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Toward Independence and the Vision of an ADA - Part 13

Significant Additions to NCD Staff

At the beginning of January, when the report was just about put to bed for final printing, new help for the staff arrived when Lex filled the two remaining professional positions. Kathleen Roy (later Johnson) was hired as the Children’s Services Specialist. Before joining the staff of the Council, Kathy had been a policy associate for the governmental affairs office of the United Cerebral Palsy Association, where she handled a variety of legislative matters, including those relating to education, developmental disabilities, civil rights, and appropriations. Before that, she had worked on Capitol Hill as a research assistant for the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Her hiring by the Council made her one of the highest-ranking federal government employees with cerebral palsy. Andi Farbman assumed the position of Public Affairs Specialist. Dr. Farbman was the woman whom Laura Rauscher had introduced me to, and at whose Access Board office I had learned of several documents that allowed me to make cost/benefits arguments in favor of recommendations in the report. Sometime before he offered her the position, Lex asked me if I knew her, told me he was considering hiring her, and asked me what I thought. He was not aware that Andi and I had been dating, off and on, for a couple of months. I acknowledged that I knew her, and told Lex, in all honesty, that I thought she would be a great addition to the staff.

Also joining our little workforce in January was G. William Mitchell, whom the Council had chosen as the 1986 Council Fellow. Bill’s background combined advocacy and administration at the state and university levels, and he had worked at the Georgia Protection and Advocacy Office as an advocate representing persons with disabilities in education hearings.

All three of the new additions proved to be capable, knowledgeable, and congenial, and we soon became friends as well as colleagues. Kathy’s insights on disability issues and her perspectives on how business gets done inside the Congress were quite helpful, and her warm personality was a pleasure to be around. Bill was a great person with whom to discuss thorny issues and philosophical questions and just to shoot the breeze with, and his technological skills (quite exceptional for the time period) were instrumental in helping the less technologically inclined of us as the Council upgraded our computers and software.

Andi brought a rich array of experience and credentials to her new job at the Council, which was, in fact, two jobs, because the “Public Affairs” position included both congressional relations and communications with the media, disability community, and general public. Her dedication to disability rights began during high school when, as part of a volunteer program, she met, got to know, and developed a close relationship with Carol, a young woman of about the same age who had been classified as having an intellectual disability. Though Carol was highly functional, a bit slow, and slightly awkward, she was forced to go to a separate school. As a result of not being allowed to attend her neighborhood school, and some over-protectiveness and reduced expectations by her parents, she did not have any friends, and was deprived of many typical teenage experiences, such as going to hang out with schoolmates, trying to get a driver’s license, and going to stores and movies by herself. Andi soon filled the role of friend, going with Carol to the movies, shopping for clothes, and going to eating places (the Hot Shoppes, part of a Washington area chain
of family-style restaurants famous for its Mighty Mo burger, was one of their favorites). Andi was struck by how other customers would stare and make fun of Carol. She came away with a strong indignation that the obstacles that Carol faced were blatantly unfair; and, as a white, Jewish kid who grew up in Anacostia, a predominantly black neighborhood in DC, protesting discrimination, marching for Home Rule in the District, and attending Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the Mall, she perceived the way Carol was treated in a deprivation-of-civil-rights framework.

That insight germinated until she was in college at the University of Maryland and led her to change her major to therapeutic recreation – a field whose objective is providing recreational opportunities to persons with disabilities. Learning of her passion for fair treatment of people with disabilities, the head of the therapeutic recreation program, Dr. Jerry Fain, started taking her with him to meetings and conferences of relevant organizations, particularly the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD),[1] a federal agency that reported to the President and sought to promote the employment of people with disabilities. The PCEPD annual meetings, which dated back to 1948, brought together disability advocates from around the country, were well-attended, and had become an important venue in which people with disabilities could network, congregate, and form coalitions. When Andi attended her first annual meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel, she found it “mind-blowing” to experience the large numbers of people with all kinds of disabilities all gathered in one place. She was impressed by Harold Russell, who had lost both of his hands in an explosives training accident during World War II and went on to win two Oscars as an actor in the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives,” before serving as PCEPD chairman from 1964 through most of the 1980s. And she met a number of leading disability leaders, such as Judy Heumann, Eunice Fiorito, and Frank Bowe.

Dr. Fain soon got Andi appointed as the student member of the PCEPD’s Subcommittee on Recreation and Leisure. She describes the subcommittee as being something of an “outlaw” within the organization; while the main focus of the organization was trying to get people with disabilities jobs, the leaders of the subcommittee wanted also to get them into movie theaters, sports arenas, and the national parks, and were willing to take concrete action to do so.[2] With little real authority but strong moral conviction, Andi joined other subcommittee members in pushing such entities as the U.S. Air Arena in suburban Maryland to increase accessibility of their facilities and services. Through PCEPD, she learned about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and became an enthusiastic devotee. When, as an Assistant Professor and graduate student, Andi started teaching courses at George Washington University, she had a large government poster quoting Section 504 displayed prominently on the wall of her office.

In the years between 1974, when she graduated from college, to 1986, when she joined the staff of the Council, Andi was something of a jacki-of-all-trades in the areas of therapeutic recreation and disability accessibility. She served as Director of Grants and Public Relations at Melwood, a horticulture therapy pioneering nonprofit providing employment, job training, job placement assistance, life-skills improvement, and supportive and recreational services for people with disabilities; served as a consultant on the development of a Master Plan for Greenwell State Park on the Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and was instrumental in innovative planning and design for full inclusion and integration of people with disabilities; taught courses for graduate students, undergraduates, and paraprofessionals, and did clinical work in the Rehabilitation Unit and the Psychiatric Unit at GW; designed and taught the first course in leisure studies and disability in Britain; served as the Deputy Director of the British Sports Association for the Disabled; and wrote the initial foundations for outdoor recreation accessibility guidelines for the Access Board, from which regulations were eventually developed. She had quite an array of skills and experience to apply to the position of Public Affairs Specialist at the Council, which was a good thing because she needed to get off to a quick start in her new job. The Toward Independence report was being issued in a matter of weeks from her joining the staff, and that event would involve both the congressional relations and the media and public communications aspects of her job. She was soon busy working on press releases, drafting remarks for Council members, and making contact with congressional offices.

Continue on to Part 14: Pre-Briefing and a Pre-Release Attack on the Equal Opportunity Laws Proposal

[1] It went by the name, the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, prior to 1988, when President Reagan renamed it as the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. In 2001, it was succeeded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy in the Department of Labor.

[2] During the late 60s and 70s, the Ad Hoc Transportation Subcommittee, chaired by Henry Viscardi, was also quite active, promoting improved access by people with disabilities to air and automobile travel, urging the Urban Mass Transit Administration to require public transportation systems to purchase lift-equipped buses with the federal funding they received, and insisting that the planned new subway in Metropolitan Washington be accessible and a model for the nation. See, Fred Pelka, The ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement, p. 249 (ABC-CLIO, 1997); President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, 25 Years of Volunteers in Partnership, p. 45 (1972), found at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED072280.pdf.