if we can help in some small way. Here's a potential list. Offer to --


  • Pick up food, drinks, or prescriptions
  • Take out the garbage
  • Change a light bulb
  • Open or close a window
  • Walk the dog
  • Mail or pick up a package
  • Prepare and join them for a meal
  • Put away or retrieve things
  • Get cash 
  • Give a ride
  • Text or call
  • Wash clothes
  • Change a bed
  • Just visit
The use of social distancing is going to increase before it goes away, I know it. That will leave many people with disabilities and the elderly with less access to the supports they have had on a routine basis. So, if your healthy and going out anyway, consider adding a little humanitarian detour. You will feel better and the person you help will be truly grateful.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, December 9, 2019

H.R. 3373, Office of International Disabilities Rights Act, Let's Make It Happen!

My hats off to Judy Heumann, the first and only, to this point, international disability rights officer in the State Department (2010-2016). Last Saturday she penned an opinion piece in the Hill, alerting us to the importance of H.R. 3373, the Office of International Disability Rights Act, introduced by Dina Titus (Democrat, Nevada), and Don Young (Republican, Alaska). The bill has 25 cosponsors, but we need many more! I anticipate Senator Casey (Democrat, Pennsylvania) will be introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

The legislation would establish an office and a high level officer to lead it on disability rights in the State Department. It's about time. There are one billion people with disabilities on this planet, and we need a designated U.S. team pushing for disability rights. This team could educate U.S. embassies, influence their initiatives and make sure they are inclusive. This team could work with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs), providing technical assistance, highlighting successes, and shining a light on abuse, neglect, and inequalities. This office could partner with governments, leveraging capital and human resources to lay the foundation for transformational change in the lives of persons with disabilities everywhere.

All this said, we need to get off out couches and go to our keypads, alerting our elected officials to this much needed legislation and ask them to be a co-sponsor and urge their colleagues to join them.

A lot of work has gone into getting us this far. Isabel Hodge, CEO of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, Virginia Atkinson, Liz Siddell, Lauren Terrell and Beverly Haggerdon from the Foundation for Electoral Systems, Eric Rosenthal and Donna Bouclier from Disability Rights International, Stephanie Collins for Human Rights Watch, and Marcie Roth from the World Institute on Disability, as well as John Wodatch and Judy Heumann, board members of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, and many others, coordinated, made calls, sent emails, and walked or rolled the halls of the House just to get us where we are. Now it's our turn to pitch in.

Our message is a simple one.

The 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is coming up in 2020.

The U.S. has always led the way on disability rights.

This is not a partisan mantra, it is a bipartisan commitment with a long, consistent, unwavering history.

Inclusive societies have strong economies and productive citizens.

Support H.R. 3373.

We can do this if we try. Now is the time.

Shoot me an email when you send a message to or talk with your elected officials -- yessirromp@gmail.com.

And once again, thanks to all who have pushed thus far!

Thank you,
Common Grounder