Kathy Martinez will discuss the mission of DRA
April 6, 2021 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

The newly appointed CEO of Disability Rights Advocates, Kathy Martinez, will be Joyce’s guest. Kathy Martinez is a nationally known and admired disability rights leader in our country. She served as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy during the Obama administration. Her work continues to improve and protect the rights of Americans with disabilities.


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APRIL 6TH, 2021

1:00 PM TO 2:00 PM CST


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>> Welcome to "Disability Matters" with your host Joyce Bender.  All comments, views and opinions expressed on the show are solely those of the host, guests and callers.  Now, the host of "Disability Matters".  Here's Joyce Bender. 

>> Hi, everyone, in the United States and around the world today.  Welcome to the show.  We got a great special show today with a great guest.  I'm so excited, and a special shout‑out to Yoshiko Dart.  We love you Yoshiko.  Just letting you know that every show, and a special shout‑out also to my good friend in Japan Richard Roberts with the state department.

He is so awesome.  And get ready!  The state department, the people in Okinawa in Japan are going to be on my radio show again, so keep your eye for that. 

      And gang on in South Korea.  We got to get you on the show.  I've been there, guys.  It was just truly so exciting and an honor to be there with them and Cheryl Harris from Tunisia.  Only a few weeks ago she was on from Tunisia.  From the embassy.  If you missed that, you got to catch that show and our representative from Kazakhstan. 

     Hello!  So thank you all ‑‑ and I've got to tell you, we have listeners ‑‑ as you can see around the world and in China, many, and I just want to keep saying keep on keeping on.  Keep on telling other people about this show because when you do that, that is how we obtain quality of life for all people living with disabilities.  I couldn't do any of this without Highmark who has been the lead sponsor over the past 5 years and let me just tell you with Highmark, they do set the high mark for other companies to follow because we've now been on 18 years.  Couldn't do it without them and other companies that have supported us along the way, audio eye people and Wells Fargo.  Thank you all so much.  

      Well, I told you we have a special treat, oh, we have a special treat 'cause we have a famous person on today.  We have on the new ‑‑ the new president and CEO of Disability Rights Advocates Kathy Martinez.  And when you say that name Kathy in the disability rights community, everyone knows who you are talking about, and it is just so awesome to have Kathy, who is a great leader and also ‑‑ I'm so blessed to have as a friend.  Kathy how are you ‑‑ first, how are you today?

>> I'm having a great day and thanks for letting me be on your show.  It's always a privilege, and I like to give my own personal shout‑out for Yoshiko for being such an amazing ally, supporter, friend and all around fabulous human being.

>> Oh, she is, and I know she'll be thrilled ‑‑ she listening to every show, and just, so you know ‑‑ when we say that to her, she says back to the ‑‑ wherever she's listening to this from, the computer where she sits, hello back to you.  And, you know, she does.  When she tells me, she does I know that she does. 

      Well, Kathy, it is an honor to have you on the show today.  You're such a powerhouse and since, as you can see, now, the that 18 years have passed we have listeners around the world.  I want all of them to know about you so how about if you start by, you know, giving them some history on you, your life, your child who lives with blindness, and in the end, what led you to become an advocate because I always say there are many ‑‑ many people with disabilities but not everyone chooses to be an advocate as you had. 

      So Kathy, I'll turn it over to you.

>> Thank you, Joyce.  As you said I'm a person who is blind.  I was born blind quite a while ago.  I'm in my older 60s but 60s nevertheless.  I was born in a family -- a Latino parents.  When I was born, of course, they had no idea I would be blind but more to the point they had never really dealt with any kind of a disability unless it was with an elderly relative, and I was born, and then 2 years later my sister Peggy was born who is also blind.  We are the two middle of 6 children, so we come from a very large Latino family. 

      My parents ‑‑ we were very lucky to have parents that expected to us succeed, expected us to contribute, you know ‑‑ I tell the story of my father who interested that I learn how to mow a lawn ‑‑

>> Oh!  Wow! 

