Rolling for Rights: The 4th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill

By Ian Ruder, United Spinal Association

On June 9, on a beautiful Tuesday morning, traffic in downtown Washington, DC, came to a halt. The brief respite in the capital's incessant hubbub wasn't precipitated by the usual police or VIP escort, but by something much more unique: a flock of wheelchairs. Lobbyists trying to make their way down K Street and cabs rushing down Massachusetts Ave. all stopped for a minute to watch as over 50 wheelchair users and many more advocates made their way to the Capitol as part of United Spinal 4th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill.

Taking travel risks

Roll on Capitol Hill (ROCH) is United Spinal's signature policy event which highlights key advocacy priorities for its membership and the broader disability community to ensure that legislators include wheelchair users and all people with disabilities in policy debates on Capitol Hill.

Advocacy in Action for the Disability Community

This year's event was held at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Washington from June 6-10 and brought together over 100 advocates from 29 states and Washington, DC. A Sunday night welcoming party and an all-day schedule of educational presentations and panels Monday prepared attendees for over 200 congressional office visits Tuesday. The busy day on the Hill wrapped up with an awards ceremony and reception during which United Spinal honored Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA) and Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) for their dedication to serving people with disabilities and veterans.

Taking travel risks

"Every year this event keeps growing and getting better," says James Weisman, United Spinal's general counsel. "It has been a pleasure to watch our mix of new and old advocates really come together and represent this community in a way that no one else can. They speak about the issues so eloquently that their representatives have to listen and that's often the first and biggest step to affecting change."

Advocates learned about and then hammered home the importance of a number of issues critical to the spinal cord injury community, including Complex Rehab Technology, safe and accessible transportation and adequate funding for Medicaid. First time attendee Andrea Dalzell found being surrounded by so many like-minded advocates to be empowering. "Learning about the different bills and legislation was great, but the highlight for me was seeing so many advocates come together and share their passion to get these bills passed," she says. "There is a big wall to climb to get the change we want, but after an event like this you see things from a different light and it adds to your confidence that we can do it."

Taking travel risks

Returning attendees say they can see progress being made, even if it doesn't always manifest in change as quickly as they would like. "The wheels of progress turn slowly," says Willis Washington, an Oklahoma member who has attended three of the four Rolls. "It takes time, you're not going to always hit a home run the first time you step up to the plate. I hope that we continue to build our relationships with our legislators and I hope in turn that we as advocates take it upon ourselves to be more involved and make change."

About the Author:

Ian Ruder is a senior editor for New Mobility magazine and United Spinal Association. He has a background in journalism and has covered everything from competitive eating to civil rights. He loves living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and rooting for his world champion San Francisco Giants

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