Today was my last day as a Policy Intern for the Center for Disability Rights (CDR), a disability advocacy organization headquartered in Rochester, New York. Because of my own disability, I was able to intern remotely from the comfort of my home in Maryland instead of relocating to New York for the summer. I had a variety of tasks that taught me about the local, state, and federal government advocacy process.
Throughout the summer, I did research on a wide range of topics that affect people with disabilities. These topics weren’t always things I traditionally associated with disability, but because of my internship, I learned that pretty much any policy issue relates back to disability. For example, I researched opioids and how they help people with chronic pain, automatic vehicles and their potential to increase independence for people with disabilities, rentable micromobility scooters and how they block walkways, gun violence and how blaming it on mental illness increases stigma, and much, much more. Every day was different and educational. I would often take what I learned and turn it into a social media post for CDR.
One of my biggest projects this summer was writing an official position paper for CDR about increasing political engagement by people with disabilities. I thought about how we as a society can make sure people with disabilities are included in the political process, from voting to supporting campaigns to participating in government events to running for office. Especially with the upcoming election, it is essential that people with disabilities feel empowered to mobilize and show up to vote. However, there are often both physical and societal barriers that prevent people with disabilities like myself from being able to fully participate in the political process. I am excited to continue this focus on political engagement throughout the year in my Advocacy and Policy cohort.
The most exciting part of my summer was when I went to a week-long conference in Washington D.C. held by the National Council on Independent Living. Disability advocates from around the country and even the world got together to learn from each other and organize as a collective group to make an impact on disability policy. I participated in engaging workshops, met amazing people, and most importantly, put my advocacy skills to the test during a day on the Hill. A big focus of the conference was the Disability Integration Act, which allows people with disabilities to get the services they need at home and in the community instead of in an institution. We participated in a march to the Capitol and then held a rally outside the building where important members of Congress spoke, including Chuck Schumer, who introduced the Senate version of the bill. I appreciated getting to hear from legislators who were making an effort to support Americans with disabilities. Then, I got to meet with staffers from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as a staffer for one New York Representative and an actual Representative himself, who seemed way more engaged than the staffers. I loved getting to talk to members of Congress and their staff and explaining why they should support or oppose certain bills. It was so cool to spend time on Capitol Hill surrounded by the people who keep our government running. I even ran into Bernie Sanders while crossing the street!
My internship showed me that I want to pursue a career in disability advocacy after college. Advocacy is not always easy, but this summer I learned how important and rewarding it really is. I am so grateful for this amazing experience.