>> In those day fortunately they were push powers not power mowers, and I still have all fingers and toes, but my parents, you know, really expected us to contribute, so we were ‑‑ we were ‑‑ it was assumed that we would do chores much to our chagrin.  It was assumed that we would, you know ‑‑ that we would go to school and get educated.  At that time the school from the blind was far away from where we lived, and so my parents insisted that we ‑‑ that we be mainstreamed, and so Peggy, and I were one of the first blind folks in our area to go to mainstream school, and I bring that up because I like to talk about how kids are just amazing before they learn to hate or fear or be ableists or racists, they are just an amazing, amazing innovation, and I would say collaboration ‑‑ so when I was on the playground during unstructured time, you know, the teachers weren't there to tell the kids what to do, and they figured out how to incorporate me and Peggy into playground activities, and I talk about this because, you know, I was part of a deal, part of the group, and they figured out how to weave me into projects, so with that kind of grounding, you know ‑‑ of course, at some point in my life I realized that, you know, the world wasn't designed for me, and I would have to figure out a way how to get things done, how to get from point A to point B.  How I was going to read a paper, how I was going to read a book, and I had a lot of help and mentors, and I was able to do that. 

      You know, through high school I became very politically active in the factor workers movement and, of course, the women's movement, and I found the disability rights movement when I moved to the Bay area, and that was the first time that I could feel proud as a person with a disability, and I was just so drawn to the ‑‑ you know, the tenets of the disability rights movement even though it was a little different because cultural it was based kind of in middle class values but all in all I was very drawn to the fact that there was something called disability pride and that people with disabilities did have the right to live in society and contribute, so I became a disability rights advocate because I felt of all my identifying factors including being a womb and being Latina and being gay, you know, I have lots of different ‑‑ different identities.  I'm a parent of a son. 

      Anyway, of all the factors, disability was the one people reacted to the most, and I was so amazed to find a group of people in the Bay area, you know, who had a sense of civil and human rights in terms of race and disability and gender identity and most of ‑‑ you know, I landed in the right place, let me just say that, so I'll stop there. 

>> Well, Kathy, as you've done all of this, do you, in your wildest dreams, did you ever as a child envision that you would be an appointee by the president in a position? 

>> I never did.  When I graduated from high school, you know ‑‑ at the time you could be a telephone operator, a schoolteacher or a rehabilitation counselor, and I was not trapped into any of those professions.  My rehab counselor helped to get me a job at a lock factory where I was a punch press operator doing very dangerous, dirty work, and I don't think anybody would put a person with a disability in that kind of a position today, but that's where I started and actually I was very proud of having that job because my goal was to get off of SSI because I knew I couldn't save any money if I stayed on SSI, so my goal was to get off of SSI, and I was making such a minimum wage at that job there was no way I would be able to save any money that way, but it just wasn't what I wanted to do.  When I graduated from high school, that's what people who are disability professionals at the time thought that I could do was work in a lock factory, so I never dreamed that I would be a presidential appointee, no.

>> Well, for people, listeners around the world and the United States, right, I say around the world because I know that you know in the United States the power and prestige of the president of the United States.  And when you have a new president as we do right now with President Biden there's a group called the transition team and what they do is they unemployment people for positions appointed by the president positions where people will be appointed by the president of the United States, so I just want you to know how powerful that is. 

      And Kathy was appointed in the Department of Labor reporting up through the Secretary of Labor, assistant secretary ‑‑ assistant secretary of the office of disability employment policy.  Do you know how powerful that is?  That's why when she's going through where she worked and all these jobs, she was told you could only do this, wow, she would never have envisioned from there to the Department of Labor and all those meetings at the White House and meeting with President Obama ‑‑ just such a powerful prestigious opportunity. 

      And Kathy, who is known as still former assistant secretary, would you mind talking about that ‑‑ first of all, you know, what did that mean to you ‑‑ how excited was that for you, and then what you did in that role? 

