Adventures in Advocacy / A CVI Mom Goes to Capitol Hill Advocacy Day 2018

Last week, I had the chance to join the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and CEASD (The Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf) in their efforts to advocate for the Cogswell-Macy Act.  Cogswell-Macy (H.R. 1120, S. 2087) is legislation named after Alice Cogswell, the deaf child who inspired Thomas Gallaudet to introduce deaf education to the United States and Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s gifted teacher.

Why We Need the Cogswell-Macy Act

From the AFB Website:  Today’s schools are not prepared to help children who are deafblind, deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired develop to their full potential.  (Magnify this statement times 10 for children with a brain based visual impairment such as Cortical Visual Impairment. See my earlier post titled Lego Trees and the posts under Death by IEP.) 

The Cogswell-Macy Act is the most comprehensive special education legislation for students with sensory disabilities to date.

This act seeks to expand the resources available to these students, and their parents and educators, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Cogswell-Macy Act would – 

ensure specialized instruction specifically for students who are visually impaired, deafblind, or deaf or hard of hearing.
increase the availability of services and resources by ensuring all students who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deafblind are accounted for.
enhance accountability at the state and federal levels.
increase research into best practices for teaching and evaluating students with visual impairments by establishing the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence—a collaborative consortium of nonprofits, higher education institutions, and other agencies to provide technical support, research assistance, and professional development.

To learn more:  http://www.afb.org/info/get-connected/take-action/12

AFB and CEASD can offer you much more detailed information about this bill.

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What I can do is give you the play by play of the novice parent advocate who lives near D.C. and wants to help.

  1.  WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.  Someone told me this last year.  I thought I wanted to look professional so I’ll just wear my most comfortable heels.
  2. THERE ARE NO COMFORTABLE HEELS. WAITING FOR WARNER 2017
Image:  A pair of  black shoes with heels and a binder with pictures of a child on the cover

I call this photo “Waiting for Senator Warner 2017.”  By this time of day (early afternoon), I was already barefoot in a Senate building and sporting some impressive blisters.

3. DO NOT WEAR HEELS.  Did you not hear me the first time?  I know, I know.  It’s the Capitol and the heart of our democracy, but seriously.  Look around, everyone who works there wears tennis shoes or flats to run from building to building.  They must keep their uncomfortable grown up shoes in their offices.

4. When you feel smug about how early you got up to drive to the Metro and catch a train to go into D.C., don’t.  I got to our local Metro station in ample time to catch a train to be at the Advocacy Training by 8:30 a.m. And, the train was “delayed.” I waited. Annnnnd, after 20 minutes the status of the train was now  “suspended.”
And, I ran back to the parking garage (Vienna Metro owes me $5) and drove to D.C. See where the shoes come in?

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Image:  My view of Northern Virginia traffic from the windshield of my car

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Image:  The dome of the Capitol building in the distance taken from a side street

5. When you see the Capitol, look for parking.  And, keep looking, because the concept of public parking in D.C. is a city version of snipe hunting.  Sure, you can drive to D.C. and find easily accessible parking!  Sure, there are snipe in them there woods!  (My family hails from Kentucky so I get to use phrases like “them there woods.”  Although no one in my family has actually used the phrase “them there woods.”) 

 

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Image:  A line of people standing outside the Rayburn building in DC

 

6.  FYI – When you find parking (snipe!), you will not get even close to the government building you need to be in RIGHT NOW.  When you hustle (SHOES!) to get to that building (by now only a half an hour late), there are dozens of people lined up outside the entrance waiting to get through security.  What the heck?  It was not this hard to get in the building last year.

At least, standing in line, you have time to catch your breath, dab your sweaty forehead with a Kleenex, and curse yourself for not leaving even earlier in the morning.

Then, you get a text from Rebecca Sheffield, Senior Policy Researcher, Ph.D. from the American Foundation of the Blind. (This is just a cool sentence to type.)

The text says, “If you are still on the way can you go over to the Russell building for a meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine’s staff?”  Some of the Virginia advocates had not yet checked in.  I imagined them sitting on the same metro platform I had been waiting on.

This year, you are wearing good shoes so YES, Rebecca Sheffield!

You ask no less than 3 D.C. policefolk how to get to the Russell building.  Normally you could have cut across in front of the Capitol but the Rev. Billy Graham was lying in honor there.  There were barricades all around the building and another line of over a hundred people waiting to pay their respects.

You will pass the Supreme Court building.  There is a line to get in there as well.  D.C. is a just a buzz of activity!  You will see Boy Scouts.  You see high school students from Oakton, Virginia on a scavenger hunt.  You see Americans and tourists of all sizes, ages, and colors.  It is a beautiful power walk through D.C. in business attire.

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Image:  The Supreme Court building

You hoof it to the Russell building, one of several Senate office buildings and location of Sen. Tim Kaine’s office with roughly 8 minutes to spare.  Success!

