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Disability Capitol Action Day: A History

Disability Capitol Action Day is an annual event coordinated by The Disability Action Coalition as an opportunity for people of cross disabilities and their allies to come together in solidarity for learning, resources, unity and to share the current issues that affect their daily lives in California.

Below is a joint interview with Teresa Favuzzi, Executive Director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC), and Christina Mills, Deputy Director of CFILC, two individuals who have been involved with Disability Capitol Action Day for many years.

For people unfamiliar with Disability Capitol Action Day (DCAD), how would you describe it?

I’ve been involved in the disability community most of my life and I have had the opportunity to organize, attend and participate in a variety of different types of disability community activities; sports, conferences, meetings, parades, and so on. There are few events that keep me as charged up as the annual Disability Capitol Action Day at the State Capitol does. It’s the one time during the year that people with all types of disabilities, ages and cultural backgrounds come to Sacramento to advocate for change. In my opinion, there is nothing more powerful than seeing hundreds of people with disabilities in one place and one time year after year because they believe in the cause and know that disability social justice doesn’t happen overnight. Disabled youth get to engage with disabled role models, learn about advocacy issues impacting our daily lives and get involved. Adults with disabilities have an opportunity to share their stories, hangout with their likeminded peers and take part in educating their legislators on a particular issue. Most people who attend take a stroll through the disability resource fair on the west lawn, listens to speakers and policy makers during the educational rally and then go into the State Capitol for a visit with their legislator.

A large number of people sitting in folding chairs under a tent.

To the best of your knowledge, how did this day come about? Who came up with the idea and what year was the first DCAD?

The first DCAD was 12 years ago. The idea came about in a conversation between Teresa Favuzzi the statewide community organizer for CFILC and Virginia Knowlton an attorney and public policy director at DRC. We were discussing how DRC had a small lobby day at the Capitol-a hand full of people, and CFILC just held a lobby day [with the] ILCs to rally with the California Medical Association to increase provider rates.

We talked about how we didn’t know what the other was doing and that we should be working together. And, we should be thinking bigger and getting people from all over the state across all types of disabilities and ethnicities and languages to have a multicultural disability Capitol action day.

Teresa Favuzzi wrote for a grant to the California endowment and it got funded…and that is how it all began.

We wanted a day at the Capitol right after the May budget revision to tell policy makers how the budget decisions would affect our community.

The capitol building in the background, Sacramento, California. In the foreground on a green grassy lawn are red tents throughout the lawn.

What is necessary in organizing a massive advocacy event such as Disability Capitol Action Day? What are the elements that make it a success?

Having a coalition of organization that are like minded, all together working to organize this without an hidden agendas for the California disability community is what really makes it happen. Over the years the coalition structure has evolved. In fact, this past year, 11 years after the original event, we finally realized that we needed bylaws. Our coalition now includes officer positions and has a structure that is in writing. The coalition behind the event is made up of organizations that are working for or on behalf of people with disabilities and topics that the disability community prioritizes. The coalition meets once a month most of the year, but meets more often as the event date gets closer. We also have workgroups. Workgroups meet in between coalition meetings and are focused on different parts of the event. We have an educational rally, resource fair, public policy, media and outreach, fundraising and logistics workgroup. Each has a very important role to play in the coalition.

Fundraising for the event is primarily the organizers responsibility and huge component to putting the event on from one year to the next. Christina Mills has organized 7 out of 12 of the Disability Capitol Action Day events and can tell you all kinds of stories of what it takes to raise a minimum of $30,000 a year to host DCAD. $30,000 to host an event may sound steep to some. However, when you’re talking about organizing an event for the disability community, making it physically and programmatically accessible, plus offering simultaneous Spanish and Chinese translation for our allies in other communities and renting the chairs, tents, tables, stage, sound system and purchasing lunch for 1,000 people the funds add up quickly. Since the beginning the coalition has also strived to raise funds to mobilize community members that otherwise would not be able to attend. Most years we have been able to award around $10,000 in transportation scholarships and this year is no exception.

Disability Capitol Action Day is a disability resource and lobby day for our community. There are few funders who can fund something like this. That’s why grant writing for the event isn’t usually an option. We got lucky the first year when the California Endowment funded us, but since then we’ve only seen 2 – 3 other small grants support our effort. Instead we depend on business and organization sponsors and individual donors.

Laura Hershey, a white woman in a wheelchair with a mouthstick and nasal mask in a wheelchair. She is wearing a white sundress with flowers. At her left is her personal assistant standing by her side, with her hand on the wheelchair.
Writer, poet and activist Laura Hershey [in the wheelchair] and her personal assistant [left] at DCAD 2007. For more on Laura Hershey: http://www.laurahershey.com
Describe some successful outcomes the resulted from activism during Disability Capitol Action Day that you are aware of.

