By now, most people have seen the arresting (pun intended!) images in the media of around 60 protesters with disabilities taking part in a civil disobedience action last month, after being forcibly removed from Senator Mitch McConnell’s office by enforcement officers. The demonstration was organised by ADAPT, a national disability rights charity. The pictures are indisputably distressing, which was exactly the widespread reaction the ADAPT activists hoped to provoke.
But as the photos circulate around various media, there are some significant features which are not being shown, not least the identities of the people in those pictures, and exactly what they are doing there. For example, there is the eye-catching photo of a woman with curly hair in a fuchsia-pink wheelchair, her hands painfully bound behind her with zip ties. The activist in question is Stephanie Woodward, a lawyer and Director of Advocacy at the Centre for Disability Rights. This is not the first time she has been arrested in the course of such protests.
Civil disobedience actions of this type are not a novelty for disability rights campaigners, but in the past, the media has not always covered them so frequently. ADAPT, the organisation which instigated this protest at Mitch McConnell’s office, has existed since around 1970s, in different incarnations. It is a grassroots group for disabled rights run by those who are disabled in some form.
It all started as part of a movement to make individuals with physical limitations less institutionalised, i.e. not confined to nursing homes. And then it evolved into campaigning for access to public transport in the 1980s. This group also played a large part in the creation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) Act in 1990, including the renowned “Capitol Crawl”, where activists left their wheelchairs at the steps of Capitol Hill and crawled to the top.
They were also very active in the early 2000s, in their fight to save their access to Medicaid, and there were various protests around government buildings all around the US during this period, involving the arrests of various campaigners.
The activists at ADAPT are concerned about access to healthcare in general, but are particularly worried about the threatened alterations to Medicaid, an invaluable entitlement scheme which provides those with disabilities not just with necessary healthcare, but also with the help needed to live independently in the community, e.g nursing care, wheelchairs, medical supplies, etc. This is comprised under a system known as Home and Community-Based Services.
One controversial issue is that Medicaid is necessary to supply nursing home care, but not HCBS, and when cuts are made, affected people are worried that their freedom may be greatly restricted. With cuts to Medicaid, they could be forced into nursing homes if they want care, rather than living independently.
The organisation’s slogan is “Free Our People!” along with a popular chant: “Our homes, not nursing homes!” The group wants the public to be aware that protests by people with disabilities and arrests by the police are nothing new; it is just that lately it has become more mainstream, and they welcome the publicity – it's one more way to raise awareness and share their message.
Picture courtesy of www.care2causes.com