Getting Off the Ground: My Experience Working in Government Affairs

November 13, 2018 | Shiven Patel, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

This past summer I worked as an intern with American Airlines in Government Affairs through the AAPD Summer Internship Program. The Government Affairs team at American is basically the lobbying team for the airline; if there was any bill on the Hill that was of any concern to the airline, our team would go lobby in favor of the airline’s position on that bill.

I have loved aviation ever since I can remember. Additionally, I am also in the middle of my second year of law school. So an internship working in Government Affairs for the world’s largest airline was perfect for me. I must say that when I began working for the airline, even as an aviation enthusiast, I didn’t quite understand how much it takes to get one of our airplanes off of the ground. As I started working, I began to realize that complex legal issues can impact day-to-day operations significantly. For example, this summer we had an immigration issue in our office where our federal government had a policy that was separating children from their families at the border. When these children were separated at the border, the government would use American’s airplanes to transport these children. I remember that day very well; everyone in my office was talking about this issue. A decision needed to be made. Our Vice President of Government Affairs had a statement issued that requested the federal government to not use our commercial planes to transport these children. Several airlines followed suit afterward. The following day, President Trump decided to stop this immigration policy. I felt proud to be directly involved with a major issue that was happening in Washington this summer.

Additionally, another legal issue that I had to research was the issue of allowing untrained emotional support animals on our aircraft. As an airline, we understood that there are people who need to have these animals on the aircraft. However, the issue that we were facing was that we’ve had several instances where untrained animals have caused harm to other passengers by biting them. The most important thing to anyone who works in the aviation industry is the safety of our passengers. If allowing untrained animals onboard the aircraft poses a safety risk to our passengers, then it is up to us as an airline to review those policies and find a solution that does not compromise the safety of our passengers.

These are just some of the many legal issues that I have had the opportunity to work on this summer. The experience of working for the airline this summer was a 23-year-old dream that AAPD made come true. I feel like my experience working with American Airlines has helped me to understand that even issues that may seem small or unimportant can affect the entire operation of us transporting thousands of passengers every day. What that taught me was, that as a future attorney, you should always treat any issue, whether it seems big or small, with the utmost of importance — because you never know how that issue will affect your work down the line.


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Shiven Patel is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned in the Government Affairs office of American Airlines.

Excited Exploration

September 18, 2018 | Benard Bampoh, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

In 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Air Carrier Access Act, enabling people with disabilities to travel on airplanes with assistance from airport agents upon request. But air travel today still poses many discouraging challenges for disabled people. The process of traveling with a disability must be changed to make room for excitement and the desire to explore.

According to this one pager from Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, more than 30,000 disability-related complaints were filed with airlines in 2015 alone. Some common reasons for complaints are damages to assistive devices and delayed assistance at airports. Disabled people are not excited about air transportation the way it is now.
An airport agent explained that some disabled people also feel like a burden when requesting assistance, making them less likely to travel. That is not an unfounded concern because many reported agent injuries result from physically transferring disabled passengers on and off airplanes. If the agents get hurt, one can only imagine the endured experience of the person with a disability.

With the psychological tension of being a burden, and the helpless frustration at a destroyed freedom-giving assistive device, current air travel is simply not worth the hassle for disabled people. But as societies grow increasingly interconnected, those who travel will have fuller lives. Thus, an amendment is needed. The process of traveling with a disability must be changed to make room for excitement and the desire to explore.

Thankfully, the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act strives for that. It was introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2017 and by House Representative James Langevin in 2018. A summary is provided at Congress is yet to approve it. Should the bill pass, airplanes would be made wheelchair accessible (like public ground transportation now is, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act). Wheelchairs would be secured inside plane cabins with all the other chairs. The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would solve four problems:

  • Significantly disabled people could stay in their wheelchairs, which are—by design—the most supportive place for us. Air travel would no longer involve loss of physical stability and comfort.
  • Airport agents would avoid injuries from transferring disabled passengers from their wheelchairs to aisle chairs to plane seats, and then repeating the whole process in reverse when the flight is over.
  • Airport agents would avoid injuries from lifting heavy wheelchairs and other assistive devices into the plane’s cargo or storage compartment. Some airports do not have lifts to assist in loading items into the plane. At such airports, the strength of the agents would be preserved for lifting baggage, not assistive devices.
  • Airport agents would not need to handle expensive assistive devices and risk damaging them.