>> Let me go back how that happened because, you know, after I was ‑‑ I was kind of channeled into the lock factory job, and I left and moved to the Bay area and found the disability rights movement.  My passion has been for many years economic justice and employment.  I feel, and I still believe this that ‑‑ you know, that people with disabilities very often ‑‑ we're stuck in a poverty trap because of low expectations, and so people assume that we want to live on benefits.  Now, of course, benefits are very valuable for ‑‑ you know, for people that need them and, of course, I'm not saying that we shouldn't have benefits.  Of course, we should, but I ‑‑ you know, for me personally I really saw how living on benefits was very restricting given -- there's a means test.

     So the work that I did previously becoming an assistant secretary ‑‑ a lot of it was around economic justice, antipoverty work.  How do you, you know, help people save, you know ‑‑ I wanted to achieve after the ABLE Act passed because it was a way for people with disabilities to actually save money and accumulate some type of, you know, cushion, so my job before that was ‑‑ I was a director of the world institute on disability where we had a lot of economic programs for people with disabilities.  We started a program for Latinos with disabilities, and that's ‑‑ and so that's ‑‑ when I moved into being an assistant secretary, I thought that it was very important to start weaving the work of economic justice for people with disabilities with social justice movements so one of the projects that we ‑‑ that we started was a project called add us in.  And add us in the goals of add us in was to work with minority‑owned businesses and minority‑owned business organizations to increase awareness around hiring people with disabilities and ‑‑ and make the connection that, you know, among minority communities the incidents of disability is higher, so I was very proud of that program.  We worked with the Hispanic chamber of commerce, the National Lesbian and Gay Commerce and the Asian and women ‑‑ we worked with WEBank, you know, just numerous groups of people who were fighting for the rights, you know, to ‑‑ to ‑‑ to increase the economic power for their communities but also saying disabilities is also a part of your community and do have to be more connected. 

>> And what was it like being in that role? 

>> Well, it was very interesting.  I was able to think about some grants.  A lot of ‑‑ you know, I was very interested in the concept of supported employment where, you know ‑‑ we're looking at significantly disabled people getting them to work. 

      Remember, I always say if I live up to people's expectations, I'd be making brooms still; right?  So my goal was to prove that people with very significant disabilities can work, and so, you know ‑‑ we had ‑‑ we had our state leadership program ‑‑

      I think we really made the point if the workplace understands that everybody requires some sort of accommodations, not just people with disabilities, but, you know, I don't know disabled people go into their workplace expecting lots of things to be done and provided for them like desks and chairs and computers and lights, and you know, the idea was to show workplaces who are willing to hire people with disabilities that we all require accommodations when you're nondisabled the accommodations is called standard work practice.  It was to prove to the world, I think, that we, you know, we could get people with significant disabilities to work. 

      We also were to help President Obama establish Section 503 of the rehabilitation act, which basically man dated that federal contractors strive for a 7% utilizational goal for hiring people with disabilities, and that's really been a game‑changer, and I think we've done a lot of good work, and the work is not done yet, believe me, but I think we had a good run.

>> I think you did a great job, Kathy, and I'm so proud of you.


>> Thank you.

>> And when I was saying ‑‑ so what was it like to go to the White House to these parties ‑‑ I mean, I know you didn't go to very many parties.  Just the holiday parties something of that nature, so we'll say meetings.  What was it like to go to those meetings at the White House and meet President Obama? 

>> Well, it was very structured ‑‑ and, you know, he was very laid back.  He was very nice to me.  I'll tell you a story.  Once I was asked to go in to advise him on employment issues, and I was only ‑‑ and I was the only person with a disability at least the only person who identified as a person with a disability, and we were in the Roosevelt room around the table.  And after the meeting was over he asked us to come and take a picture in the Oval Office, and we did and, of course, you know, everybody rushed to be the one next to him, and I was, of course, the last one, you know, that kind of made it in at the very end of the picture, and after, you know, his folks dismissed everybody, he came up to me and said, how about you, and I take a picture.

>> Wow!

>> And it was just so amazing.  I mean, the fact that he noticed that I was kind of left in the dust when everybody wanted to be next to him, I thought was so sensitive and incredible, and I have this really nice picture of President Obama and me, you know, forever in my ‑‑ you know, on my wall and in my phone and everywhere, and he really initiated that.