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Image:  Outside of the Russell building

You have just enough time to dab sweat again, look over the talking points on Cogswell Macy and find Sen. Kaine’s office.  This building is a buzz of activity as well.  There are groups of teenagers, flower growers from all over America dressed in suits with brightly colored corsages pinned to their lapels, other advocates and lobbyists moving in packs with their affiliations written on badges hanging around their necks.  Everyone has folders of talking points and information to leave with staff.

For a brief moment, standing outside the office, you are nervous that you will flub something in your meeting.  You walk past well dressed teens joking around in the hallways and wonder how long it took one young man to get his part that straight.    You feel a pang of something – not regret – envy?  – because you know your own little girl will not have a moment like this.  These teenagers take in so much information about this busy place, about each other in a single second because they have normal vision.  Because they can learn incidentally.

You think about all of the students throughout the U.S. who are blind, or deaf, or deafblind. You think about all of the children with sensory loss who are misunderstood in their classrooms.  Children who lack ACCESS to their environment.  You think about your own daughter and her diagnosis of Cortical Visual Impairment – information that inevitably produces the following response:  “Huh?” – when you mention it for the first time.

You think about how many times you’ve tried to explain your daughter’s visual impairment.  How it seems as though she is not paying attention or that she cannot understand because typically sighted folks do not know what to make of a child who does not look them in the eye and who takes longer to respond.

You think about the national shortage of Teachers of the Visually Impaired and Orientation and Mobility Specialists.  You think about the lack of teachers and other providers who know what to do with a child with CVI.  There is so much work to be done to give our children a better chance to connect with the world around them, to give us a chance to reach them.  Frankly, you feel a tad overwhelmed.

You want to yell, “Oh, Senators, we need co-sponsors for Cogswell-Macy!  We need champions for children with sensory loss.  We need champions for children with CVI!”

You do not.

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Image:  Kirk Adams, a tall man with gray hair holding a cane, and Adrianna Montague, a woman in a black dress smile while standing next to a sign that reads Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia

7. You enter the senator’s office to jump into Advocacy Day (and decide to stop numbering your post that has gone on way too long and will be read by no one…).

With a flood of relief, you find Kirk Adams, the president of the American Foundation for the Blind, and Adrianna Montague, the Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for AFB, waiting for the meeting as well.

You meet with one of Sen. Kaine’s staffers, Karishma Merchant, who oversees education and other issues. Ms. Merchant is a willing audience and asks great questions.

AFB recently moved their main office from New York to Arlington, Virginia.  Mr. Adams and Ms. Montague take this opportunity to introduce AFB as a resource for Sen. Kaine’s staff and to emphasize the need for legislation like Cogswell Macy.  You get to tell her a little about the challenges children with sensory loss face in U.S. school systems.

Ms. Merchant asks your help to advocate against legislation that was introduced in the House to deregulate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ACTION ITEM:  H.R. 620 is what supporters in the House are euphemistically calling the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620).   Don’t believe it for second.

Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is leading the call to ask Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Mitch McConnell not to bring forward H.R. 620 or any similar bill.

Calls to senators in Florida, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, or Washington will have the most impact.  (https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact)

You leave Sen. Kaine’s office hoping that you have earned another co-sponsor for Cogswell-Macy and prepared to help him advocate for all people with disabilities.

Then, you bid Mr. Adams and Ms. Montague adieu and wait for your next appointment with Sen. Mark Warner in the afternoon.  You have time to jog back to your car and feed the meter.

Later, at the Hart Senate Office Building,  for the meeting with Senator Warner, you will see this sculptural work Mountains and Clouds by Alexander Calder.  The Hart building feels different from other senate buildings.  Wikipedia tells me its architectural style is Modernist not Neoclassical like the Dirksen and Russell buildings.

Now you know for your next Adventure in Advocacy.  If you see this sculpture, you are in the Hart Senate Office Building.  Handy!

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Image:  Large black triangular sculpture that nearly touches the ceiling of the atrium of the Hart building

 

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Image:  Woman standing next to a sign that reads Senator Mark R. Warner / Virginia

At some point in the afternoon, you realize you’ve been taking pictures of places but very few pictures of people.  You wish you had gotten a picture of the flower growers and their brightly decorated lapels, or the extremely straight part in that young man’s hair.

At Senator Warner’s office, you have a brief meeting with Lauren Marshall, the same staffer you met last year.  She is attentive and kind.  She promises to reread Cogswell-Macy and to bring it up with Sen. Warner.

That’s really all you can ask.

You walk away from the Hart Building hoping you have made some small connection within the Senate for children who are blind, or deaf, or deafblind.  You know that these populations of children do not get a lot of press.  You hope you can help spread a sense of urgency about the challenges facing children with sensory loss in the classroom.

You want senators, representatives, and anyone who affects legislation to understand two simple facts.  These children matter. Their education matters.

At the end of the day, you hope you have made it easier for the next mom to reach out to her legislator to tell her story.   That mom is going to make change happen for her child.  She is a force of nature.

P.S. You make it back to your car in time to avoid a ticket.  Success!

You see this poster at the Thai restaurant next to your car.

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Pretty much sums it up.

 

Published by

CVI Momifesto

CVIMomifesto is a blog dedicated to parent advocacy and community for families of children with Cortical Visual Impairment.

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