In short, wheelchair accessible planes will be good for airport agents as well as disabled passengers. Air travel is an exciting and exploratory experience for non-disabled (temporarily able-bodied) people. It can be the same for physically disabled people thanks to the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act.


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Benard Bampoh is a 2018 Summer Intern. He interned with American Airlines at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Technology Forum – August 2017

September 13, 2017 | Chris Corsi, AAPD Intern

On Wednesday, August 23rd AAPD hosted the August Technology forum, a space where leaders from the technology industry can collaborate with leaders from the disability community to advance accessibility in current technology and set the path for future advances in the tech industry to pave the way for a more accessible future. The August forum brought technology representatives from Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, IBM, CTIA, and others, as well as disability representatives from the National Council on Independent Living, United Spinal Association, the National Association of the Deaf, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Hearing Loss Association of America, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and others.

The meeting in August functioned as a planning session to inform the focus of the AAPD Technology Forum’s work moving forward. While a broad range of issues were discussed, the meeting hoped to tackle and address two central questions:

  1. What are some of the issues that are currently facing the disability community and how is technology currently hindering or helping to overcome those?
  2. What future advances in technology will affect the way people with disabilities live, and how can we ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in these advancements?

Below is a brief summary of the topics discussed during this meeting.

A question was raised as to whether technology might be able to supplant the lack of support supplied to individuals needing Personal Care Assistants (PCAs). This is a vital resource for many, demand for which is expected to rise 37% in the next 5 years. However, the Disability Equality Index, a joint initiative of AAPD and the US Business Leadership Network to measure the disability inclusion policies and practices of participating companies, shows that only 8% of companies offer PCAs as an accommodation. The future of robotics and mobility devices may offer more affordable options for businesses. A paper published in the Journal of Intelligent Robots and Systems presents research focused on developing applications to assist individuals with dressing.

Advancements in speech-to-text have created new avenues of accessibility for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHOH) individuals. For example, it is being considered that the same technology that allows someone to voice-type a text message could be used in an airplane to transcribe what the pilot is saying to Deaf passengers. While this is a good idea for future advancement, it was noted that many DHOH individuals currently do not trust speech to text technologies. The current transcriptions on YouTube videos by Google’s automatic speech recognition often have numerous substantial errors. Working to improve speech-to-text technology can reduce these mistakes and improve accessibility for the DHOH community. IBM’s Watson’s speech recognition can recognize different speakers in a conversation, breaking down barriers in multi-person communications. Many newer artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant devices are not accessible as well, as they focus on text-to-speech and listening. For instance, Alexa and Google Home require activation and interaction through voice.

Additional issues were raised from the cognitive community in the advancement of “simple language,” particularly within online platforms and personalization of all technology. Although great strides have been made during recent years, advancements in technology have remained stagnate for the cognitive community. As machine learning continues to gain traction, the technology industry needs to ensure it is inclusive of all people with disabilities.

Access to basic household appliances is still an issue for some in the blind community. For example, certain laundry machines might be better adapted for blind individuals if they were equipped with text-to-speech. Motivating businesses working within the world of IoT (Internet of Things) to increase accessibility could improve this area, especially considering that blind and low-vision individuals comprise 2% of the population.

One of the most pressing issues facing people with disabilities across the spectrum of disability is the digital divide. While 81% of adults without disabilities use the internet, only 54% of adults with disabilities use the internet. Of those, 69% of adults without disabilities have broadband at home, compared to only 41% of adults with disabilities. This divide contributes to the economic oppression of people with disabilities and keeps people with disabilities from being as connected as they should be to the world around them. As Congress has begun discussing the idea of a new wireless infrastructure bill, this creates an opportunity to advocate to lawmakers the needs of discreet populations. For example, when 5G rolls out, how will advocates be sure this technology is delivered to rural areas and people with disabilities, as well as urban areas?

Looking forward to the future of technology, the August Forum also discussed mobility as it relates to self-driving cars. As cars become more autonomous, drivers will transition from the roles of “operators” to that of “riders,” and this will greatly benefit individuals with disabilities who may not currently be able to drive, but would be permitted to in a fully autonomous vehicle. The Forum hopes to ensure that people with disabilities are not left out of this transition (perhaps by states arguing there must be a cognitive requirement to be the primary rider in an autonomous vehicle). Ridesharing also presents its own challenges. Blind individuals have reported being passed over when they order an Uber or LYFT. There have also been issues where people with service animals are being denied service because the driver will not permit them, even though in 2016 it became Uber policy that drivers must allow service animals. While there are still issues in many areas for wheelchair users obtaining service, Uber has begun to roll out UberWAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles) in a number of metropolitan areas. These advancements increase the accessibility of current rideshare technology and sets the path for the future of ridesharing development as it becomes increasingly autonomous.

