I was asked by Mary Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies (NCEHS) to call in with testimony to the National Council on Disability (NCD) during their public comment period today, Thursday, July 26.
What is NCD?
NCD is a small, independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities. NCD is comprised of a team of fifteen Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees, an Executive Director appointed by the Chairman, and eleven, full-time professional staff.
In its invitation for public comment, NCD noted:
NCD will accept statements on any topic but is particularly interested in discovering what the public believes should be included in NCD’s 2013 statutorily mandated Progress Report to the President and Congress. Individuals interested in submitting public comments may do so in-person or by phone and should provide their names, organizational affiliations, if any, and limit comments to three minutes. Individuals may also submit public comments in writing to PublicComment@ncd.gov using the subject “Public Comment.”
Mary had previously emailed me to ask me to sign on to the recommendations she was circulating in the disability and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) community for the NCD’s meeting. These recommendations, which I support, are as follows:
1. The NCD should play an active role in organizing and participating in an Interagency Committee on Chemical Sensitivities;2. The NCD should examine the significant levels of harassment and discrimination experienced by those with chemical and electrical sensitivities in housing, employment, education, healthcare, medical services, and daily life;3. The NCD should support federal research on chemical and electrical sensitivities;4. The NCD should adopt the CDC Fragrance-Free Policy;5. The NCD should adopt a fragrance-free and healthy, accessible meeting policy similar to that of the Access Board; the NCD should also adopt a policy to limit exposure to electrical devices and frequencies at NCD meetings; and6. The NCD should support the addition of a Board member with expertise on chemical and electrical sensitivities.
Here is what I will be saying in my public comment by telephone later this afternoon:
My name is Sharon Wachsler. I have multiple disabilities, and I’ve found that not all my disabilities are treated equally even within the disability community. I’m generally able to use my service dog, my powerchair, and a sign language interpreter or the relay without any problems. But when it comes to my access needs stemming from multiple chemical sensitivity, there are always problems. Every year I had to fight my CIL to get a fragrance-free nurse for my annual PCA evaluation. There are no hospitals or doctor’s, speech-language pathologist’s, psychotherapist’s, or CIL offices accessible to me.
I have a close friend who is Deafblind and a lifelong wheelchair user. She has told me on many occasions that having MCS is the worst of her disabilities. She has given up trying to work with case managers, assistive tech providers, and other disability organizations because they do not listen or abide by her needs for products and services that won’t make her severely ill and cause her other disabilities to worsen.
When we had an ice storm in Massachusetts in December 2008, and I had no heat, power, water, or phone for a week, I couldn’t be evacuated; there were no MCS-accessible shelters. Two friends who have MCS were also stranded. One of them suffered hypothermia. The other ended up in the hospital which caused such damage to her health that she was in chronic respiratory arrest for two years afterwards.
Just last week a woman with MCS called me about trouble getting workplace accommodations. I referred her to the DOJ ADA hotline. She said she’d already called and been told, “That’s not an ADA issue. It’s a building maintenance issue.” How many other people with MCS have called the hotline and been told that their access needs aren’t real?
I have stories like this for every day of the year. It is for these reasons that I urge you to implement the six recommendations proposed by Mary Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies.
We are not separate from you. We are a part of the disability community. Our needs must be heard, respected, and accommodated.
If you would like to support the efforts of the MCS community to have our issues included by NCD, please email your comments to PublicComment@ncd.gov and put “Public Comment” in the subject line. Please also send a copy of your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re accepting public comments by phone on Thursday and Friday, but if you can’t get your comment email sent by Friday, just send it when you’re able.
If you’re not sure what to say, you can talk about your experience with MCS or electrical sensitivity or that of friends, family members, colleagues — or me! No matter what you say — even if you say nothing else — you can copy in the six recommendations of NCEHS above and indicate your support of them.
Thank you very much for your support!
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who had chemical sensitivities), and Barnum SD/SDiT (and blessedly healthy so far)