Dear Speakers, Organizers, Fellow Delegates, and the Public:
This is to thank all of you for your knowledge, dedication, and commitment to disability rights. I enjoyed attending the national summit. I attended in my capacity as an attorney at the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, I attended as a Commissioner at the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. My new guide dog Pilot and I enjoyed the opportunity to engage in this informative and interesting dialogue on disability law and policy. I note that, meeting new friends and having the chance to converse, in a short way, with long-time friends, was a delight. I also desire to applaud the executive order signed by President Obama. Thus, I desire to provide reflections on the summit.
Notably, the medium of the roundtable type discussions hosted during the afternoon of Tuesday provided a helpful forum for dialogue. I met and listened to the informed views and opinions of myriad individuals at the three rounds of that forum. The breakout sessions – Conversations for Change – furnished a constructive, if short, venue through which to engage in information sharing and the exchange of candid views on policy.
The session on disability rights, which I attended, seem to ignite myriad good ideas. Specifically, I agree that Alternative Dispute Resolution, in its myriad forms, needs to be employed increasingly. At that session, I saw my friend, Lanie. Structured Negotiation is an example of such an ADR tool. I note that, through the application of this tool, she has achieved meaningful access reforms. Other ADR tools, such as Negotiated Rulemaking, must be in the quiver of advocates to enforce or implement disability law and policy.
Clearly, the intersection of older adults and disability law and policy needs to be a continued topic of discussion and policy formulation. To this end, I would refer you, Senior Mediation and Decision-Making, Inc. I agree with myriad delegates who argued that assuring the transition of people with disabilities and older adults from institutional settings to community-based housing and supports must be the goal of our people and of our government. Additionally, the Elder Justice Act finally passed as a subtitle of the overall healthcare reform legislation of March 2010 may have the effect of affecting positively the health and welfare of older adults.
Technology must be at the forefront of disability law and policy. In the Information Age, people with disabilities must have the same off-the-shelf access any other citizen. That is not the circumstance today, especially for those with sensory disabilities.
In the closing hours of the summit, a discussion of the statutory authority of the Council occurred. As the Council reviews the reauthorization of the organization, I would recommend that the issue of enforcement capabilities and authority of the agency be examined. If empowered with enhanced authority, the Council, for instance, could play a role in resolving complaints on disability issues. Further, enhancing the sensitivity of all employees at all levels of government to fellow employees and managers with disabilities as well as the public with disabilities is a critical role for the Council moving forward.
Before I attend to myriad other affairs, I should contribute my own anecdotal remembrances of when I identified, early on, as a blind person. As regards invidious discrimination, I particularly recall an issue in high school when I was considered for a seat on the planning commission of my town. I recall that an individual charged with appointing members to that body of city government expressed to my father, I could not serve, because I am blind.
In conclusion, I wish the enactment of the landmark legislation of the Americans with Disabilities Act happy birthday. Unfortunately, much progress yet remains for the millions of people in the United States who either are considered or self-identify as disabled. As a lawyer with a disability, I hope to be and continue to be a tour de force in our civil rights movement. I look forward to collaborating with myriad of you moving forward. Finally, I hope that the dialogue fostered by and captured at the summit by delegates and leaders across the government will be actualized in coming months and years.
Gary C. Norman, Esq.