Wayfinding has been another topic of discussion regarding one’s ability to be independently mobile. Perhaps an autonomous vehicle drops someone off who is blind or otherwise has trouble with navigation a block or two away from their desired location; how can they find their way to their desired path? Ideas with augmented reality were discussed, which overlays virtual landscapes over the visual field in order to change (or augment) the way we experience the world. This could provide new ways of wayfinding that are more useful and accurate than GPS.

One step, among many, advocates can take to improve accessible transportation would be to ensure that the future Hyperloop (a proposed mode of transportation that would travel at 670 mph across long distances) offers accessibility features. While this seems like a faraway phenomenon, Tesla is currently testing pods for production, and we could see the first Hyperloop in the next five to ten years.


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Chris Corsi is the fall 2017 AAPD In-House Intern. He is a senior at the University of North Carolina.

The AAPD Technology Forum, comprised of individuals from the disability community and tech industry, works to advance access to technology to increase the opportunities and independence of all people with disabilities. The September Technology Forum will focus on the “open internet” and telecommunications policy.

Technology Forum – May 2017

May 18, 2017 | Anthony Stephens

This week, on the eve of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, disability advocates and technology leaders joined in a tour of Local Motors office in National Harbor, Maryland. Just down the Potomac from our nation’s capital, advocates and innovators experience the future of transportation, and there was a sense of optimism amongst our group as we listened to IBM’s Watson greet them from inside a scaled down version of the fully autonomous shuttle named Olli.

The name of the revolutionary vehicle comes from the Italian word for Octopus, a nod given from the vehicle’s creator, who pitched the idea to Local Motors after a global crowd-sourcing competition. The vehicle, debuted in National Harbor last summer, was not just revolutionary by being the world’s first cognitively aware fully autonomous shuttle, but using Local Motors innovative 3D printing micro manufacturing model, it was able to go from design to final production in only three months.

Working with IBM and the CTA Foundation, Local Motors is moving forward toward making the next generation of Olli to be the world’s most accessible vehicle in the world. And leveraging their innovative tactics toward design and manufacturing, concepts that once seemed science fiction are becoming reality at a speed similar to that on the Autobahn.

One of the greatest barriers to independence for people with disabilities has been accessible transportation. In the same breath, one of the greatest barrier busters for independence of people with disabilities has been the recent innovations through technology to augment the loss of particular abilities. This is what makes the Olli vehicle so promising for those looking to innovate in a way that can push the envelope for true universal design.

Last year, I had the opportunity to serve on the Department of Transportation’s negotiated rulemaking committee for the Air Carrier Access Act, where advocates and airline industry leaders got together to find ways to make air travel more accessible. The experience was a complete eye-opener (pardon the pun) on the constraints that traditional manufacturing place on innovation around universal design. Trying to make a Boeing 737 fully accessible was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around on a dime. Of course, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) have much fewer constraints than jet aircraft. However, Local Motors demonstrated the process by which a traditional highway vehicle with 2500 parts could be supplanted by a 3D printer in under 44 hours with just 44 parts.

Local Motors achieves its success around innovation using concepts still being developed through the intersection of crowd-sourcing and micro-manufacturing. This method turns traditional manufacturing constraints up-side-down, breaking down barriers to what was often tethered to costly R&D. Such changes in the paradigm of manufacturing holds significant opportunities in the sphere of accessible design.

It’s in this same spirit that Local Motors, IBM, and CTA Foundation are reaching out to accessibility minded groups, in hopes to create a vehicle that can be accessible to everyone. It might not be a car that can fly, but it has the potential of being a vehicle that communicates in multiple mediums including ASL, can tell blind passengers which way to the front door, have self-releasing ramps for wheel chairs, send messages to family members on the travel status of their loved ones with cognitive disabilities, or any other accessibility feature that you can dare to dream. Indeed, that’s where the biggest challenge will lay – not in what we refuse to do, but in what we refuse to imagine.

