Sunday, August 5, 2012

Breakfast of Champions(Senator Durbin)

Breakfast with Senator Durbin Wow what can I say about this event? A few days before the meeting I received a phone call from my buddy Ben asking me to come with him to have breakfast with Durbin. As you can tell by now I have a lot of thoughts that pop into my head(some folks call them voices). The first thought was “Ben must really be enthuastic to see the Senator, it will be great to have breakfast with Senator Durbin’s Statue, I never had lunch with a Statue before”, however all of a sudden my thoughts became coherent and I exclaimed to myself “looks like I am having Breakfast with Durbin, we can leave the statue at home!. As Ben mentioned in his blog, we arrived to the Russell Senate Buliding around 8:06 where we were met by one of Senator’s Durbin staffers who was absolutely wonderful, the young lady showed us exactly how to enter the Russell bdg and escorted us to the room. As we walked around the room helping ourselves to donuts and coffee we were amazed at the room size. We learned that this room was the same place where John F. Kennedy announced that he would be running for President. As we were getting seated, we saw a tall man walk into the room giving a hug to one of the staff members in attendance. As I watched this blood was flowing down my spine, excitement filled my body and my whole body began to wake up(it was 8:30). “He is walking, he is talking and he just said good morning to the both of us, it is not a statue after all, that is SENATOR DURBIN our beloved representative from Illinois and the Majority Whip leader…. Thankfully he was not carrying a whip! Senator Durbin told us what is on the Senate’s agenda for today and took our questions. Afterwards me and Ben had our pictures taken with the Senator, when it was my turn to get the picture taken, I had an amazing conversation with the Senator, thanked him for supporting the CRPD and also explained a little bit about NDRN. One of the highlights of the conversation was when Senator Durbin told me “if you want to give a speech, you must run for the Senate. One of the most humble individuals I have met in my life and just a class act. Senator Durbin is just simply amazing. There is a reason that he has never lost an election, the man truly cares about the people of Illnois. Ben told me later that Senator Durbin asked him if he were a “packer fan”. As far as I am concerned Ben can afford to be a Packers fan, he is an amazing person as well. See folks something good does come out of Wisconsin!(just teasing) NDRN and the Disability Rights movement Secondly, I want to address another topic or issue. Folks always send me messages on Facebook or through other electronic outlets(email) asking if my "strength based approach" to Counseling is gone now that I am in Washington... my response to these individuals is absolutely not. If anything I was more exposed to the Disability community during my time in Washington and I saw highly qualified persons with disabilities' potential being undermined, I feel everyone should be treated as equal. The Rehabilitation Counselor who got to his or her level of position should not tell a client who has the desire to pursue a career goal "no". In the previous Rehabilitation agency I was at, one of the staff member asked me why I was telling a client who had been working for 22 years as a custodian that he could be a supervisor of the Janitorial crew(something he desired to be). My response was simply "Based on his experience and skill set he can probrobly scrub the floor better than the Rehabilitation Counselor who assigned him the task".... They did not like that very much. As a graduate student pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation Counseling I incoporated a strength based approach to my counseling sessions with the main philosphy of my approach being to recognize the client's strengths instead of focusing on his/her limitations. I feel that many times society tends to display an "inferiority complex" towards individuals with disabilities. From Accessibility to Education all the way down to Health Care. Persons with Disabilities are constantly being told what to do and how to behave. These individuals are often less likely to obtain jobs in the field of their choice "because their disability is much too severe for them to work". The other day I was in the elevator with an individual who was very pleasant, appeared to be outgoing and very talkative. As we went up to the 6th floor(yes elevators are like happy hours, a wonderful way to mingle with others), the young man mentioned to me that he had a mental illness and that the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor did not open his case because she felt "he was not ready to work due to his condition". A Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor making statements like this can be compared to a doctor not wanting to operate on an individual with leg amputations because "his condition is too severe". In the VR counselor case I am quite confident that there is something wrong with this VRCs medulla ombagata(just kidding). It is these cases that demand the attention of public policy specualists across the various grassroots organizations such as: our very own AAPD, United Spinal Roll and..... NDRN! Oh one thing that I want to mention is that I have learned the ways of Washington, so I refuse to use anything, but acronyms! When I was asked to become an NDRN intern for the Summer, at first I thought to myself "What the heck is NDRN?". Once I looked up the organization and discovered that it was working in Public Policy, I realized that I would be surrounded by 5 lawyers in the Public Policy department and 3 law interns. There were two thoughts that popped into my mind at the time. The first was "The only thing I know about law is that "if the glove does not fit, you must acquit". In addition the only two compelling words I can say to an audience is "give this guy a job". Needless to say despite my lack of experience the National Disability Rights Network(NDRN) was willing to take me on as an intern. Prior to coming to NDRN, I knew about Disability rights as a person with a disability, however I had no idea how much the disability community is affected by the injustice that occurs in society. Many of you know my own personal struggles as a person with disability, however I would like to recap on two of the biggest issues in Washington right now. Seculsion and Restraint: Many of you know about seculsion and restraint as being a hallmark issues. NDRN was the first not for profit agency to publish a report on this topic, within 6 months it recieved the attention of Senator Harkin's Health, pensions and labor committee(HELP) and the hearing was scheduled for July 11th. Those who are not familar with the seculsion and restraint issue are encouraged to visit Currently all 50 states have a reported case. Ashley treatment- This issue is not very publicized, however it should be as it is a very unethical procedure taking place in our local hospitals. The Ashley treatment was named after a 1 month old infant by the name of Ashley who underwent surgery to remove her external reproductive organs. The rationale the doctors provided for undergoing this treatment was that if the infant does not recieve this treatment she will grow expotentionally and the parents will be unable to take care of her. It was the parent's desicion to remove her reproductive and other external organs because they wanted to keep her a "small and childlike", the parents referred to her as a "pillow case baby". As the reader can see, although this issue is a bit more complex than the other ones, the doctors and parents violated the child's dignity, self worth and right to grow and develop into a productive member of society. Ashley would pass away just hours after the surgery. We will never be able to see Ashley grow into a productive member of society or reach her god given potential. All thanks to this invasive medical procedure. This specific treatment is not only revelant for Ashley, but many children with disabilities. There are countless examples of a child being denied his/her human dignity by those whose are sopposed to care for them, this is not right. America is a beautiful country, however we must expand the definition of "equality" to individuals with a disability. As parents we need to be supportive of our children no matter what despite their physical limitations. I grew up in a very loving family and I strongly believe one indicator of a child's success is how strong the support system is. I am sure that Ashley's parents had good intentions, however taking the easy way out is never an option when a child's dignity is in question. Those of you who are interested in hearing more of the Ashlry treatment are encouraged to visit Everything I mentioned in this blog sums up why this internship has been the best experience ever. "At the end of the day it is not about our own egos, accomplishments or the praise others give us, it is about making a difference in the lives of persons with disabilities". Senator Durbin and NDRN are two examples of those who make a difference in the lives of persons with disabilities. It was a honor to get a chance to be involved with both parties even if it was only briefly. Until next time Rak

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