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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

IL History to Be Made This Week in Washington

S. 1356 will be marked up tomorrow, Wednesday, July 31st at 10:00am. We need advocates to call their senators before the hearing tomorrow, using the contact information below.

Our respected members and fellow advocates: we find ourselves in a remarkable moment in the history of our great Movement. Because of the tireless work of our advocates, we stand at the brink of one of our greatest achievements, and it is worth taking the time to reflect upon the reality in which we now exist.

For the first time in American history, there is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that creates a permanent and appropriate entity charged with ensuring the independence of citizens with disabilities. H.R. 798, and now S. 1356 establish a new Independent Living Administration (ILA), free from the oppressive and paternalistic conditions that Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs) have suffered under the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

Elevating the Independent Living Program (IL) from its inappropriate placement under RSA within the Department of Education (ED) has been a goal of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) for years. S. 1356 not only establishes a new ILA outside of RSA, it removes IL from ED entirely and relocates it to a new home at the Administration for Community Living (ACL) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). NCIL believes that placing the ILA within ACL is the most logical approach.

The removal of IL from RSA is a profound development. As a Movement we have tried our best to work within the confines of RSA to no avail, an agency which has even been led by some of the brightest and most thoughtful advocates Independent Living has ever known. As a Commissioner of RSA, the great Justin Dart, Jr. had to concede that after tireless efforts he could not overcome the challenges that prevent RSA from supporting the independence of Americans with disabilities.

In testimony from Justin Dart, Jr. to Congress as RSA Commissioner, fittingly entitled “A Statement of Conscience,” he detailed the very problems that exist today, even though his statement was delivered more than 25 years ago. Nothing has changed. Even as one of America’s most accomplished intellectuals and disability rights advocates, he could not achieve meaningful progress in an agency with such fundamental flaws. In a plea to Congress he stated that “Faced now with the possibility that paternalistic central control, non-professional management and policies of hostility will be institutionalized for years by current revisions of organization and policy, I ask for your help, and for that of the community.”

He went on to say that “based on my experience as Commissioner, and my personal research in each of the fifty states, and five of our largest Native American Nations, I must report to you that OSERS-RSA has been for many years, and is today, afflicted – particularly in its central office – by profound problems in areas such as management, personnel, and resource utilization. We are ravaged by disunity and hostility internally and in our vital relationships with our state agency and grantee partners, and certain other segments of the disability community.”

These issues are still with us after a quarter of a century, and NCIL is grateful for the work done by the Senate HELP Committee in this Congress which aims to correct decades of repression. We are grateful especially for the work done by the staff of Senators Harkin and Alexander, and thank them for the offering what we long for above all things – progress.

For the sake of Independent Living, for the sake of progress, we urge the Senate to pass S. 1356. We appeal to our elected leaders, and encourage them to consider what it means to be free, what it means to be an independent American, making one’s own choices and contributing to the progress of the community. The time to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and its contained Rehabilitation Act is long past due, so we must seize this precious opportunity for real progress. We are asking the Senate to reauthorize this legislation because it is right. We are asking the Senate to pass this bill as a statement of conscience.

As noted in Justin’s testimony, at issue here is “the civil and basic human rights of people with disabilities to have more than rubber stamp figurehead representation in government, to liberate themselves finally from the subservient dependency produced by millennia of prejudice and authoritarian paternalism, and to participate in the productive mainstream of society as fully independent, fully equal citizens of the first class.”

We stand here in 2013 on the shoulders of Justin Dart, Jr. and countless advocates that have fought a system that has yet to secure the promise of America for people with disabilities.  We urge bipartisan passage of S.1356, for the empowerment of all Americans with disabilities to live in their communities as people who are valued equally and participate fully.

Below is a list of senators on the HELP Committee and their contact information. We need to make sure that we contact their local offices and get a solid answer regarding their support for S. 1356. Even if you don’t have a senator on this list, we are urging you to contact one in a neighboring state, asking them to pass S. 1356 out of committee. We need our members to call today. There will be no second chances to get this bill passed. 

If you get a “yes” or “no” response, please contact NCIL policy staff at austin@ncil.org so that we can update our list. If they have already given a positive answer, please thank them for their continued support of S. 1356 and Americans with disabilities.

Senators on the HELP Committee:

Democrats by Rank

Republicans by Rank

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