When I Spoke to Senators About Disability and Employment
There are moments that change your life, where you stand still and count your blessings. That moment for me was in 2014 when I was chosen to go to Washington, D.C. to speak on breaking barriers for people with disabilities. I was chosen based on the responses I gave to a survey on what I would to change barriers for people with disabilities. It was shocking, a blessing and the greatest moment of my life. I cried for three straight hours, wrote about it on Facebook and got 124 Likes, the most I’ve ever gotten. The best part though was the fact that UPS was willing to help pay for the trip and I planned on honoring them by speaking on the positive experiences the job gave me. It all happened so quickly it was a rapid ascent of emotions, happiness, fear and excitement. By the time I felt all of them I was on my way to Washington, D.C.
Before I flew to Washington, D.C., I practiced my speech for what seemed like a million times. It was redundant, but it was necessary. Each issue was pointed out, from the fact I didn’t live within three-quarters of a mile of a PACE bus route, which is why my parents had to drive me to work every day, that my disability wouldn’t allow me to save for my 401k retirement account or I lose my personal assistant benefits, and lastly the fact there was no accessible housing. Here is a little bit of my speech.
I cannot fully participate in UPS’ employer sponsored 401(K) retirement plan like other employees. Although I am no longer receiving SSI income payments, I am still enrolled through the 1619(b) program so I am eligible for Medicaid. That means that if I have over $2,000 in assets I will lose my Medicaid benefits, and more importantly, if I have over $17,500 in assets I will lose my personal care attendant benefits from the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services. If I lose my personal attendant I cannot work or even get out of bed!
I felt flattered and honored to speak about so many issues that affected me directly. I was even invited to meet the CEO of UPS, David Abney. It was time for the camera to shine brightly as it was my chance to use my voice to impact the world. Luckily for me I didn’t go first; instead that honor went to Ann Kwong. I can still picture Ann vividly in my mind — her fiery voice, her presence and her strong will. I thought she was most impressive. Then we moved on to some disability specialists, then finally it was my turn. I spoke calmly and coolly; some individuals were afraid I would go off on a tangent, but I never felt like I would. By the time I was done, I was jolted with a sense of joy and purpose.
The journey was far from over. After I made my speech and stated the need for accessible for housing, I said I needed to find a wife and then Senator Harkin who was presiding over the whole hearing said “do you want to give out your email?” to audible laughter. I felt like my comedic wit was on full display. Then before I knew it, it was time to go.
This to me was a dream come true and a realization that good things happen to good people. Check out the hearing here.
All I need is a chance to succeed and a chance to advocate, and I will never stop doing both!