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Life After Paralysis is a blog that represents a variety of paralysis community members. It is a place for open conversation about the issues and the interests of people living with paralysis, their family, friends, caregivers, and the professionals that serve them. Comments are welcome!
 
The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

A Day In The Life Of Athletes Advocating


On July 22nd we move another step closer to the goal of the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Humans Rights document that goes by a number of calling cards, the Disability Treaty or the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or my favorite, the CRPD. If you need more 411 on the CRPD, click here. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on and adopted a revised set of RUDs, Reservations, Understandings and/or Declarations to be attached to the CRPD. If you need more explanation about the RUDs click this link.
 
The RUDs are the strongest ever attached to a UN treaty. The vote was sound, 12-6, in favor of the CRPD to advance to Senate for a two-thirds majority vote, 67 out of the 100 possible votes. The push forward toward the final step in the US ratification is in the hands of the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. He is the only one that can bring the CRPD to the Senate for a vote. He will not make a move in that direction until he knows that there are enough votes for a two-thirds majority.
 
And so, the supporters of ratification needed to take action and the timing couldn’t have been better. A march, a rally and Senate office visits were planned in Washington DC for the week of July 28-31 in unification with the annual conference of the National Council on Independent Living, NICL. The allies planned to rally and flood the Senators with phone calls, emails, letters and face-to-face conversations asking their support with ratification of the CRPD and to encourage Senator Harry Reid to call for a vote before the August recess.  
 
The U.S. International Council on Disability, USICD has been a long time leader with this initiative and has understood the value of a diverse team of defenders of this cause. They engaged with a variety of groups and in 2014 they widen their advocacy power base to include Paralympic athletes, dedicating a full page of their website to Paralympic activities.
 
Now athletes really are the consummate advocates. Our lives are one long string of advocating internally to our minds and our bodies that we can do this thing, this sport, we have no idea how to do when we first try it on and become successful or rather the very best, at it. Doubt is never an option in sport. We must steadfastly focus our push forward through the web of naysayers. Mastering skills from books, our peers and coaches using systematic, relentless training, is all in a days work for us. Hoping ceaselessly that every game we ever played in self and sport advocacy to keep moving forward, brings forth the zone, a transcendent moment of achievement.


And then there is the whole piece of outside advocacy for our sports, our teams, our fellow athletes and human beings. Yeah, athletes know how advocate. So when USICD and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation collaborated on an educational and community building effort to bring four U.S. Paralympic athletes to Washington DC to be a part of this movement for CRPD ratification, it was a natural move toward expanding inclusion of disability activism and we were grateful to be included.
 
The Paralympic team summiting Capitol Hill on Tuesday July 29th included Cheri Blauwet, sport, Wheelchair Racing, Muffy Davis, sport, Alpine skiing and Handcycling, Keith Gabel, sport, Snowboarding and Candace Cable, sport, Wheelchair Racing, Alpine and Nordic skiing. Between us we have competed for the United States Team in sixteen Paralympic Games and have won 27 medals. Just in case we weren’t enough, we brought back up, our medals and Sadie, Keith’s service dog, as our hooks.
 
The morning of the events, the Team met at 8am with David Morrissey, Executive Director of USICD for a breakfast briefing of our mission. We were given a looseleaf notebook filled papers and post it notes, some for us, some to leave with the Senators office, a list of phone numbers and emails of Senators to connect with and stickers. David mapped out our schedule for the day, the rally in front of the reflecting pool at 11am and all other hours in between hitting the Senate offices. He told us that there was a very good chance that we would spend the day talking with the Senators staff and not the Senators.
 
David left us at the breakfast table to work the phones booking  appointments. I wish I would of taken a picture of us, It was an image right out of a movie, where urgent back room deals were made, all of us on the phone, talking at once, looking down or off in the distance so as not to be distracted as we pitched who we were in need of an appointment, today. Our day went by fast a furious from the moment we left the hotel headed for Russell, the first of the three Senate buildings, only stopping briefly inside to fill in appointment gaps before we headed down hill to the rally.

The rally was going strong with leaders of the disability community and Senate speakers peppered with rally chants of ‘ What do we want?’ CRPD ‘When do we want it?’ ‘NOW’ when we arrived. I don’t think any of us could have imagined how well our hooks, our medals and Sadie would work or how popular we were with the paparazzi. During the rally group photos were snapped with Senators, leaders in the disability movement, fellow activists, veterans and it seemed the whole of the over 800 organizations that support the CRPD were there.
 
The people that were assembled outside mobilized toward inside of the Senate buildings for their first meetings, we sped off to our first meeting, with the staffer of Senator Burr. No matter if we were a group of two or four we operated as if we had practiced our lines, together, over and over. It felt like a performance, a well-timed choreographed production. Maybe it has been all the years of learning to read our opponents, facial expression, body language or knowing when to push the pace or when to hold back. Or maybe it’s joy of working as a dream team and trusting my mates. I’m not sure, all I know is we clicked, all day long.
 
I heard more than once that we were ‘a breath of fresh air’ and that we really added new energy to day.’ Our advocacy felt easy and natural. This may very well be because in our daily lives we experience, even in a country that has had a civil rights law, the ADA, in place for 24 years, the very real need for the U.S. to ratify the CRPD and bring this race of Human Rights for all people, down the home stretch and across the finish line. As Madonna Long told us in that first Reeve Foundation, Adapting Life webcast on how to be an advocate, “ it really is easy to advocate, we have to show up, know the issue, listen and participate in the conversation.”


Cheri summed it up well, “It was an absolute honor to have the opportunity to translate my skills as an athlete into the realm of advocacy on behalf of the CRPD with my fellow activists. As an athlete, I understand the importance of giving 100% focus toward meeting a goal. All individuals with disabilities must have the right to autonomy, independence, and full community participation. Anything short of this represents a failure of achieving what we know is possible. Now is the time for all - both athletes and non-athletes alike - to take a stand for disability rights. ”
 
Oh and by the way, our last meeting of the day, we got a Senator, Flake from Arizona. Now that’s a gold medal performance.

Blessings to All and get out there and advocate for something you believe in!

In Joy, Candace

© 2014 Candace Cable | Like Candace on Facebook | Follow Candace on Twitter
Posted by Community Admin on Aug 5, 2014 11:06 AM US/Eastern