Alice Wong, Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project, had a chance to interview her friend Janni Lehrer-Stein on September 25, 2014 at StoryCorps San Francisco.
This is the second and final post. The following are approximate excerpts from their conversation.
On the role of litigation and advocacy
Alice: Sometimes it’s unfortunate that to really force people or the state or agencies to change, that lawsuits are often the drivers for this. So what are your thoughts in terms of relationship between advocacy and using the law?
Janni: Unfortunately where we stand right now, legislation is a very long drawn out and uncertain process. Litigation has some of those same characteristics. You never know which way a jury trial is going to go but litigation has certainly proved to have some efficacy on access issues for Americans with disabilities. I still am very optimistic and think that advocacy and collaboration between government, private sector, nonprofits and stakeholders is the way that we can really make effective change and in the shortest period of time, and I regret when it comes to litigation to get an issue resolved.
On serving on the National Council on Disability
Alice: And speaking of advocacy and working with stakeholders, you and I are both Presidential appointees on the National Council on Disability and I feel like I was really lucky when I was appointed about a year and a half ago, that I was paired with you as my mentor/buddy. And I was, delighted actually that we’re both from San Francisco so we could actually meet in person…And I remember how we immediately gravitated toward similar issues and similar ways of approaching people and advocacy. I mean, one of the topics that we immediately found passions with for social media and accessibility. So tell me a little bit about your tenure as a council member…
Janni: I am so privileged that I actually have just entered my second term as a member of the National Council on Disability. I was appointed by President Obama in May of 2011, confirmed by the Senate at the end of that month and I very quickly became engaged to many of the issues that you and I have had the opportunity to really dive into with great intensity. You know, the great thing about the NCD is that it is so completely diverse. We are diverse geographically, by disability, by philosophy, and expertise. And so when we get together as a group of 15 it may be difficult for us to come to a point of agreement on any particular point, but…the wonderful thing about the NCD is that we do bring all these different perspectives to the table… and I am just so delighted and privileged to be a part of this group.
On current strides in disability rights with the Obama administration
Alice: You’ve obviously are really in tune to politics and the change and you and I are ardent Democrats and Obama supporters. You’ve seen different administrations come and go. What has been kinda the changes in terms of the way administrations have treated or thought about disability policies or programs and what have you seen in terms of the ups and downs and reflecting on where we are now with the Obama administration and what they’ve done in terms of advocating for people with disabilities?
Janni: The Obama administration has really made tremendous strides and has been incredibly committed to insuring that Americans with disabilities have every opportunity for full inclusion and participation. Obama has been responsible for major pieces of legislation being passed that benefit Americans with disabilities specifically. The 21st Century Television and Communications Accessibility Act is just one example. He has been instrumental in ensuring that employment opportunities are available to Americans with disabilities, in his endorsement and assistance in the passage of Section 503, which is a law that encourages all federal contractors to have 7% of the workforce as people with disabilities and the list truly goes on and on. I’m so excited by 2019 we will have tactile currency available for the first time in this country. And the benefits of this administration are truly to be applauded and I hope that it becomes part of the lasting known legacy for the Obama administration and certainly for the administrations to come.
Alice: Thank you so much for talking to me today, Janni. I’m going to treasure it.
Janni: What a treat.
Janice ‘Janni’ Lehrer-Stein is a member of the Board of Directors of Medical Research Charities — a national federation of research focused non-profits, which solicits and directs employee donations to the Combined Federal and State Campaigns. She is a National Trustee of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and was Chair of the 2010 and 2011 Dining in the Dark dinner in San Francisco, which increased awareness about people with blindness and low vision. A board member of Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit law firm working to improve access and secure the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, Lehrer-Stein holds a Juris Doctor degree from University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1982 and is legally blind. In her personal capacity she is involved with the DNC and Ready for Hillary!
Alice Wong, is a Staff Research Associate, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF. Alice works on various research projects for the Community Living Policy Center, a Rehabilitation Research and Training Center funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Administration for Community Living. She is an author of online curricula for home care providers and caregivers for Elsevier’s College of Personal Assistance and Caregiving. Currently, she is the Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project: A Community Partnership with StoryCorps and an advisory board member of APIDC, Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California. Alice is also a Presidential appointee to the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policy.