An opportunity to make our voices heard

Outside of Senator Tom Harkin's office during our three-day trip to D.C. (The Arc photo)

I made my first trip to Washington D.C. last week, largely in part to the lifelong efforts of my brother, my parents and The Arc of East Central Iowa.

An essay I wrote about Tyler months ago was selected as the winner among 119 entries in The Arc’s national “Achieve With Us” social meda contest, sponsored by Ability Magazine. The Arc flew Tyler and my mother (my father and I went, too) to tour their new offices in downtown D.C. and to speak with our state representatives about what cuts to the current Medicaid system would mean for Tyler and thousands of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Arc is in the midst of an advocacy campaign, called “Don’t Cut Our Lifeline,” to protect Medicaid, and our meetings on Capitol Hill came at a critical juncture during budget negotiations.

We met first with Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA-2), who we quickly found out was a champion in supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was very refreshing to hear that his “stubborness” always puts people first. He seemed genuinely concerned about what Tyler and my mother had to say and we left his office at the Longworth Building upbeat.

Then came our sitdowns with Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley.

Harkin, a key Iowa figure in passing the “Americans with Disabilities Act” in 1990, painted a much more bleak outlook. He is against cutting the services Tyler and our family utilitze on a daily basis, and also supports raising taxes on America’s most wealthy. He made it clear, though, that what he and other senators are up against in D.C. is frightening.

Grassley had the least amount of time to talk with us. That whole, “I’ve only got about 15 minutes” speech really does exist. His opinions be damned, my mother got her points across loud and clear. I give Grassley credit for trying to relate to our situation, while avoiding the issue in a press release, but speaking face-to-face with one of his top aides with a wealth of knowledge about the Medicaid system was much more beneficial.

And just like that, one of our days was in the books. It was a successful one, I think. Changing the opinions of any representative isn’t going to happen during a single sitdown, but having the opportunity to do so is the most important thing.

It became increasingly clear that I need to get more involved, contact more of my Iowa representatives to let them know that cutting services to those who already have fewer opportunities isn’t the answer to helping the economy. And if anyone reading feels inclined to do the same, I encourage you to do so. Unfortunately, many individuals with I/DD are unable to have their voices heard, and as a devoted sibling to someone who falls into that category, I feel it’s my responsibility to do all I can to make sure his quality of life is no different than mine, yours, your neighbor’s or your coworker’s.

My family and I are hoping we helped, and we’re hoping this can be the first of many interactions with The Arc’s national offices. I’m looking forward to possibly getting involved in a national sibling workshop, helping younger individuals get accustomed to their responsibilities as they age.

In between our meetings we were able to do plenty of sight-seeing. A personal tour through the Capitol was amazing. The White House tour, though short, was cool. A personal tour through the Holocaust Museum was a highlight of mine. And seeing the national monuments for the first time really made me appreciate the sacrifices and successes of our former leaders, no matter how terrible our nation’s outlook seems.

The Arc’s staff was simply amazing, showing us around downtown while making it clear how devoted each and every one of them is to their careers. Getting to chat with Arc CEO Peter V. Berns, while wearing matching Arc vests, was a highlight of Tyler’s final day in D.C. I’m guessing getting to talk with all the ladies at The Arc’s offices is something he’ll talk about for awhile, too ;)

More to come on this topic, as well as Sara’s pregnancy, which has reached week 25. // JS

About smothersfamily

Currently pregnant with baby No. 2, Sara is in her fifth year as a sixth-grade reading and language arts teacher at Brody Middle School in Des Moines. Josh is a newspaper designer at the Gannett Des Moines Design Studio and the usual editor of this blog. Finally, Jackson is an always-on-the-go toddler who will be 2 in April.
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