Monday, May 21, 2012

The Washington trip

I didn’t choose to go to Washington DC. There was simply no other way for me to take an oath of attorney for their Bar without physically appearing in their Court of Appeals on the day specified in the letter. Originally I was prepared to arrive on Thursday night, leave the next afternoon right after the ceremony. I ended up staying over the weekend and scheduled some meetings for Monday. I figured, this adventure was getting pretty expensive anyway and I’ve had a few suits and ties with me already, why not make it productive, because who knows when I would be back again? Last time I was there it was Spring of 2001 and I was representing Poland in the finals of Jessup International Moot Court Competition. DC is a funny place. With 600,000 people actually living there they have 100,000 lawyers admitted to the bar, most of them presumably not in the area. I wanted to meet some people, not necessarily because I’ve had an agenda that I was promoting but mostly to say hello, this is me, this is my disability and I have arrived. I also got to spend some quality time with my law partner and good friend Josh, who came to town to see my moment of triumph and was observing Shabbas.
People seemed to be really interested to meet me when they heard of me and my story. Scheduling for it to actually happen was a different issue. It seems people where willing to see me on Thursday and that’s when the weekend starts for people in the area. Had I known this I would’ve arrived a day early. This trip could have been a lot more busy and goal oriented because some people were not even available to meet on a Monday.  But the point was to make some initial connections and for people that I might have been emailing with or who have heard about me to finally see me in person. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida helped the Klausner Foundation when navigating through the absurdity of my immigration case. We’ve had a relationship of sorts with his staffers so we’ve met with them to share our concerns about accommodated testing, the need for disability law awareness (and more attorneys practicing in that field) and ADA issues in general. Later that day we met with Chris Thomson- the vice president of United Cerebral Palsy and Steve Katsurinis, one of their directors. The organization, despite its name deals with a broad range of disabilities. What I find striking is although they are now a power house with offices all around the country and abroad they started off as a small community based organization aimed to assist the parents, not unlike the Klausner Foundation.  The surreal part- while I was in Washington DC talking about students with disability, more inclusion, education and Cerebral Palsy issues, Washington itself was one of the most wheelchair inaccessible places I’ve seen in a while. My friends had to carry me up the stairs to the door of their house for dinner and that set up was pretty standard for what I have seen in the area. Even the shops and cafes around the Senate offices had a few steps right in front of the entrance. I wasn't there long enough to get upset over it, but it did remind me of 1980’s Poland. The angles of some sidewalk ramps felt randomly sharp.It is also funny how as it turns out “accessibility” can mean a lot of different things. Embassy Suites where I was staying wasn’t even listed on as having any disability features, neither were most of lounging destinations in the area, but I was assured it was.
The common problem when you travel with a wheelchair is finding a place to stay. Typically, only the most expensive locations show up on those engines as having accommodations. In the era of internet, you need to do a lot of research and by phone. Turns out in my case I didn’t need go as expensive especially for the very few accommodations I got. Yes, the hotel had an elevator (and God knows why the room was on the 8th Floor) and there were grab bars by the toilet. But for most people not having a roll in shower is a bi deal breaker. I usually manage with a bath tub. The only thing to assist me was a portable transfer seat which you could probably get at a local pharmacy for $20. I also wondered if people have any problems getting on a bed that high. When I was stranded in Charlotte NC at the airline sponsored Mariott Courtyard as my flights were grounded – they had a spacious, wheelchair friendly bathroom. But someone had forgotten to put the grab bars on the walls. But as far as DC goes,let me tell you- going up and down the hill in the area I would’ve built quite the muscle tone had I stayed there a week longer. And as a side note- as a pricier hotel that advertises as catering to business people I was surprised that their computer area was unable to print PDFs and their internet kiosks had outdated software. Not to mention, they charged extra for internet in the room!

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