Best Tool for Contacting Legislators

Posted on 1 September 2007. Filed under: ADA Restoration Act of 2007, Advocacy |

With Congress coming back to session after the Labor Day weekend, more bloggers have been urging their readers to urge their legislators to support the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 (HR 3195, S 1881). I’ve blogged about two other useful tools you can use for doing that, one from Easter Seals and the other from the Epilepsy Foundation. Now I’ve found a third site — and this is, so far, my favorite of the lot.

Go over to TheUnderRepresented blog. This post, like several others, references the US Chamber of Commerce’s recent letter opposing the ADA Restoration Act. (See my earlier blog post on that distressing subject, entitled “Calling All Lawyers: Defending Against the US Chamber of Commerce.) Then the UnderRepresented blog provides a link that takes you to a form letter to your two Senators, and another link that takes you to a form letter to your Congressional Representative. (WARNING: In order to avoid future unwanted email, be sure to UNcheck the box that asks to be put on their action alert list. Unless, of course, you do want those action alerts.)

The reasons why I like this tool for contacting your legislators the best of the three that I’ve now tried out:

1. It allows for one email to go to your Senators and a separate email to go to your Rep. A little more work for you, true. But it’s more effective that way.

First of all, separate letters allows you to refer to the bill correctly for each audience. The Senate version of the ADA Restoration Act is numbered S. 1881, and should be referred to as such when writing your senator. The House version is numbered HR 3195 and should be referred to as such when contacting your house represenative.

Second of all, 181 Congressional represenatives have already agreed to co-sponsor the bill. However, only three Senators are currently the sponsor (Sen Harkins of Iowa–of course) or co-sponsors (Kennedy of Mass, and Arlen of PA). So many of you will be in the position of wanting to thank your congressional represenatives for the action they’ve already taken while urging your senators to follow suit. Which cannot be handled well with a single letter to all three.

The Easter Seals letter pretty much forces you into a single uniform letter to all three, whether or not they’ve co-sponsored the bill. The Epilepsy Foundation letter is targeted better, but only goes to your Senators–not your congressional represenative. This web site, however, apparently matches up your legislator against the list of co-sponosors for you and identifies on your behalf whether they need to be “thanked” (as is the case with my Rep) or just politely urged to co-sponsor (as is the case with my Senators).

2. It is easy to edit the full text of your letter to your legislators. That means you can dramatically boost the impact of your letter by personalizing it. Meaning, you can delete some of the text (if needed) and add some of your own. The Epilepsy Foundation letter shares this feature. However, the Easter Seals letter is more limited in this fashion–it only allows you to add text, not to delete text.

3. I like that the first link leads to a page with background about the bill (for people who need reminding, or an initial grounding); then you follow the next link (enter your zip code so they can identify your legislators for you) to compose the message itself.

4. I like that the instructions remind readers of how important it is to PERSONALIZE YOUR MESSAGE. Because legislators will pay much more attention that way.

5. And I like that it gives you more options to boost the power of your email even further. Personally I skipped over the third step in the instructions — which allows you to upload an optional photo and short bio of yourself, be aware that these would be public — but I did do step four, in which additional details about yourself are provided to the legislators. If you hate unsolicited emails, then uncheck the box that asks to be put on their action alert list. You’ll have to do this TWICE–once when you email your senators, then again when you email your represenatives. URRGGH! Or of course leave the check in place if you DO want to be alerted to other things you can do to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

In case you’re interested, here’s the letter that went to my Senators from the UnderRepresented blog site:

I am writing to urge you to become a co-sponsor of S. 1881 – the ADA Restoration Act.

This bill is necessary to strengthen the ADA and its ability to give people with disabilities full legal protection against acts of discrimination. As a deaf person married to a person with epilepsy, I consider this bill to be the most important piece of legislation that I know of on the table this year.

Particularly in the area of employment, the majority of people with disabilities experiencing discrimination have not received proper justice or compensation through the judicial system. And, no, it’s not because there have been so many frivolous suits. This is largely because the Courts have chosen to interpret the ADA’s definition of disability as narrowly as possible–so narrowly so that even people who have legitimate concerns over unfair treatment have been denied protection simply because they have done too well in adapting to, or working around, their disability.

The ADA Restoration Act changes the language of the ADA to ban discrimination on the basis of disability, not against individuals with disabilities. This language will hopefully preclude the courts from arguing over whether a person fits the definition of a “qualified person with a disability” under the ADA, and start addressing the discriminatory actions that are taking place, as the original ADA intended. The question should not be “is the person disabled”? The question should be, “Would this act be considered discriminatory if it were done toward a person on the basis of race or gender? Was this act unfair?”

This bi-partisan legislation, which was re-introduced on July 26, 2007 (the 17th anniversary of the ADA) in both the House & Senate, is urgently needed to restore the ADA’s original intent and ensure that individuals with disabilities are members of a protected class under the law.

And here is the letter that went to to my Rep from UnderRepresented:

I am writing to thank you for co-sponsoring H.R. 3195 – the ADA Restoration Act and ask that you actively continue your support and encourage your colleagues to sign on to this bill as well. As a deaf person, and as a person married to someone with epilepsy, I consider the ADA Restoration Act to be possibly the single most important piece of legislation of the year for me.

This bill is necessary to strengthen the ADA and its ability to give people with disabilities full legal protection against acts of discrimination.

Particularly in the area of employment, the majority of people with disabilities experiencing discrimination have not received proper justice or compensation through the judicial system. This is largely because the Courts have chosen to interpret the ADA’s definition of disability as narrowly as possible. This bill changes the language of the ADA to ban discrimination on the basis of disability, not against individuals with disabilities. This language will hopefully preclude the courts from arguing over whether a person fits the definition of a “qualified person with a disability” under the ADA, and start addressing the discriminatory actions that are taking place, as the original ADA intended.

This bi-partisan legislation, which was re-introduced on July 26, 2007 (the 17th anniversary of the ADA) in both the House & Senate, is urgently needed to restore the ADA’s original intent and ensure that individuals with disabilities are members of a protected class under the law.

Want to read more about the ADA Restoration Act? Check out my running list of blog posts around the web On the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

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