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Lifetime Achievement Award: U.S. Consultant James Langevin

A Pioneer Rolls Off the Hill

President Biden standing next to Rep Langevin seated in powerchair
President Joe Biden congratulates Langevin on a distinguished profession.

When the folks of Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District elected James Langevin in 2001, they made him the primary energy wheelchair consumer and the primary quadriplegic within the historical past of the U.S. Home of Representatives. For the previous twenty years he has been a constant, efficient and outspoken voice for the incapacity neighborhood.

He was the Excellent Congressional Management Award recipient at United Spinal Affiliation’s inaugural Roll on Capitol Hill in 2012. And this previous 12 months, he obtained United Spinal’s Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award. NEW MOBILITY Editor-in-Chief Ian Ruder sat down with Congressman Langevin as he ready to retire on the finish of his time period, to debate his exceptional profession and the highway forward.

NEW MOBILITY: Congratulations on 21 years of service as a congressman. As a fellow quadriplegic who understands the added problems and obstacles that include a spinal wire damage, I’ve to ask, what has been the key to doing such a aggravating and demanding job for thus lengthy?

Rep. Langevin: Only for the file, it’s 22 years, however who’s counting? (Laughs) Residing with a incapacity, particularly being a quadriplegic, isn’t with out vital challenges, as I’m positive you possibly can properly respect. I actually haven’t given it a lot thought by way of how I’ve carried out it. I had this purpose in thoughts — I wished to run for Congress and serve my neighborhood and be the consultant who was the voice and the vote for the folks of the 2nd Congressional District of Rhode Island — and I by no means let something get in my approach. I’ve at all times had a optimistic angle and mentioned, ‘I’ll determine it out as we go.’ It hasn’t been with out hiccups. There have been instances it’s been fairly difficult being a wheelchair consumer and serving in Congress, however with lots of assist and lots of lodging, I made it.

Old B&W young Langevin sitting at desk
A younger Langevin when he was a state consultant.

NM: As the primary quad in Congress, and possibly essentially the most seen energy wheelchair consumer in American politics, you’ve been the face of incapacity for lots of people. How do you deal with that accountability? And what recommendation would you give to others who’re attempting to be leaders and coping with the identical points?

RL: I’ve to say that I’ve by no means made incapacity the only real focus of who I’m or what I do. On the identical time, I’ve at all times acknowledged the accountability I’ve had at varied ranges of presidency the place I’ve served to be a voice for many who are dealing with related challenges from the incapacity neighborhood. Having the expertise of residing with a incapacity has made me a greater policymaker within the space of incapacity coverage. I embrace my incapacity as a part of my id, however I’ve by no means let it solely outline who I’m or what I do. That’s the recommendation I might give to anybody that has a incapacity — you aren’t outlined by your incapacity. You will have pursuits and hobbies, and passions, similar to anyone else. I’ve at all times tried to embrace mine, and I encourage others to embrace theirs and, every time there’s alternative, to depart the ladder down — or the ramp down, if you’ll — and permit different folks to develop, discover their path to success and notice their objectives and desires. I’ve at all times felt I’ve an obligation to try this, and I’ve at all times tried to encourage others to do the identical.

NM: Of all of the conversations and instructing moments about incapacity you’ve had with colleagues and elected leaders, is there one interplay or anecdote that stands out?

RL: After we have been preventing for the rights of LGBT folks, I mentioned I reside with a incapacity and I do know what discrimination seems like. I encounter it nearly every day, and I don’t like the way it makes me really feel. I don’t need anybody else to really feel that very same approach. I translated my expertise into how discrimination may influence others that had nothing to do with incapacity. It’s nonetheless discrimination nonetheless, and we have to converse out towards it and stamp it out wherever potential.

NM: Since 2001, you’ve sponsored over 300 payments and co-sponsored nearly 4,000, together with numerous payments centered on incapacity. What piece of disability-related laws that you simply’ve been concerned with are you most pleased with? What piece do you are feeling has had the largest influence?

RL: Probably the most essential ones is the Lifespan Respite Care Act. I created The Lifespan Respite Care Program again in 2006, with a Republican colleague of mine. Respite care gives short-term aid for household caregivers, which helps them to proceed caring for his or her family members. If the caregiver can’t maintain their very own well being wants — for instance, attending to the dentist or the physician or doing the purchasing for the household — they get burnt out and so they can’t do the opposite issues that they want for themselves or the household, and everybody suffers, particularly the one which wants the care. We wished to supply a respite care program, and it’s been very profitable. The estimated annual financial worth of uncompensated household caregiving is roughly $500 billion, in the event you needed to put a greenback determine to it. Supporting household caregivers helps to maintain general well being care spending down. I’m very pleased with the very fact I handed a invoice to reauthorize this system not too long ago in 2020.

So far as the payments which have had the largest influence, I might say the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which strengthened the ADA after it had been weakened by the courts by way of a number of controversial rulings. And the Inexpensive Care Act that we handed in 2010, as a result of it expanded insurance coverage protection for folks with disabilities and eradicated discrimination primarily based on preexisting circumstances. It prohibited the insurance coverage corporations from charging greater premiums due to a incapacity and it additionally improved entry to long-term care help companies.

