ADA 25 and an Autistic Advocate’s Celebration of Disability!
by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality
I am writing to report back on advocacy activities I have taken part in during the 2015 Conference of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as other activities in Washington, DC.
Alec Frazier with Yoshiko Dart
I met with a number of really wonderful disability rights leaders while in Washington, DC. Yoshiko Dart, the Mother of the Americans with Disabilities Act remembered me quite fondly once I jogged her memory. We had an awesome time discussing advocacy, and I gave her a copy of my book. That afternoon, our region held a meeting to discuss advocacy and lobbying during the legislative day that was forthcoming. Clifton Perez, our region’s coordinator, was made aware that I was representing Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL), as well as my firm, Autistic Reality, at the conference. That night, we had a wonderful banquet to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Practically every disability rights leader in the nation was at that banquet, and I met some wonderful folks. I also got to thank Joyce Bender for paying for my admission to the banquet.
Alec Frazier with Joyce Bender
The next day, Tuesday, we held our March to Capitol Hill. During the March, I walked with the rest of the New York delegation. At one point, the director of the Utica network of independent living centers, RCIL, offered me a paid speaking engagement, which would also include transportation, lodging, and per diem meals. This will be the second independent living network that has engaged the services of my firm, Autistic Reality, and the third speaking engagement I have had for a network of independent living centers. At the rally, a number of powerful, influential politicians spoke to us about the need to support the disability cause. They included Steny Hoyer, Tammy Duckworth, Bernie Sanders, and many others. Many advocates were also a part of that rally, such as Bruce Darling and other members of ADAPT. The Cortland, New York independent living center, Access to Independence, sent a whole bus full of people to advocate in DC.
Alec Frazier of Autistic Reality and some of the New York NCIL delegation with Congressman Paul D. Tonko and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke at the rally at the 2015 NCIL Conference.
As for the lobbying, on Capitol Hill, our main agenda was to get the Community Integration Act (CIA) passed. This act would create a new title for the Americans with Disabilities Act which would be aimed completely at getting people out of institutionalized living settings. We were aware of the unfortunate naming choice, but it was better than some other name choices such as the DEA! The legislators I spoke to included staffers for all three of the Congressman representing areas covered by Western New York Independent Living, as well as staffers New York’s two senators. Just as a matter of record, the Congressmen are Chris Collins, Tom Reed, and Brian Higgins. The Senators are Charles Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand. I went to see the disability policy advisor for Congressman Brian Higgins, Leslie Brady, on my own. I pushed for the CIA to be passed. It should be noted that the Congressman’s office was not aware of the Community Integration Act, but they said they given his record on other similar measures, he will most likely support it. He is also very much in favor of improving Buffalo’s infrastructure, as well as employment opportunities, healthcare provision, housing opportunities, and more. In addition, I brought up the fact that many of Buffalo’s new careers and publicity opportunities are in the arts, such as filmmaking, comic book art, museums, and the promotion of such. All but one of the remaining congress-people and senators agreed completely with the CIA. One of the more rural congressmen proved harder to convince. Senator Schumer in particular agreed to promote the CIA heavily. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth agreed to cosponsor the bill in the House of Representatives.
Alec Frazier with Mat McCullough
The next day, I attended the meetings of the United States Access Board, the federal government body that regulates accessibility issues for people with disabilities. In the morning, they were having an in-depth meeting to report findings on accessibility of rail travel, especially Amtrak. In the afternoon, they were having their general meeting. In between, I met with their finance chair, Mat McCullough. When I was an intern for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), they assigned Mat to me as a mentor. They were extremely astute, as he continues to be a mentor today. When he is not serving on the Access Board, he is the Executive Director of the Washington, DC Council on Developmental Disabilities. After I am done with my master’s program in disability studies, I wish to move to Washington, DC to embark on my career as a disability rights advocate. Therefore, I asked Mat a number of questions about employment opportunities in the District of Columbia for people who wish to pursue my career path.
Alec Frazier with the original ADA
After the meetings of the Access Board, I headed over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to see the original ADA. In addition, I went to see the Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and United States Bill of Rights. I also was able to see the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I continue to hope for its successful passage. The next morning, I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (SI NMAH) Kenneth E. Behring Center to see the ADA exhibit. The exhibit included a replica of the original ADA, as well as the pen with which the original ADA was signed. While I was at the Kenneth E. Behring Center, I learned that Omar Sharif, Jr., a very prominent Muslim American actor and grandson of the iconic Omar Sharif, Sr., had become the first gay man in history to speak out about gay rights in the Arab world, on an Egyptian television show. I posted to my business Facebook page that this was a watershed moment in game rights in the Arab world, and it is. Posts to my businesses Facebook page automatically get sent from my twitter account. I then learned that NARA had retweeted a photo I had tweeted earlier of the original ADA, and that as a result, I had over a dozen new followers on twitter. Shortly afterwards, I learned that I will have full control over the disposition of charitable contributions generated by the profits of the film “Aiden’s Walk”, for which I am the disability consultant. Having this control humbles me. I vow to find proper recipients for these donations.
Alec Frazier with a replica of the original ADA, as well as the pen with which the original ADA was signed
I then went to the legislative debriefing and closing plenary session of the NCIL conference. At the closing plenary, it was mentioned that all centers for independent living had been encouraged to send as many youths, members of the ADA Generation, to the NCIL conference as possible. The said youth were then invited up on stage, and given the opportunity to speak to the crowd. When it came my turn, I used my decades of experience as a public speaker to help close out the conference. I got at least five rounds of applause, including the time when I announced that I had been tweeting the entire conference, including every single last speaker we had had. I also introduced my travel mascot, Millard the Buffalo, whom I had been taking pictures of around Washington, DC. He was in good company, as one of the other members of the youth contingent had been bringing a dragon around wherever he had been going. Many staff members and attendees of the conference asked to have their picture taken with Millard! When I sat back down in my chair, I learned that Omar Sharif, Jr. had favorited my tweet about him. At that point, my time in Washington, DC became too positive for me to handle, and my mind exploded!
Millard the Buffalo celebrating ADA 25 with a mojito!
I am in the process of putting hundreds of photos from my time in Washington, DC on to my Flickr page and my business Facebook page. Before I conclude this blog entry, I would also like to note that I took the train to Washington, DC from Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station, and I also went back to Buffalo the same way. I love the train so much! I would also like to recognize the Honorable Ambassador Steven Pifer, his extremely intelligent wife Marilyn, their charming daughter Christine, and their adorable cat Tina for being my hosts during my time in Washington, DC. I have so many wonderful friends, business contacts, and people who fill both of those roles! I am incredibly grateful for having been in Washington, DC during the historic 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! It was fun, informative, and a huge boon for my future career! Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible!
Alec Frazier is the Director of Autistic Reality. He does public speaking, peer advocacy, lobbying, photography, and sells his book, Without Fear: The First Autistic Superhero, which you can find at www.facebook.com/withoutfearautism.