Wheelchair users lobby to protect complex rehab

‘Once they get the bug for advocating for themselves, they can’t really get rid of it’
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Friday, April 7, 2017

WASHINGTON – More than 150 wheelchair users and advocates are prepping to roll on Capitol Hill in June to lobby for improved health, independence and quality of life for people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders.

“This year is a crazy, busy year,” said Alex Bennewith, vice president of government relations for United Spinal Association, which hosts the event. “It’s the first year of a new administration, so there are a lot of things that are different than previous years. It’s very important for folks to meet with members of Congress to make sure they hear about their issues.”

Roll on Capitol Hill, in its sixth year, will take place June 11-14. The event has drawn numerous sponsors, including AAHomecare, NCART, Cure, Invacare, Numotion, Apple West Home Medical Supply and MK Battery.

The event will feature education, advocacy training and a sponsor expo on June 12, and Capitol Hill meetings on June 13. Participants typically conduct more than 200 meetings on that one day, Bennewith says.

“Who better to talk about issues than the people who are affected themselves,” she said.

Included in the reasons “why we roll” are bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate to prevent Medicare from applying competitive bidding pricing to complex manual and power wheelchairs; and a bill in the House to create a separate benefit for complex rehab.

“Congress really listens when CRT consumers weigh in on the challenges they face and what they need to be healthy and independent,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART, which hosts its own congressional fly-in April 26-27. “Inclusion of CRT issues in the ROCH has been a big factor in increasing CRT awareness and support in Congress.”

Users, who will include veterans, will also lobby for issues around improving community integration, preserving access to appropriate urology and ostomy supplies, and advancing research of neurological conditions.

“This is an important time for people with disabilities to feel empowered and part of the process,” Bennewith said. “Once they get the bug for advocating for themselves, they can’t really get rid of it.”