by Eric Harris
My name is Eric Harris, and I am a legislative advocate for Disability Rights California, located in Sacramento, California. Thanks to the World Institute on Disability, I attended the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Leadership Conference this year in Washington, D.C. The conference was held at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center, which was very accessible. The staff at the conference were great, informing me where to find elevator and ramp access. The conference panels also had designated spots in the audience for wheelchair users, close to the stage and in the center, so that I could get a good view of the speakers. The city of Washington, D.C. has a lot of accessible public transportation, so I used both the Metro and D.C. bus systems to get to the conference.
Disability is crucial when it comes to policy because disability impacts everyone in some way. Policies relating to criminal justice, transportation, education, civic engagement, finance, and health care have an influential role in disability policy. People with disabilities are in every area of society, and it is important that the disability community is considered anytime that policy is made.
This conference benefited me personally in several ways. First, it was great for me to meet the individuals who work at the World Institute of Disability. On Capitol Hill, I was able to meet with United States Representative Barbara Lee (CA), former Ambassador Diane Watson, and Congressional staff members. I also was able to connect with staff from the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Finally, when I was at the airport, I ran into United States Senator and Presidential Candidate, Elizabeth Warren. It was an incredible moment for me and I was able to take a photo with her.
This conference also benefited me professionally as a legislative advocate, meeting with leaders of national disability rights organizations in Washington. We were able to speak about subminimum wage 14c certification, an issue that I have been working on in preparation for 2020 and 2021. I also talked with Congressional staff about the possibility of including disability, mental health and diabetes on next year’s CBC agenda.
As a person with a disability, who is also an African American male, many of the issues discussed in this conference were near and dear to me. The discussions on criminal justice reform and Black male achievement were particularly important for me. These are issue areas that intersect race and disability. Being able to see African American Congressional leaders talk about these issues was special.
While in D.C., I had a chance to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time with my brother. We enjoyed it so much. It was powerful, and gave us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of knowing our history and to be prideful for sacrifices that our ancestors have made to give us our opportunities.
The Conference Accessibility Initiative is important because it gives people with disabilities an opportunity to experience great conferences throughout the country. It also puts disability on the minds of people at these conferences. The individuals who attend are able to meet with some of the most powerful policy makers in the country and make a difference, by informing them that disability issues are important.
Would you like to be a Disability Ambassador with WID and JP Morgan & Chase? Applications for 2020 are now available!
To read more about our Disability Ambassadors’ experiences at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 2019 Annual Leadership Conference, follow either link below:
For more Disability Ambassador blogs, check out our Conference Accessibility Initiative 2019 page.
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