>> That is an awesome story, Kathy.  That is an awesome story.  And, you know, when you mentioned about brooms before ‑‑ so for all of you listeners, I started Bender Consulting Services ‑‑ you know, my company where I employment for people with disabilities 26 years ago so in the year 1995, you know, when I started the company, it was in the following year, I was invited by the assistant ‑‑ no, the Secretary of Labor, Johnny Butler to attend this big event in Harrisburg that was, you know, talking about companies hiring people with disabilities, so I was seated at this table by this gentleman, and he said:  Well, how many employees do you have?  That you find employment for?  And I said, oh, you know, like, 10 or so because, remember, now, this is when I first started the company, and he looked at me, and he said, oh, ask me how many I have.  I said how many.  300.  Wow!  I'm thinking wow!  Why is he not up there, and he said, yeah, I have all these blind people working for me making brooms.  In other words, he was in some type of ‑‑

>> Sheltered workshop.

>> And from that day on I would tell my employees, especially those that were blind working for me, we're going to have ‑‑ one of the circles with the line through it.  We're going to have one of those with brooms.  No brooms, but that's what Kathy means.  That is actually how it was and, you know, still today, there are people that, you know ‑‑ sadly, many people with disabilities are unemployed that we have to keep working on and, you know, I've always said to people, Kathy, you made quite the move ‑‑ quite the moves because you moved on the institute on disability, Department of Labor to corporate America with Wells Fargo.  I'm wondering how difficult was that for you to go from the public to the private sector? 

>> It was tough.  I think it was one of the hardest years of my life because when you're an assistant secretary, you have an assistant, you have, you know, quite a large staff, you can ask them to help you with certain things.  I lived ‑‑ I was ‑‑ I was literally in the disability bubble where people understood about accessibility and, you know, if I needed something done with my computer, I could just ask ‑‑ and people would understand what I mean.

      Now, I will say that I was very lucky when I went to the -- to Wells Fargo because I was welcomed with open arms.  They did have somebody that understood, you know, screen‑readers, but I did not have an assistant when I started.  I did not have a group of 10,000 people to a corporation which was 250,000 people.  My job was to lead their disability and accessibility strategy and, you know, Wells Fargo had done a lot by the time I got there, so I will not take credit for everything.  I can't because, you know, first of all, I was one of many people that helped change, you know, Wells Fargo physical, digital and cultural accessibility but when I first got there, I knew nothing about the financial services industry, very little.  Steve Bartlett, and I had written a paper expressing our desire, you know, that the financial services industry be more accessible to people with disabilities, but, you know, I had to really step up to the plate.  I was completely out of my comfort zone, and I was the only disabled person on the team.  You know, and that ‑‑ and that ended up being greatly, but people are a little comfortable and didn't know what to say and didn't want to make mistakes, and they didn't want say anything politically incorrect, so it was a tough year, but it was worth every ‑‑ every single second of toughness because I learned so much, and I think I was able to contribute, but it was not an easy year.  It was not.  I had to learn about financial services.  I had to learn about marketing in a corporate setting.  I had to learn much more about my own adaptive technology, you know, how to use it better.  It was ‑‑ it was a year of learning and a year of stretch of serious stretching.

>> So I give you credit because that is a very hard move to make.  Just as you said, it's totally different.  There is no comparison.

>> Right.

>> And I know you did such a great job there.  You really did, and now here we are, and we're going to talk about that in one moment, and I just want to say one thing about Kathy, she is absolutely slightly 100 percent the real deal, you know what I mean?  I mean, she lives it.  She's not kidding. 

      But anyway, we have a caller on the line, so we'll take a break, and we'll be right back of me talking about this.  I think we have Marie on the line.  Marie are you there?

>> Hi, Joyce, this is Marie Towne cap‑and‑trade.

>> I'm hello how are you doing?

>> Marie if you don't know say the name Marie this is who we're talking about.  Marie Towne is the CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and she is rocking it.  I know you didn't call to talk to me, Marie.  I bet you called to talk to our guest Miss Kathy Martinez.

