With my late husband, Justin Dart, I had the honor to participate in and witness the efforts to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Justin and I met people with disabilities across the country fighting for Disability Rights, including great leaders like the late Marca Bristo. Marca worked closely with Justin to pass the ADA. She was a tireless advocate who recognized that every moment presented opportunities to advance disability rights. Nowhere was this more evident than in a story the New York Times shared as part of her obituary.
…in the days before her death, Ms. Bristo received a phone call from Ms. Pelosi. According to her husband, the Speaker wished her well and said “I wish there was something I could do,” to which Ms. Bristo quickly replied: “You can. Move the Disability Integration Act to committee and to a floor vote.”
When the Speaker Nancy Pelosi called her, as she was facing death Marca had every right to think of herself and her family, but instead she used the moment to push The Disability Integration Act of 2019 (DIA) forward. She as always fought for the rights of all disabled people and specifically those who remain locked away in institutions and denied access to our society.
Marca understood that the ADA was a first step, and that without adequate accessible and affordable housing, as well as the right to access services and supports outside of institutions, the integration of people with disabilities in society would remain an unfulfilled promise. For Marca and others in the disability community, the last 29 years has been focused on securing this most basic right to live in freedom.
Even with all of that work, today millions of people with disabilities remain locked away in institutions where they are denied their freedom and face abuse and neglect. In these institutions, they may be “punished” by having their mobility devices taken away, sexually assaulted, or die while we talk about quality of care, instead of recognizing the underlying injustice that forced them into these facilities.
As a nation we must do better and The Disability Integration Act of 2019 allows us this opportunity When passed, it will guarantee the right of elderly and disabled people to live in the community so that states or managed care companies can no longer force them into unwanted institutionalization. DIA would ensure that no one is considered “too disabled” to live the American Dream.
Introduced on the 90th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., this bipartisan, bicameral civil rights legislation now has 237 cosponsors in the House, but remains locked down in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Marca urged Speaker Pelosi to move DIA through committe and to a floor vote, because she knew that the Speaker holds the power to make that happen.
Speaker Pelosi has exhibited that power to advance bills that ensure the promise of the American Dream through multiple pieces of legislation this year. I applaud the Speaker’s work, and implore her to do the same for people with disabilities. I need Speaker Pelosi to be as fierce a leader for the Disability Community as Marca Bristo was until her final days.
Marca’s life was the embodiment of my husband’s advice to the Disability Community. He called on everyone to “Lead On!” Speaker Pelosi can do this as well by using her power and honoring Marca’s request to pass the Disability Integration Act of 2019.
By – Yoshiko Dart – October 2019
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