Click here to learn more about Olli’s pathway toward full universal design.


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Anthony Stephens, an AAPD Technology Forum participant, is the Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, a leading grassroots consumer organization for people who are blind and visually impaired in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter @StopThatOr.

The AAPD Technology Forum serves as a strategic meeting of national disability advocacy organizations and representatives from the technology industry with a mission to holistically drive and accelerate innovations to advance the interests of underrepresented groups. The accessibility of various technologies, devices, and applications continues to be an essential part of the forum’s deliberations.

Living in The District with a Disability

November 4, 2016 | Catherine Jacobson

Washington D.C. has easily and quickly become my favorite city. I have to admit that this is significantly due to the accessibility of the city to me, which provides me the resources to be independent. I am legally blind, but often describe myself as a person with a visual impairment, because I can see quite a bit. With my specific disability, and in my individual case, I find Washington D.C. the most accommodating and accessible city I have been to.

Much of this is because of the metro system here. I have two blind parents and a visually impaired sister, therefore throughout my entire life I have been reliant on public transportation. I grew up and go to school in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The Twin Cities public transportation system is good, there are buses going all around the cities, plus a few light rail lines going across the cities. However, it is nothing like the D.C. metro system.

There are metro stops all around Washington D.C. I never feel lost because I am always close to a metro stop, which means I am always close to my apartment. Yes, there is quite a bit of construction happening to the metro system this summer, however even with the construction I find the metro to be way more convenient than a regular bus system. I can only imagine how nice the metro system will be after all of the construction is complete. I have been on some of the new trains and they are very accessible. They have automatic stop calling, better lighting, and more room.

Besides the metro, everything in D.C. is very close together. I can walk across downtown D.C. with no problem. It is small enough that it is easy to figure out where you are going. The metro stops are also very close to one another. I walk a lot, I enjoy walking, and walking is free.

This city makes me feel very independent. I don’t have to wait 20 minutes for a bus, or rely on someone else to drive me somewhere. I can get to all of my appointments and meetings very easily and independently. I would love to be able to live here someday and hope to come back after an incredible summer of exploring and learning this amazing city.

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Catherine Jacobson was a 2016 AAPD Summer Intern who interned with Senator Amy Klobuchar. She is currently a junior at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, pursuing a double major in Public Health Sciences and Social Justice, with a Health Equity concentration.

Fast-Tracking Disability Rights: Identity, Advocacy, and Public Transportation

September 2, 2016 | Jovan Ruvalcaba

I was born a year before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy shortly thereafter. By the time I learned to walk at age four, I was eager to do everything other kids did. I soon learned that my balance, coordination, and dexterity were limited in ways my friends’ abilities weren’t. I decided that I would still try to run and climb even if it meant falling frequently. I would play sports even if it meant losing constantly, and above all I would integrate even if it was onerously. My parents were anxious that I would get physically or emotionally hurt, but never discouraged me from participating in extracurricular activities.

I would often skip lunch or stay after school to make sure my in-class assignments got done in class. Whatever the task I rarely asked for help and often refused it when it was offered. In school, I would carry an eighteen pound back-pack because I could not turn the dials on my locker. In P.E. I would end with blistered feet and bleeding knees, but I would complete the warm-up run. I was proud and foolish. And if you ought to take one lesson away from my experience it is this: Don’t be proud and foolish like me, address your disability needs. You are not doing anyone any favors by keeping quiet and more importantly no one is doing you any favors when they enforce your rights.

I have never ignored, much less begrudged, disability. To the contrary, disability has made me resourceful, resolute, patient, and sensitive to the struggles of others, but up until I entered law school I erroneously believed that showing forbearance and having a strong work ethic would be enough to show the world that having a disability was not a barrier to productivity or success. Law school’s competitiveness and culture of disability non-disclosure has pushed me to be more vocal about disability issues. I have found support among my colleagues, the writing program director, and the Dean of Students at my college, but as long as law schools’ policy prevents students with visible and invisible disabilities from discussing their disability experience or need for accommodations openly to professors, people with disabilities will continue to be underrepresented and underserved in the legal profession. In the study of law, we ought to speak about disability issues like we do race and socio-economic issues. How can future lawyers serve their clients in tort, tax, health, labor, or civil rights if there are few law students with disabilities around.