It’s rare to see hundreds of people with disabilities in one place at one time. Disability Capitol Action Day is one of our nation’s largest most diverse disability events. People come from all over the state and represent a wide range of cultural groups, age and ethnic communities, which is a very important part of the event. The disability community includes everyone! You can become disabled at anytime and wind up one of us. You don’t have that opportunity in many other communities. When we come together on DCAD it’s powerful. With all of our unique backgrounds and experience we visit our legislators for the same reason…equality! We educate and advocate to live independently in the community, to make programs and services more effective and to remind the people that we elect that we have a voice and that our vote matters.

We’ve had many wins over the years. We’ve prevented state budget cuts to programs and services that we depend on from being completely abolished. We’ve been able to keep family members as paid IHSS providers and we’ve been able to keep many bills that could have stripped us from our independence in dignity from passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

As the 25th anniversary of the ADA approaches this July, what are your hopes for this year’s Disability Action Day?

The anniversary of the ADA marks a significant milestone for the disability community, but yet we are constantly advocating to keep what rights we have intact. This year we have seen several access bills introduced by members of the legislature. Most of the bills are intended to limit the rights of our community. I’m sure other minority communities feel the same way when I say; I’m tired of feeling like a second-class citizen and not being treated with respect and equality. The ADA was intended to open doors and give people with disabilities opportunities and yet we still have the largest population of unemployed people in this country and are fighting for basic access needs on a daily basis.

Continuing to foster and build what has become a strong youth with disabilities community and presence is critical. It’s the youth today that are going to be responsible for what happens in the future and where we are come the 50th anniversary of the ADA. The fact that YO! Disabled and Proud is organizing and hosting ADA Forums at DCAD and around the state this summer speaks volumes to the fact that youth care about civil rights and want to work towards furthering the ADA.

What do you see in the future for Disability Capitol Action Day? How can it be improved? Who else needs to join this effort?

There will always be a need for Disability Capitol Action Day and as long as the community keeps coming and telling us that they want it we will continue to work hard and raise the funds necessary to make it happen.

Jack Campbell, a white man in a wheelchair wearing khakis and a black shirt [left], with Tom Olin photographer and historian of the disability rights movement, a white man with a beard and glasses holding a camera and kneeling down [center] and Marilyn Golden, a white woman in a wheelchair with long brown hair of DREDF [right] at DCAD 2007.
Jack Campbell, former Systems Change Advocate from ILR Concord [left], Tom Olin, a photojournalist covering the disability rights movement [center] and Marilyn Golden of DREDF [right] at DCAD 2007.
Please share any other thoughts or memories about Disability Capitol Action Day in terms of its historical significance.

I have two favorite Disability Capitol Action Day years…the first was when we brought one of the plaintiff’s, Lois Curtis, from the Olmstead case out for the 10th anniversary of the Olmstead Decision and my second was when we had the ADA Bus Tour out as a part of the ADA Amendments Act campaign. Lois was awesome! I had the privilege of picking Lois and her attendant up from the airport and touring them around Sacramento for 72 hours. I’ll never forget it! Lois spoke to the crowd about her journey to live independently and legislators who support the Olmstead decision came out of the Capitol Building to meet the Lois Curtis. Lois is a person of color and has an Intellectual/Developmental Disability. She’s a role model for many. Having her at DCAD was so much fun!

 

Lois Curis, an African American woman, on stage. She is wearing a white t-shirt and behind her is a large flag of the United States. An Asian American man is standing next to her with a microphone
2009 DCAD. Marty Omoto [left] and Lois Curis [right], one of the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case known as Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. To learn more about Lois and the Olmstead decision: http://www.atlantalegalaid.org/impact.htm

When the ADA Bus came to Sacramento one of our community’s historians, Tom Olin, came with it. The bus drew thousands of people to the Capitol and the ADA Amendments Act got the attention it deserved. The tour included a history exhibit of the ADA. The community loved it!

A large bus that says, "The Road to Freedom"
The ADA Legacy Bus Tour: a traveling exhibit designed to raise awareness and build excitement about ADA25 – the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Exhibit posters that read: The Road to Freedom with photos from the disability rights movement.
To learn more about the ADA Legacy Tour: http://www.adalegacy.com/ada25/ada-legacy-tour

If you live in California, be sure to check out this year’s Disability Capitol Action Day, May 20, 2015, 9-3 pm, Sacramento, California: https://disabilityactioncoalition.org/event/event-info.php

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