NCIL News & Happenings: August 30, 2023

  • Advocacy, Advocacy, & Advocacy: Celebrating the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Spotlight on NCIL’s Board President Kent Crenshaw
  • Innovation at NCIL: Member Praise for NCIL’s New Member Center
  • Expanded Benefits for Organizations
  • More Resources to Help Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Rehab Act
  • What Health Questions Do You Want Answered?

Advocacy, Advocacy, & Advocacy: Celebrating the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

“Revolutions begin when people who are defined as problems gain the power to redefine the problem”. – John McKnight

The triple advocacy quote in the headline from the late Ed Roberts, known as the Father of Independent Living, was in reply to someone asking him the three most important priorities of the Centers for Independent Living. He said simply, “Advocacy, advocacy, and advocacy.” Of course, CILs do much more than advocacy and all the services are essential for many individuals with disabilities who want to live the life of their choosing. But what Ed and the other pioneers of the Independent Living Movement knew was the barriers in society had to be removed before most services could be successful. Rehabilitation services had been available for decades, but millions of people were still unable to obtain an adequate education, employment of any kind, a fulfilling social life, or a place at hardly any table in the community. And millions were warehoused and isolated in institutions and other group living situations.

In this 50th anniversary year of the Rehab Act, it is especially poignant that Judy Heumann recently passed away, given the shared advocacy role that she and Ed had with the passage of the Act. The Act has been a cornerstone of the civil rights that have been available to people with disabilities since 1973, but it was not a slam dunk to get the law enacted.

As mentioned in the previous NCIL News & Happenings, Section 504 of the Act was the first federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Up to that point in the history of public policy and human services in this country, people with disabilities were viewed as a problem to be fixed. It was the disability that had to be rehabilitated, cured, or hidden away. The Rehab Act and especially Section 504 changed that landscape forever. Activists were finally able to make their voices heard when they declared – LOUDLY – that it was the inaccessible environment, jobs, buses, systems, education, medical care, and programs that were the problem, not their disabilities.

Once passed by Congress, President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill twice. Judy Heumann and Disabled in Action associates in Manhattan staged a protest that literally brought New York City to a halt and got the attention of the mainstream media. Protests all around the country added to the momentum that was growing everywhere and Nixon finally signed the Act into law. But the biggest battle was yet to come. Section 504 needed regulations, which included some much-needed definitions, enforcement timelines, and an administrative enforcement mechanism, before the law could be enforced.

Ed, Judy, the late Kitty Cone, and other activists went up against a formidable opponent to get those regulations issued – the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW), which was the lead agency. Most IL advocates know the story about the 504 Sit-in at the HEW offices in San Francisco. It made headlines and got the attention of policymakers. It lasted for 28 days with an exhausted, sleep deprived band of activists not willing to give up. Fortunately, other advocacy groups such as the Black Panthers, the Butterfly Brigade, and an anti-gay violence group brought in food along with other materials to assist the protesters.

Although the Act was passed in September of 1973, it was not until 1977 that regulations were signed, after four years of persistent, laser-focused advocacy through sit-ins, rallies, media blitzes, and meetings with powerful policymakers. Kitty Cone gives a fascinating first-person account of those events, in Short History of the 504 Sit in (published by DREDF). She writes not just about the sit-in in San Francisco, but many of the other actions that took place during those four years. There were contradictory court rulings that were handed down in the absence of defining regulations. Other federal agencies needed guidelines for developing their own regulations. Federally funded institutions and other entities that were covered by 504 had time to gather steam in their opposition to the law. Everyone who had a stake in 504 was waiting.

The 2020 award-winning documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution also chronicles some of the advocacy events during those four years. Available on Netflix, this film is a must-see for all IL advocates, especially during this 50th anniversary year. The Rehab Act and Sec. 504 story was full of drama, anticipation, and consequences. It’s a story that every independent living advocate should know because it was a pivotal moment in disability history when people with disabilities found our voice and our power and changed the definition of the “problem.”

Spotlight on NCIL’s Board President Kent Crenshaw

Kent Crenshaw is an African American male sitting in a wheelchair. Standing alongside is his young grandson, Kent Jr. The two are wearing matching peach-colored shirts.

Kent Crenshaw is an African American male sitting in a wheelchair. Standing alongside is his young grandson, Kent Jr. The two are wearing matching peach-colored shirts.