>> Joyce, I will a little call to talk to you, but I heard Kathy was going to be on your show talking about her new role, and I just wanted to come on and say congratulations to Kathy.  Not only on her new role but just on everything that she's done.  I don't know if I could ever explain this, but Kathy was my first, like, big boss when I first started my career in disability advocacy and policy.  I worked at the Department of Labor office of disability employment policy where she was the assistant secretary, and I was very young, and Kathy instituted some policies that were really progressive.  Everybody on staff got access to professional development leadership was not driven by age or seniority and what that meant for me at 23 or 24 I was able to do a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have been able to do, and it shaped the arc of my career in many ways, and so I'm always thrilled when Kathy has further opportunities to lead because she is just shape of the work of Disability Rights Advocates and shape the lives of those staff members and that ultimately will shape our movement so congratulations, Kathy, I'm so excited for you.

>> Oh, Marie, what a nice surprise.  I did not expect this.  That is really nice.  I appreciate it.  Maria was also a star, but I do see believe that everybody deserves professional development no matter ‑‑ where they fall on the ‑‑ in a staff ranking.  It's our job as leaders to provide that so thank you, Marie.  You've done amazing work yourself.  As a leader you've grown into an amazing leader and mentor for folks, and I really appreciate all your work.

>> Yes, when you were saying, oh, when I was so young, I wanted to say and, oh, you're so old now.

(Laugh.) You really are so old.  I mean, you're really young.  Marie is talking to two of her board members because ‑‑

>> That's correct.

>> But Kathy ‑‑ Kathy, how long have you been on the board? 

>> I think for 2 years.  2 years. 

>> Yeah, so Kathy, is she not rocking it on that ward ‑‑ I mean, on AAPE and Marie, I know you probably want to talk about ‑‑ we have a gala coming up. 

>> We do.  On APD's leadership awards gala is going to be on April 28th in the ‑‑ on the evening of April 28th.  The big gala is virtual and free to attend so anyone around the world can attend the gala.  And if you do attend, you will get to hear from luminaries in the disability and civil rights movements including Stacy Abrams who's been an enormous champion for voting rights for marginalized communities.  You'll hear from our Capitol Hill champions representatives Don Young and Ayala Presley.  You'll hear from the "New York Times."  We have so many it guests this year, and I hope you will join, and Joyce I will send you the link for people to RSVP, so you can get that information out to all those folks who follow you and follow your show. 

>> Okay. 

>> We're also going to ‑‑

(Talking Simultaneously.)

>> Wow, we have a lot of people coming, customers ‑‑ you should all go.  I always call this the Academy Awards of the disability rights community but President Biden ‑‑ I mean, wow!  We have everyone.  This is, like ‑‑ like the Academy Awards, yes, send that to me ‑‑ Kathy, were you saying something?  I cut you off.

>> We even have people from the movie industry. 

>> A‑ha.  Like Judy Newman?

>> Like Taraji ‑‑

(Talking Simultaneously.)

>> There you go. 

>> Taraji P. Henson from Empire, and so many hit films.  We're delighted to have her as a ‑‑ as a participant in the gala but also recognizing her work on mental health in black communities, and I think as Joyce was beginning to mention, I don't know if we can really claim the Academy Awards of the disability community this year because my hope is that Crip Camp which promptly features one of our board members Judy human will receive an academy award a few days before our gala.

>> Oh, my goodness.

>> I know.  I had to ‑‑ I was talking to her just yesterday, and she got a call she had to take, and it was a designer calling about her dress for the Academy Awards.  I am so excited about ‑‑ if you haven't seen Crip Camp, oh, my goodness go to Netflix.  This is the most amazing, amazing documentary southbound watching for that but first you can go to our gala, so Marie, thank you so much for calling in.

>> Absolutely.  Congratulations again, Kathy. 

>> Have a great day, Marie.  Okay, and I see ‑‑ well, time goes fast because we're already on the half hour a little past for our news break Advocacy Matters with our host Teri Jude rad sick CEO of disability rights PA and another disability rights leader that's been with me a couple years now just doing this show every week because you know what?  Where can you go?  Where can you go?  Where you can you go if you ever a disability here?  What's going on right now?  Where you can go?  To "Disability Matters" to hear about Advocacy Matters and Peri I'm sure you also want to congratulate Kathy on her position as the president and CEO disability rights advocates. 

