National Coalition on Disability Rights (NCDR) Community Engagement Project Authored by Ari Ne’eman American Civil Rights movements

have long understood the importance of grassroots organizing. The establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act was the culmination of a widespread grassroots effort as were other disability rights successes. As the disability community moves into the 21st century and faces new challenges and an environment where grassroots activism is an accepted and widely used means of lobbying for public policy change, it is important that we engage in effective infrastructure building in order to have the ability to mobilize the disability community to respond to threats at the local level and to utilize local resources for national-level advocacy. In doing this, the disability community should look to other communities and their success in organizing to pursue their interests in public policy and social change. With that in mind, the National Coalition on Disability Rights is launching a new project for community engagement with the goal of developing resources for local and national disability rights activists. NCDR shall seek to establish disability rights cadres consisting of representatives from pro-disability rights (DR) organizations and community activists representing different constituencies that are part of or are engaged in supporting the disability community. The mission of these cadres shall be to monitor local issues relating to the rights of people with disabilities and to maintain relationships with local pro-DR organizations and individuals with the intent of mobilizing these constituencies for advocacy purposes. NCDR cadres will consist of approximately 5-15 people and will meet on a monthly basis. They will work to be broadly representative of the disability community while still maintaining a small, effective, advocacy-oriented atmosphere of individuals who share the same goals and vision. NCDR will maintain regular communication with its local cadres and inform them through a monthly newsletter of the disability community’s legislative priorities. NCDR’s Washington, DC office can serve as a means of communicating local concerns to national policymakers in the context of NCDR’s federal advocacy. At the same time, local cadre activities can act to show the strength of the pro-DR position within individual congressional districts, thus improving the ability of NCDR to reach new legislators and maintain the support of currently pro-DR legislators. Furthermore, NCDR’s DC office will work with each cadre to develop best practices for activism, community organizing, public policy and social change advocacy and other important activities that benefit the disability community. Cadre activities will include the following: • Community Networking: The local NCDR cadre should serve as a means by which self-advocates, service-providers, family members and other allies who share the pro-DR perspective can connect and coordinate their efforts. Frequently, there exists a disconnect between the various stakeholders advocating for similar

pro-DR goals within a community. NCDR cadre meetings will offer an opportunity for coalition building between individual activists and organizations from a wide variety of backgrounds, as well as professional and service-delivery entities such as Centers on Independent Living and local provider organizations. • Public Policy Advocacy: By bringing together advocates from a variety of backgrounds, NCDR cadre meetings will offer a chance for coordinated action to address issues of de-institutionalization, self-advocate representation, housing and employment supports, ADA compliance and enforcement, transportation accessibility of public buildings, state and municipal laws that do not yet recognize the needs of the disability community and many other issues. NCDR cadres will be able to share best practices and discuss common goals while bringing together the resources and perspectives of the broadest possible pro-DR coalition. Resource Development: Each cadre will be well positioned to assess the needs of the local disability community and identify gaps in the legal, financial, servicedelivery and cultural infrastructures that serve people with disabilities in their area. Cadre members will seek to fill those gaps through public policy advocacy and/or infrastructure and capacity building with the private and non-profit sectors. By engaging in these activities, individual communities can be brought closer to the disability community’s vision of an accessible, fully inclusive society. Media Outreach: One of the greatest difficulties that activists run across is finding a way to get positive coverage in the media. For disability rights activists, this issue is all the more poignant in that even ostensibly positive media coverage can be counterproductive if reporters are unfamiliar with the terminology and history of the disability community. NCDR cadres will work to form relationships with local, state and regional press with the aim of educating reporters and editors about the perspectives, priorities and realities of the disability community. By engaging in these activities, substantial improvements can be made in how disability issues are covered in the mainstream media. Social Change: One of the priorities for the disability community has always been working to change public perception and attitudes towards disability. This goal cannot be achieved through government intervention, but only by creating strong partnerships with local community organizations, businesses, cultural groups and religious leaders. NCDR cadres will serve as a coordinating body for mobilizing advocates to engage in such social change work effectively. Legislative Relations: On issues ranging from the Community Choice Act to the appointment of federal judges supportive of the ADA and other federal laws supporting the removal of obstacles to the full inclusion of people with disabilities, federal advocacy is extremely important to the pro-DR community. The creation of local cadres that can speak as constituents of individual Senators and Representatives will serve as a valuable tool in federal lobbying efforts. In

addition, cadres will be encouraged to form a relationship with their representative’s local office for constituent relations and both Democratic and Republican party organizations, so as to encourage and maintain the rising proDR consensus in American political life. • Rapid Response: Recent incidents like the Ashley X case, the NYU Child Study Center’s Ransom Notes campaign and other attacks against the emerging pro-DR consensus show the need for a disability community that can rapidly mobilize at both the national and the local levels. By training NCDR cadres in the above skill areas, the disability community will have local advocates that will be able to mobilize in response to potential and existing threats. Furthermore, the existence of advocates on these issues that come from the communities where the problems are arising will add to the legitimacy of advocacy on these matters.

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