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:;

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 --

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

Thank you,
Common Grounder

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Chance to Do Something Special and Smart

Aloha from Hawai’i! It’s that time again - the 5th annual fundraising gala for the U.S.International Council on Disabilities — December 3rd, 6-8:30 PM at the AT&T Forum, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., fifth floor, Washington, D.C.  Please consider buying a ticket.

 All the movers and shakers will be there to relax, network, and develop new partnerships for 2020. You do not want to miss it. Treat yourself, a friend, an aspiring political science major.  It would be a smart and special Christmas present to give a ticket to someone you know. We face so many international challenges right now and we need to work together to promote bipartisan enthusiasm for disability rights and inclusion, like never before.  There’s uncertainty across the globe on where America stands on so many issues. Traditionally our position on disability rights has been clear, loud, and consistent — where they exist they should be expanded and where they aren’t, they should be planted. By coming to the USICD gala or giving a ticket to someone else, you are reaffirming the U.S. stand and giving USICD a chance to expand its reach — lending an ear and extending a hand to real people in places that want and appreciate our support. If you visit you can see where we have been and what we have done this past year. Our activities are outlined in our annual report. If you can’t make it, consider making an end-of-year donation to USICD. We will put it to good use I promise!

Thank you,
Common Grounder
Aka Pat Morrissey, President of USICD

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Marca Bristo

I have known Marca Bristo for a long time, perhaps since 1981. She’s the kind of person you feel like you have known forever. We were professional colleagues invested in inclusive communities, promoters of disability rights. She died this morning. Her passing is a substantial loss for many people in many places who she has touched with her wisdom, kindness and powerful sense of what is right.

Marca was a study in contrasts. She was compassionate and tough, a visionary yet practical, open yet demanding, a consensus builder but a fierce opponent. She knew how to organize. She knew a good message when she saw it. She knew how to call a bluff and she knew how to regroup after a setback. She built things. She took risks. She inspired others.

This year she bought a group of us together to write a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation through its 100 and change initiative. The winner of this competition will receive $100 million to implement its big idea. She did this while dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.

She was the long time president of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. She was the founder and until last month the CEO of Access Living in Chicago, a highly successful independent living center. She influenced and helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act. She bought accessible transportation to Chicago. She advised others around the world on disability rights and how to create centers for independent living.

If I were to guess what Marca would say to us now from her accessible perch in heaven, it would be this.

It’s OK to make small steps in the right direction as long as you keep your eye on the prize.

Building coalitions and creating powerful voices are necessary steps if we want sustainable change in the area of disability rights.

We have an obligation to learn from and share with others, what works, if we are serious about building inclusive communities.

Look for connections between things and treasure relationships you build, they will help you get to where you want to go more quickly.

Most of my communications with Marca over the last year have been by email. I wish I had talked to her more about her family, being a grandmother, and how she was feeling. However, we recognized her time was short, so we both focused on what needed to be done. I want a “do over” so much!

I’ll miss you, Marca.

Thank you,

Common Grounder

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day, Not for Everyone!

Families are not perfect. Dynamics in families can be complicated. Within families particular situations and personalities may make things difficult. But, basically speaking, in most there are the elements of support, nurturing, protection, and predictability. For people being detained on the border these elements are missing -- no family, no support, no protection, and no predictability, as well as, minimal access or no access to hygiene, weird food, and no space. It's horrible and I know what I'm talking about.

When I was 13 my mother and father took me to a hospital where I had orthopedic surgery over a six-month period. I was not allowed to see my parents during that time. The only person that I saw, who I knew when I entered, was my priest, once. My mail was subjected to some kind of sanitation process. So writing in letters with ink was blurred and often unreadable; cards, books and gifts were crinkled and mildewed; I had nothing of my own, just hospital clothes. Underwear was at a premium. There
were a lot of cloth diapers, however. The nursing staff was modest. So when you were bedridden with plaster casts following surgery, you were often dependent on other children who could walk and use their hands to get you a bedpan. The older girls in the all-girl ward, who could walk and use their hands were in power. If they liked you, you got a bedpan. If they didn't like you, you didn't. When you washed up and how you washed up was dependent on somebody else. That schedule was controlled by others. Meals were delivered on a rigid schedule. If there were great desserts the older girls, who could walk and use their hands, would take them from your tray and eat them. We had school. We were taken outside in good weather once a week in June and July. The only physical activity was that related to daily physical therapy, once a day for 15 minutes in front of everyone. My space was a bed. The next bed was two feet away. There were 30 beds in the ward where I was housed. I felt like I was in prison. I couldn't understand why my parents put me in such a situation. I knew only that it had to end at some point and that I must be strong. After that six months experience, I was a different person. I was more self-reliant. I picked my friends carefully. I knew that life was not going to be a walk in the park and I had to prepare for it.

Pediatricians and Congress members have been talking this week about the women and particularly the children being held at the border -- about their blank stares, about children helping children; about the absence of nurturing caring adults especially family members, clean clothes, decent food, a bed; drawings, tears, and messages asking for help written on hands; and the inability to wash up  and brush teeth. This is so wrong and so damaging. It must stop.

I know that Congress has passed a bill to spend more money to fix the situation on the border. I don't think the Border Protection Service is equipped psychologically or logistically to do the right things tomorrow. I think the money that Congress appropriated should be given to the American Red Cross and other similar groups immediately. They can reunite parents and children. They can find acceptable living spaces for people. They can track where people are. They can save us all from what I experienced as a child and what so many children are experiencing now. Not one more day should pass without help for the poor people on the border. They risk their lives for freedom and a better life and they are experiencing hell. We must make the federal government act quickly to restore these people in the proper manner and live up to the principles in our Declaration of Independence.

Thank you.
Common Grounder