>> Joyce, thank you for the opportunity to do that.  We're so excited that Kathy is with DRA, and we can't wait to see what lies ahead for Kathy and for DRA, so Kathy, congratulations, we're so excited. 

>> Thank you so much. 

>> Okay.  Peri, take it away. 

>> Thanks, Joyce.  If we want to talk about state election law activity and accessibility, I think so many of us the disability voting advocates knew that the certification of results from the 2020 election would not bring an end to the debate of election integrity and safe and fair elections even though our elections were safe; they were fair, and there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have overturned the results of the November election, so state legislators right now across the country are introducing bills to either expand or restrict voting access.  We have some statistics ‑‑ the Brennan center for justice reports that at least 253 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states.  If you want to read that report go to disabilityrightsPA.org.  Click on the links for today's "Disability Matters" website, and you can go right to the Brennan Center for Justice report on state activity. 

      And Joyce, here in Pennsylvania, as of today, Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced 56 bills that would change Pennsylvania's election code.  Some of the proposals expand voting rights but far more restrict voting rights.  For example, there's one bill that would actually declare the 2020 general election for president and vice president unlawful and overturn the results. 

      Another proposal on the positive side would create a holiday for election day, so all of these issues are being discussed in the Pennsylvania house government committee.  They've been holding a series of hearings on elections in Pennsylvania, and we have a link at disabilityrightsPA.org of all the hearings that have happened already in the government committee.  Last week this committee held a hearing on election integrity and accessibility, and Joyce, we testified "Disability Matters" PA testified at the hearing and raised several points.  We talked about how voting by mail is great but there remains accessibility issues with the paper ballot because paper ballots are not fully accessible. 

      We also talked about the inaccessibility polling places that many people with disabilities still face here in Pennsylvania, so Advocacy Matters, your listeners like "Disability Matters" Pennsylvania, we want to ensure that every person with a disability has the opportunity to vote privately and independently in order to achieve that, now we've got to work with our state legislators on proposals that could restrict instead of expanding the vote for people with disability so go to disabilityrightsPA.org for the information from the Brennan center for justice and take a look what's happening in your state.

>> Wow!  That is very disturbing, Teri about the restrictions.  Would you mind giving our listener just ‑‑ listeners just a couple of examples what you mean by voting rights being restricted? 

>> Sure.  Absolutely, so there would be proposals that would limit the number of drop boxes in Pennsylvania for your ballots.  It was inconsistent in Pennsylvania.  Some counties had many drop boxes.  Other counties only had one drop box to drop off your mail‑in ballot before election day, and so now there are there are proposals to go back to one drop box even some counties that were more progressive who wanted the opportunity to travel not far distances to drop off their mail‑in ballot. 

      There would be other proposals that would create voter ID, more identification, so maybe you would have to copy your ID and put it in the pallet ‑‑ your paper ballot and mail it in, so we're looking at restrictions that would create more voter ID requirements and be a little burdensome and issues about restricting ballot boxes.  Those are just a few examples. 

>> Wow, well, okay, well, everyone, please go to disabilityrightsPA.org; check into that, you know, you need to speak up.  We need to speak up, and peri, thank you so much.  Thank you for keeping us apprised of what's going, so we can make a difference and remember that Advocacy Matters.  Thank you, peri.

>> Thanks, Joyce.  Bye‑bye.

>> Well, Kathy, I bet that is something that hits you pretty hard.

>> Well, it's very disturbing that people would want to restrict the number of people who would be able to vote.  It seems like we would want to increase the number of people, increase the ability for people to be able to vote.  I know in some states they're considering not giving water to people when they're standing outside in the hot sun.  What does that have to do with voting?  I mean, besides the fact it will discourage some people who are frail from not standing in line for hours and hours.  It's a real ‑‑ it's ‑‑ it's just shocking to me and the thing that's even more scary is how many states are ‑‑ are looking at those types of voting restrictions.

