Protecting Our Rights Requires Vigilance

Featured in The Record Eagle on May 6, 2018 WRITTEN BY Susan Odgers

The Record Eagle newspaper logoMy paternal grandparents, Ann and Roy, were extremely important to me.

As their first grandchild, they supported me and my parents in every way that mattered. My grandfather, an immensely decent human being, stood for hours outside of my hospital room after I had my stroke. He’d listen to Tiger baseball on his transistor radio. Witnessing my medical care and struggles was more than his heart could bear. My grandmother on the other hand, would climb into my bed, cradle my paralyzed legs and pray for a way to trade places with me.

Grandpa and Grandma lived well into their 80s and saw me graduate from university, marry, buy a house and start a career. Before they died, Grandpa said, “We’re comforted to know that long after we’re gone, our government will continue to protect your rights.”

Today, many people believe the rights of all children, veterans, and persons with disabilities are universally protected. Pulitzer-winning author, Eileen McNamara — who wrote “Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World” — recently spoke at our National Writers Series.

She said, “Civil rights for persons with disabilities, including people with intellectual disabilities, are under attack. We have to be vigilant.”

In January of 2017, H.R. 620 ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. The official title as introduced: “To amend the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 to promote compliance through education, to clarify the requirements for demand letters, to provide for a notice and cure period before the commencement of a private civil action, and for other purposes.”

On February 15,2018, H.R. 620 passed the House 225 to 192.

I’ve been following Tammy Duckworth long before she was elected to an Illinois seat to the Senate in 2017.

Sen. Duckworth, an Asian-American woman, was a helicopter pilot injured in Iraq. She lost both legs and most function in her right arm. A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, former director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs she was elected to Congress in 2012.

Sen. Duckworth, who also has a doctorate, was the first senator to give birth while holding office in April 2018.

In March of 2018, Sen. Duckworth and 42 other senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “H.R. 620 would gut the Americans with Disabilities Act by eliminating incentives for businesses of any size, including the largest corporate hotels, restaurant and movie theater chains, to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Instead, businesses would be encouraged to avoid complying with the nearly 30-year old law until people with disabilities notify them that they are unable to enter their facility.”

Last month in this column, I shared my experience of being trapped for several hours in a public restroom. The response has been tremendous; readers have contacted Michigan Protection and Advocacy, Inc., the Great Lakes ADA Center and Traverse City’s Disability Network to get information on universal access. Public and private businesses have told me they’ve changed the tension on their door-closing mechanisms and installed emergency alarm buttons.

I am Ann and Roy’s granddaughter. I will be vigilant.

Contact Susan Odgers at odgersadapted@yahoo.com. Read H.R. 620 at www.congress.gov and Duckworth’s letter at www.duckworth.senate.gov. Odgers is a 31-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 42 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

Discussion

One response to “Protecting Our Rights Requires Vigilance”

  1. Jim Moore says:

    Thank you for shedding light on the federal effort to weaken the laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination! The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George Bush. This law has led the nation to remove the barriers that keep people with disabilities to live independently. HR 620 will not provide protection to businesses from frivolous lawsuits but will slow down the progress we have made building communities that work for everyone. Also, we should encourage our State Senators to not support Senate Resolution 69 that supports the effort of the Federal Government to weaken the ADA. This sends the wrong message about Michigan that has been working hard to make our environment welcoming and accessible.

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