Sitting Ground for Disability Rights Against Medicaid Cuts

By Stephanie Woodward, Center for Disability Rights

Iwas arrested four times in five weeks because I refused to sit quietly when the lives and liberty of Americans with disabilities are at risk.

I am used to strangers stopping me in public to compliment me on my brightly colored wheelchairs; I am not used to strangers stopping me to ask, "Are you the woman in that video from that protest being carried out of your chair?"

Protecting the Rights of the Disability Community to Life and Liberty

I am just an ordinary woman trying to live the American dream. I have a house filled with four cats, a job that I am passionate about, and I spend a lot of my time eating pizza rolls and cheeseburgers. I want the basic things most Americans want: to live where I choose, eat what I want, be free to make my own choices for my body and for my life, and maybe someday raise a family. More importantly, I want these same things for all Americans with disabilities. Simply stated, I want all people with disabilities to have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So yes, I am that woman in that video. And I was forcibly removed from Senator Mitch McConnell's office for fighting for the right of all disabled Americans to live and to live in liberty. In the following weeks, I was arrested another three times as I fought to stop the proposed $800 billion cuts to Medicaid in the Senate healthcare bill.

Stephanie Woodward Protests

Stephanie is surrounded by four police officers who are grabbing her limbs and pulling her from her wheelchair.


This was incredibly important to me because Medicaid is the largest payer of long term services and supports for people with disabilities. This means that for disabled people who need personal care assistance to live in the community, Medicaid is more than likely the payer of those services. Cutting Medicaid by $800 billion meant that services people with disabilities depend on to live would have been cut drastically. As a result, many disabled people would have lost their lives and liberty because many Americans with disabilities who rely on community based services will either die or be forced into nursing facilities and other institutions just to get the services and supports they need to live.

While I do not rely on Medicaid, as a child I did. Because I was born with a preexisting condition, no other insurance would cover me. I was a Medicaid recipient until I graduated from law school and was able to get my own coverage under the ACA. I am now an attorney and activist, but I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Medicaid.

ADAPT Successfully Rallies to Affect Change

I understand how important Medicaid is to the Disability Community, which is why I work with ADAPT to fight for the lives and liberty of Americans with disabilities. ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. ADAPT was at the forefront to save Medicaid because people with disabilities need Medicaid to live. ADAPT has taught me that protesting is not the first step; it is the last step in Disability Rights activism. For every protest ADAPT organizes, there are months, if not years, of groundwork that has lead up to it. We meet with legislators, we write policy, we try to work with administrations, and when we are ignored we protest because we will not be silent as our rights and our lives are threatened.

Stephanie Woodward Protesting

Stephanie with her fist held high in her iLevel wheelchair as police escort her from a protest.

 

ADAPT's battle cry is "Free Our People!" because people with disabilities should not be locked away and warehoused in institutions simply because we are disabled. America is the home of the free. We are Americans. We have the right to be free. Our American healthcare system needs to align with our American values to provide liberty for all.

Because we believe that all Americans have the right to live in freedom, we decided to protest at Senators offices that appeared to support the $800 billion cuts to Medicaid because it was obvious efforts of talking with legislators had not worked.

First we protested at Majority Leader McConnell's office on the day the bill was released. That's when I was dragged out of my wheelchair in a video that has since hone viral. After that, I protested in Ohio, Rochester, and in D.C. again. I also helped organize more than 50 protests across the country with ADAPT. Some days I was advising protestors of their rights when being arrested, other days I was being arrested myself. 

Stephanie Woodward is Cuffed while Protesting

Stephanie's hands were cuffed in zip ties as she sits in her pink wheelchair. Photo credit: Colleen Flanagan.


Our efforts paid off when the Senate voted on the bill in July and it failed. However, our fight is not over. Medicaid is still at risk. I will continue to fight with ADAPT and I hope you will consider joining us in this fight.

About the Author:

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and the Director of Advocacy at the Center for Disability Rights in New York. She is a proud person with disabilities and member of ADAPT, a grassroots disability rights organization. She works hard to provide a better life for her cats.

 

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