>> Well, Kathy, maybe you can be a leader in that area with some of these states because as far as I'm concerned, they're doing the wrong thing.  That's a violation of the ADA, some of these things that periwas talking about even let alone some of the things you mentioned.  You got to read about that.  See, you got to know what's going on and how it will impact you. 

      So DRA, Disability Rights Advocates, so here you are once again, in the national spotlight.  Can you tell everyone what DRA is. 

>> So, yeah, first I want to say I'm thrilled to be joining Disability Rights Advocates because it brings many of my past experiences together, and I believe really strongly in its mission, which is to improve social and economic justice for people with all types of disabilities, and we are very clear, you know, that war on terror ‑‑ when I say all types of disabilities, I mean, for all people including people of color, and I would say this concept of intersectionality is so important.  Like I said, because we know that African‑Americans and other minority groups experience higher rates of disability, so if we're not considering people like me and other people, you know, lived experiences when advocating for change, then we're really not doing our job. 

      The concept of ‑‑ I would say, you know, intersectionality also happens to be deeply personal to me as you know, and I think identified very important to understand that the work that DRA does impacts people of color as well as everybody else, but we have cases regarding ‑‑ we're currently litigating cases regarding voting rights.  We sued the immigration customs enforcement agency and ‑‑ because there were people with immunodeficiency issues crammed into very crowded environments, and so they were able to get, you know ‑‑ get out because of COVID.  We've also worked in various school districts around the country so make sure that people who are ‑‑ people in the education system, you know, are not surprised with pepper spray or restrained with exclusion which often happens with kids of color and with disabilities, so I'm very committed to the work that DRA is doing.  I've never supervised 30 lawyers before and that ‑‑ you know, that's very interesting.  I'm learning a whole new world of high impact litigation, again, you know I'm stepping way out of my comfort zone but for me it's just ‑‑ the concept of advancing equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disability really keeps me going and the work we do at DRA, you know, is critical.  It has really helped put the meat on the bones of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

>> Yes, yes that is so true. 

      You did do spectacular work with I.C.E. that maybe a lot of people don't know what you did in reference to immigrants.  How about if you talk about that because I thought that was so powerful.

>> Well, I have to say I cannot take credit for it.  I have only been at DRA for a month, so the work really involved identifying, you know ‑‑ folks came to DRA that had, you know ‑‑ that were in compromised situations and just fact that they in such crowded conditions would increase, you know, the likelihood of getting COVID, so the case ‑‑ you know, we were able to get folks out of these detention facilities which reduced their ‑‑ you know, the likelihood ‑‑ or the ‑‑ reduce the risk factors in these types of custom immigration ‑‑ immigration and custom facilities so as a result, thousands have people were released from detection and for those who remained better care treatment and prevention protocols are now in place.

>> Right, and ‑‑ I mean, I think that just shows how ‑‑ a lot of people don't know the things the DRA has done and accomplished, but that is a good example of it, and I think that is just an indication of things to come with you there, Kathy. 

      So Kathy, what is your goal ‑‑ I'm sorry, go ahead.  What were you going to say?

>> I just want to say we also have a number of cases leading to much‑needed reform in the juvenile justice system and as a result, you know, many black and Latinx youth with disabilities in the systems ‑‑ in the system now have access to ‑‑ well, as is their right to appropriate special education, Special Ed services and behavioral support so, you know, these cases also place restrictions on punitive measures such as use of pepper spray and denying access to school as a form of punishment so, you know, DRA has actually been around for 30 years, and I've been ‑‑ I've been leading DRA for a month so, you know, the credit really belongs to the attorneys and the staff there. 

      My vision for DRA is to continue to litigate, of course, to ‑‑ to conduct these high impact litigation cases but also to do more teacher in the community.  I think, you know, we owe the community ‑‑ I think there's a lot of misunderstanding what DRA does.  Somebody said to me we're the best kept secret because many of us benefit from the work that DRA has done in the past and really don't know, you know, what ‑‑ exactly why is a target website more accessible?  Why are more sidewalks becoming more accessible?  Why are more voting machines more accessible, you know, a lot of this has to do with DRA and other legal ‑‑ disability legal organizations as well, but for me it's very important to reach out to the community and to really have people understand their rights as people with disabilities to understand, you know, what they deserve, and so really it's to continue our high impact litigation with a lot more community outreach and ‑‑ and ‑‑ you know, and just making people more aware of what we do.

