On Tuesday, February 4th, more than 280 people living with disabilities and their allies gathered on Capitol Hill for the 10th annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD). Lee Smith, NFTY-MAR Social Action Vice president, 2019-2020, reflects on their experience.
Today, I joined 280 advocates in the Rayburn congressional building for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. The conference room was bustling with Jewish people with visible and invisible disabilities alike. It was amazing to see so many individuals, many of whom had flown in for this event, show up for what they are passionate about. The morning was spent hearing from different experts in the disability advocacy field, listening to panels, learning about accessibility strides in the disability community, and discussing best practices for lobbying. There were a few truly amazing moments when Congresspeople who were champions for disability rights strolled (or rolled) through the door to join us for a few minutes. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth shared one thing with us that I will hold with me for a long time. She said, “When you go lobby today, remember that this is your house, and the people in there work for you.”
After the main session, we broke off into our congressional districts to prepare for lobby meetings. We were taking to the House of Representatives to ask legislators to co-sponsor two bills that would make it easier for people with disabilities to gain the funds and access to services they need. Learning about the bills was empowering, because I could see the technical changes that would need to be made for people with disabilities to have full protection under the law.
I had lobbied many times before, but this time was especially meaningful because we used Jewish values as a basis for argument. It was a wholesome experience, to see concepts like “B’tzelem elohim” and “Kehillah Kedoshah” become central themes in the argument for disability rights. We had two lobbying sessions, both with the staffers of the congresspeople. We shared personal stories, discussed our religious beliefs as motivation, and then asked them to co-sponsor the bills. Both of the staffers shared with us that their offices are long-time supporters of disability rights and they would gladly co-sponsor the bills.
Sitting in a room full of people with disabilities is a truly eye-opening experience. It helps me point out so clearly what the world needs to become fully accessible. I have been to several Jewish Disability Advocacy days, but this one was truly impactful because of the strength of our community. I think this experience is a worthwhile one for anyone looking to expand their horizons and become an advocate for what they believe in.