Kent Crenshaw has served as NCIL’s President for the past two years. He has been the Executive Director of Independent Rights & Resources (formally Montgomery Center for Independent Living) in Montgomery, Alabama for over 10 years.

This position has given Kent the opportunity to continually empower people with disabilities to live independently. He received his undergraduate degree from Auburn University of Montgomery in Criminal Justice. While attending AUM, he was a scholarship member of the Men’s Basketball Team. His jersey was later retired in recognition of his outstanding career. According to Kent, he was “the best basketball player ever to come through AUM.” After graduating from AUM he worked for the City of Montgomery and the Montgomery Therapeutic Recreation Center. Later, he became a Program Director for the Montgomery Housing Authority after school tutoring program. In 2009, Kent received his master’s degree from Auburn University in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling.

Kent has been a longtime advocate for people with disabilities at the municipal, state, and national levels. He says that being a member of NCIL allows his agency to be active on a national level regarding issues such as funding for the Centers for Independent Living and other matters that affect people with disabilities. “Historically, our voices and plights couldn’t be heard beyond the communities we serve,” Kent said when asked why membership in NCIL matters to him. “Since being the President of NCIL, our unified voices have continued to amplify and expand. The continuous achievements we have come to celebrate are a vivid reminder of how NCIL has assisted our objectives for those with disabilities nationwide.” We applaud Kent’s service and thank him for his wise, balanced leadership during a time of many transitions at NCIL.

Innovation at NCIL: Member Praise for NCIL’s New Member Center

There’s something else that’s creating a buzz among NCIL’s membership – NCIL’s new Member Center. Almost as soon as Phase I of the platform was operating and had been announced a few weeks ago, we began to hear from members that they like the platform and find it easy to use. That’s the kind of response staff were hoping for as membership management packages were researched carefully over a year’s time. We wanted to make sure we selected the right one.

We had several goals:  make it easier to apply for membership, enable members to maintain their own profile in the member directory so they can more easily network with each other, quickly sign up to serve on committees, automate various tasks such as renewal notices, make it easier to register for the conference, and streamline data entry for staff. We’re excited to announce that the platform is going to accomplish all of those things. Although all NCIL staff had input into finding the right package and getting it up and running, we want to give a special shout out to Eleanor Canter – Communications Coordinator, Sylena Campbell – Administrative Coordinator, and Denise Law – Member Service Coordinator for all their hard work.

“As NCIL continues to innovate with its technologies and procedures, we will be able to better serve and engage our members,” said NCIL’s Executive Director Theo Braddy. “The membership is the lifeblood of NCIL and modernizing the way we work is one of the most important ways we can support members.”

Expanded Benefits for Organizations

With our new membership structure for organizations, member organizations can sign up any / all staff as NCIL Associate Members. This new member type includes free access to the membership platform, the ability to serve on NCIL committees, and discounted conference registration. Read more about how to access these benefits for your organization. Associate Members will be added to NCIL’s email distribution lists, receive discounted conference registration, and have the ability to serve on NCIL committees.

If your organization’s membership is current, any staff who do not hold a current individual membership can become an Associate Member by using the Membership Application for Individuals. They must select the Member Organization Associate option and then select their member organization from the list. They can then select a username (email address) and password. Please note: the system does not allow duplicate email addresses.

If you experience any accessibility issues, please contact [email protected] with a detailed description and we will get them fixed as quickly as possible. Thank you in advance for providing input on your user experience.

More Resources to Help Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Rehab Act

DREDF’s 504 Sit-in 20th Anniversary web page has several resources available that advocates may find useful to support local commemorative activities during this 50th anniversary year. They include an 18 minute award-winning documentary video, a one-hour audio documentary, a commemorative book, several first-person historical accounts, and archived photos.

What Health Questions Do You Want Answered?

We all have unique health stories. Hear from Karl Cooper, Executive Director of the American Association on Health & Disability (AAHD), as he shares his health story and why he joined the All of Us Research Program in this testimonial video.

We all have health questions we want answered. There are many people across the disability community helping to answer these questions by participating in All of Us. What health researchers discovered might help us understand what contributes to our health. What are your #Reasons4Research?

You’re invited to share your health questions and personal story in a testimonial video with the All of Us Research program. Reach out to Michelle Sayles at [email protected] to learn more about sharing your thoughts on the importance of health research.