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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Past NCIL Policy Fellow Elizabeth Leef Reflects on New Progress for Accessible Medical Equipment

Editor’s Note: For background information on this topic, please see the article “Board Advisory Committee Issues Report on Medical Diagnostic Equipment”. NCIL would like to thank NCIL Vice President Mark Derry and June Isaacson Kailes for their work with the Editorial Committee on this project.

By Elizabeth Leef

Elizabeth Leef2005 was my first year in Washington DC as an intern for Senator Harkin. While there, I encountered some pretty blatant barriers in acquiring health care. As an intern, I had access to legislative staff and one person in particular listened to me complain about doctor’s offices not being wheelchair accessible. This was a long conversation, which eventually led to the discovery of lots of existing research, the development of legislative language, and the introduction of Senator Harkin’s Health and Wellness Bill for people with disabilities.

A few months later, when I was doing a fellowship at NCIL, I talked to the same staff person and rekindled the discussion. He suggested that it would be helpful to collect consumer stories to convince others to co-sponsor the legislation, which required the U.S. Access Board to develop standards for accessible medical exam equipment.

Through the power of the Independent Living Movement and the Weekly Advocacy Monitor (WAM), in only two weeks NCIL collected over 45 heart-felt stories from people with disabilities, family members, and caregivers describing horror stories of trying to access exam tables, weight scales, dental chairs, or being denied services all together. The Senator was able to use these stories to get additional support for the legislation, which was eventually included in the Affordable Care Act.

Senator Harkin, our community’s champion, has done it once again and it was a silent victory. He truly believes people with disabilities should not be ignored and passed over. I feel so fortunate to be part of this historic change that will alter the way people with disabilities access healthcare. It is our civil right to have the same quality healthcare everyone else gets, so let us celebrate that legislation was passed, rules and regulations are being made, and one day everyone will be able to safely and readily access healthcare.

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