NM: You talked about the ADA and ADA Amendments Act; 32 years after the ADA was signed into legislation, what’s your fast tackle the place we’re with ADA?

man in powerchair with a plate of food on his lap. White dog sitting next to him begging.
Is Franklin allowed on Langevin’s new iBot? Perhaps not.

RL: The ADA is a monumental legislation. It opened up so many doorways for folks with disabilities, myself included. In truth, I’m assured that I might not be right here as a member of Congress if it weren’t for the ADA. Nonetheless, the ADA isn’t an end-all resolution. It’s not only one and carried out. We will’t say we’ve accomplished our work. We nonetheless have to construct on its success and there’s a lot extra that we’ve got to do to take accessibility to all points of our society so that individuals can actually reside the American dream and notice the promise of the Olmstead resolution: to have the ability to reside in our communities independently.

NM: Is there one disability-related invoice that you simply fought for or sponsored that you simply didn’t go that you simply surprise what may need been had it handed into legislation?

RL: The Air Provider Entry Amendments Act is the one which involves thoughts. I’ve launched it (each session) because the a hundred and fifteenth Congress. We haven’t made sufficient progress towards making air journey accessible but. I nonetheless have my gripes about airline journey — they may and will do extra. However we’ve had some successes with elements of the invoice. By the use of instance, in 2018, we secured language within the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Invoice to create an Airline Passengers With Disabilities Invoice of Rights, which clearly spells out the elemental rights of vacationers underneath the Air Provider Entry Act. This Invoice of Rights was posted on the DOT web site earlier this 12 months, and I’m happy about that. However there’s a lot extra that we have to do to make air journey accessible. The remaining elements of my invoice are centered on updating accessibility requirements and holding airways accountable for violating the rights of vacationers with disabilities. The struggle isn’t over. I’m assured that my colleagues will decide up the mantle and robust committee advocacy will finally get this carried out.

NM: While you took workplace again in 2001, you based the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus in hopes of elevating Congress’ consciousness concerning the challenges dealing with Individuals with disabilities. How would you price that consciousness at present and the progress we (the incapacity neighborhood) have made during the last twenty years?

RL: Congress was conscious of incapacity lengthy earlier than I arrived in Washington, however the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus helps to maneuver the ball additional ahead. It has served as a discussion board for training and consciousness and helped forge relationships between members of Congress on either side of the aisle to search out frequent floor on incapacity points. I consider Congress’ consciousness of incapacity points is significantly better now than after I arrived in Washington 22 years in the past. However I credit score the vast majority of that progress to the devoted and tireless advocacy of the incapacity neighborhood. They have been those that actually pushed onerous to go the ADA to start with, and so they proceed that advocacy. It’s had a profound influence in numerous methods. We nonetheless have rather more work to do to make sure that all folks with disabilities have entry to the sources and help they should reside unbiased lives within the communities, to enter the workforce and take part absolutely in society. Our work isn’t but carried out.

NM: Your previous iBot was an iconic presence rolling across the Capitol, and you latterly acquired one of many slick new fashions. What’s it going to take to get Medicare and insurers to acknowledge the advantages of advanced rehab know-how and begin overlaying invaluable gear just like the iBot?

RL: Medicare and different insurance coverage insurance policies haven’t stored tempo with the thrilling developments in Complicated Rehabilitation Expertise, and so they’re going to want to catch up. To get there, it’s going to take persistent advocacy from the incapacity neighborhood and lawmakers. That’s why I’ve been working with United Spinal and different members of the ITEM Coalition to assist advance by way of the requests for Medicare to cowl energy seat elevation, and energy standing programs for energy wheelchair customers. And I consider that when we succeed with that effort, we’ve got to push it farther. We have to preserve pushing till Medicare, Medicaid and different insurance coverage corporations cowl all types of Complicated Rehabilitation Expertise in order that the folks with disabilities can reside extra fulfilling and unbiased lives of their communities. Expertise is game-changing — when you possibly can afford it and use it. Now we have to make it possible for it’s inexpensive and coated.

NM: There was a 21-year interval after you have been paralyzed earlier than you joined Congress, and now you’ve served in Congress for 22 years. What are your plans for the following 20 years? What are you most trying ahead to?

RL: I’m nonetheless engaged on what my subsequent chapter can be. Proper now, the plan is to come back dwelling and take my time to decompress a bit bit. I’ll be pursuing a task in academia and there’ll be different issues that I’ll be concerned with. I need to do one thing that’s significant and difficult. I’ll be engaged on figuring out what these issues can be over the course of the following a number of months. Being a member of Congress has been all-consuming — it may be a dizzying tempo generally. I’m so lucky to have such an incredible employees, and I’m going to overlook having them round me and dealing with me each day.

man in powerchair smiling at camera with white dog in his lap

NM: What recommendation do you have got for fellow wheelchair customers who’re involved in operating for workplace?

RL: Simply do it. Begin by being concerned in your neighborhood, pursuing issues that you’ve a ardour for and curiosity in. That’s what I did, I developed an curiosity in authorities politics. I began that approach and one factor led to a different. It’s essential to function a task mannequin wherever potential and open up doorways of alternatives and break down obstacles for others with disabilities in order that they, too, can pave their very own technique to success and notice their very own objectives and desires.



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