Disability Rights California

In January of 2014, a friend said, “Hey, maybe you should apply to be on this board I’m on.” The moment I discovered what it meant to be on the board of Disability rights California http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/, I knew this was the thing I’d been aiming to do my entire life, even if I didn’t know it existed. It was just that right for me.

What made it so perfect? Most of my life, I’ve changed how people thought about disability one person at a time. It was boots-on-the-ground type work, where I was up close and personal with the lives impacted, but I could only change small things, one at a time. Being on a board meant determining broader policies that could change the lives of people I would never meet, advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities on a scale only ever in my dreams.

For two-and-a-half years, I have been on DRC’s board, looking at the big picture. Exposure to other disabilities has increased my overall disability knowledge, but that isn’t really where I’ve expanded my skills. I’ve learned I can look at a balance sheet and more or less understand it. I’ve discovered my inner data geek. I’ve even learned I am good at press interviews. Weirdly good at them.

I tell you all this for a couple of reasons. First, if you are a person with a disability, looking for something meaningful to do with your life, check out your state’s Protection and Advocacy organization, which is the role DRC fills in California. Unlike most other volunteer opportunities, your disability will not get you turned away. Instead, your experience will be valued. Reasonable accommodations, given because you expressed your need instead of fighting a battle, will feel almost luxurious. Finding out that a data geek lurks in your soul is the cheery on the cake.

Second, in my time on the board, I’ve learned nobody knows about Protection and Advocacy organizations (P&A), what they do, or why they exist. Until I joined the board, I didn’t know about P&As. They are mandated by federal statute to fight for the rights of people with disabilities in various categories. The first such statute came about because of ground-breaking work by, believe it or not, Geraldo Rivera back in the 1970s when he smuggled a camera into Willowbrook State School on Staton Island. He captured the country’s attention and outrage when he showed the conditions people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were forced to endure.  As a direct result of this story, the federal government establish the P&A system. Over the years, further funding has been designated to work with other disability populations and on specific topics, such as the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access.

DRC and other P&As do everything from offering information and referrals to filing individual and class action lawsuits. The ultimate goal is to allow people with disabilities to live, work and play where and how they wish. It’s a tall order carried out by dedicated people every day. I’m lucky enough to be on the board and help decide what the future should look like for people with disabilities.

In January of 2014, a friend said, “Hey, maybe you should apply to be on this board I’m on.” The moment I discovered what it meant to be on the board of Disability rights California http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/, I knew this was the thing I’d been aiming for my entire life, even if I didn’t know it existed. It was just that right for me.

What made it so perfect? Most of my life, I’ve changed how people thought about disability one person at a time. It was boots-on-the-ground type work, where I was up close and personal with the lives impacted, but I could only change small things, one at a time. Being on a board meant determining broader policies that could change the lives of people I would never meet,advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities on a scale only ever in my dreams.

In case you somehow managed to miss it, I love metaphors and similes a wee bit more than is reasonable. In the world of non-profit activism, a board sets a trip’s destination and gives basic parameters, like method of transportation, how much it should cost and how long it should take. An Executive Director takes those “marching orders” and decides the departure time, arrival time, route to take and brings the plan to life. Staff packs the suitcases, fuels the trucks, gets the supplies and makes the trip really happen.

For two-and-a-half years, I have been on DRC’s board, lookking at the big picture. Exposure to other disabilities has increased my overall disability knowledge, but that isn’t really where I’ve expanded my skills. I’ve learned I can look at a balance sheet and more or less understand it. I’ve discovered my inner data geek. I’ve even learned I am good at press interviews. Weirdly good at them.

I tell you all this for a couple of reasons. First, if you are a person with a disability, looking for something meaningful to do with your life, check out your state’s Protection and Advocacy organization, which is the role DRC fills in California. Unlike most other volunteer opportunities, your disability will not get you turned away. Instead, your experience will be valued. Reasonable acccommodations, given because you expressed your need instead of fighting a battle, will feel almost luxurious. Finding out that a data geek llerks in your soul is the cheery on the cake.

Second, in my time on the board, I”ve learned nobody knows about Protection and Advocacy organizations (P&A), what they do, or why they exxist. Until I joined the board, I didn’t know about P&As. They are mandated by federal statute to fight for the rights of people with disabilities in various categories. The first such statute came about because of ground-breaking work by, believe it or not, Geraldo Rivera back in the 1970s when he smuggled a camera into Willowbrook State School on Staton Island. He captured the country’s attention and outrage when he showed the conditions people with intellectual disabilities were forced to endure.  As a direct result of this story, the federal government establish the P&A system. Over the years, further funding has been designated to work with other disability populaations and on specific topics, such as the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access.

DRC and other P&As do everything from offering information and referrals to filing individual and class action lawsuits. The ultimate goal is to allow people with disabilities to live, work and play where they wish. It’s a tall order carried out by dedicated people every day. I’m lucky enough to be on the board and help decide what the future should look like for people with disabilities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.