>> Yeah, I don't think a lot of people understand all of that, Kathy, so I am glad you explained that ‑‑ before a little bit before we end the show, since you know so much about employment of people with disabilities, how do you think COVID will impact employment for the future?  What I'm meaning about this ‑‑ I was talking to Ted Kennedy about this.  How do you think this will impact hiring people with disabilities when COVID is over?

>> Well, I mean, sadly we are ‑‑ you know, the last hired first fired although one ‑‑ one silver lining is that companies now know it is possible for people to work from home.  As you know, Joyce, we have been begging corporations ‑‑

>> I know.

>> And nonprofits to allow that ‑‑ excuse me, as an accommodating but now there's no excuse, you know, they cannot say that it doesn't work, so hopefully for people who have terrible, you know ‑‑ getting to work, this will be an opportunity for people with disabilities, you know, to be able to work remotely. 

      You know, I'm hoping that ‑‑ I think we're going to be ‑‑ I don't know.  I still hope, you know, that a lot of us who were let go are going to be hired back.  I think the country is desperate to get out, to get, you know, working to have lunches and dinners and to, you know ‑‑ to be close to people instead of being on Zoom calls.  I feel like the economy is going to pick up, and I feel like, you know, there's companies out there, like, Highmark ‑‑ you mentioned Highmark and Wells Fargo that are very committed to hiring people with disabilities and to reaching that 7% goal and, you know, when we talk about accessibility, we have to ‑‑ in addition to digital and physical accessibility or online and mobile accessibility and physical accessibility we all have ‑‑ we also have to think of culture, you know, how welcoming is the culture?  How do we handle talking about a variety of types of disability?  I know when I was at Wells Fargo, you know, the culture changed quite a bit, and it was because there were a lot of people who were very supportive of having, you know, discussions about nonevident disabilities like mental illness ‑‑ like mental disabilities and epilepsy and, you know, different disabilities besides the physical disabilities, you know, blindness and deafness.  We make sure that, you know ‑‑ that the spectrum of disabilities were discussed.  Neurodiversity, and I think that that, you know, that broader understanding of disability is a natural part of the human condition made a big difference in our culture and our acceptance and welcoming and, you know, having a sense of belonging of people with disabilities.

>> Yes, well, Kathy, I know you're just going to do so many great things as you always have, but I wanted to ask you what message do you have for our listeners today?

>> Well, I have a few messages.  One ‑‑ I think it's important to get out of your comfort zone as much as possible.  It is not easy but nothing worth it is really he does.  I mean ‑‑ you know, I think you get to know yourself better.  I think you proved to yourself ‑‑ oh, bless you, Joyce.

>> Thank you, thank you, go ahead. 

>> You proved to yourself that you can do a lot more than you ever, ever thought.  I would say living the dream.  If you're interested in doing something, try it out.  If you're having in trouble find a mentor.  I think learning from here is ‑‑ consider yourself a lifelong learner.  I think, you know, learning things constantly is a blessing, and I guess I would say, you know, try to get out of your comfort zone.  Always find a mentor.  Try to be a mentor yourself and keep on learning. 

>> Yes.  That's right, and anyone that wants to follow DRA, what is the website, Kathy? 

>> It's DRAlegal.org.

>> DRAlegal.org, and if there's a company listening or anyone, and you want to make a donation, I'm sure if you go to that website you can find out how to do that.

>> Absolutely.  We're always looking for partnerships.

>> All right, well, Kathy, it has been a pleasure having you on the show today.  We end every show with a quote and today the quote is from Stella Young who said:  My everyday life in which I do exactly the same thing as everyone else should not inspire people and yet I am constantly congratulated for strangers for simply existing and that – folks, paychecks, not pity.  This is Joyce Bender, America's voice where "Disability Matters" at voiceAmerica.com.  Talk to you next week with Josh Verdi board member Bazelon, attorney at Highmark talking about mental health.  Talk to you then.