Being part of the AAPD Internship Program has provided me with the unique opportunity to learn from the nation’s leading disability rights advocates like Andy Imparato, Jennifer Mathis, Robert Silverstein, Janet Lord, and Kelly Buckland to name a few. Since I have arrived in Washington D.C. I have also had the privilege of meeting former US Representative Tony Cohelo – one of the primary sponsors of the ADA. However, the greatest honor I have received is the opportunity to work for Senator Charles Schumer, who recently introduced the Disability Integration Act (DIA) which seeks to reinforce the ADA and Olmstead mandate of providing people with disabilities integrated community services marked by personal choice and independence not conditioned institutionalization.

This summer is my first time out in D.C. and the east coast more generally. I would be lying if I said that I encountered massive culture shock. After having traveled to several countries around the world, D.C. feels as much like home as my home in Arizona. Perhaps, it is for this reason that I was sorely disappointed when I got on the D.C. metro rail system. D.C.’s sidewalks and streets are clean and flat. Its buildings are accessible. Despite being an historic city, the roads are wide and individual addresses are easy to find even for the most disoriented visitors like me. It is invigorating to see wheelchair users, deaf, and blind people going about their business throughout the city. Something that cannot be said of every city I have been to in the U.S., Latin America, or Europe.

Yet – the metro system in Washington D.C. needs a lot of work. The train stations while not particularly dirty, do not have permanently functioning elevators or escalators. In fact, just yesterday I had to climb a switched-off escalator uphill to exit the Capitol South metro station. Secondly, not all trains have LED signs announcing the next stop, and not all train conductors that announce the stops are intelligible through the speaker system. Despite having passengers packed like sardines in the early-morning and late-afternoon commutes very few trains have air conditioning or adequate ventilation. There isn’t reliable cell phone or WIFI service underground either. These objections might seem like first-world problems, but for a person with a disability each and every one of these shortcomings may leave them stranded and helpless any day of the week. The price of metro fares is another issue that disproportionately affects people with disabilities. Under the current system people with documented disabilities in D.C. get a metro ID that exempts them from the elevated rush-hour and week-end fares that the city itself imposed. Instead, people with disabilities pay the regular fare which varies from $1.75 to $3.60 one way depending on the distance traveled. This means that a person with a disability traveling to and from the grocery store or doctor’s office must pay anywhere from $105 to $216 a month for their daily trip. I would be remiss if I did not mention that a monthly-pass called MetroSelect does exist at least temporarily.[1] MetroSelect provides for unlimited monthly trips at $81 for Metrorail or $126 with metro and bus so long as the trip do not exceed $2.25 each way. However, under this pass the rush-hour fare (5:00-9:30 am and 3:00-7:00 pm) also known as “peak” fare applies to all. At its shortest distance, a metro ride costs $2.15 during peak hour. Any commute beyond 3.5 miles would require a pass upgrade at $135 for the rail or $180 with rail and bus each month. Perhaps, this does not seem like much if you are a government employee or private contractor, but if your only source of income is disability or social security benefits it substantially reduces your quality of life. The same goes if you are a student or an unpaid intern, of which there are many in the city.

Furthermore, the Washington Transit Authority does not factor in income for any of its discount programs. Now, it would be unrealistic to ask for free public transport for anyone, but where is the benefit in offering free entrance to museums and art shows if certain populations cannot afford to get there? Every person in the community should have an opportunity to explore and enjoy their city, but whereas abled-bodied people might use transportation as a matter of convenience, people with disabilities and the elderly use it out of necessity. It is not hard for people with limited mobility to maneuver around other people, and across crosswalks it can be downright painful. I for one spend most of my weekends at home recovering from the blisters of the week before and in anticipation of those to come the following week. One weekend of walking to the National Mall and Chinatown from Foggy Bottom covered my feet with yellow blisters. However, it is not only people with physical disabilities that need freer access to public transport, people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities rely on fixed routes and routines getting from point A to point B.

My critique of the D.C. metro is meant to be constructive and timely – nothing else. Repairs to the lines are taking place right now, but it would be a waste not to address the issues beyond the track. I know there are budget constraints, especially when D.C.’s revenue relies heavily if not entirely on tourism and the whims of the federal government. However, as the capital of the United States – as the acropolis of the free world – nothing but the best infrastructure can do.



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Jovan Ruvalcaba is a student at the James E. Rogers College of Law. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a double minor in French and Spanish. This summer Jovan interned with Senator Chuck Schumer.

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