Beauty in the Spam Folder: How paying attention to my inbox led to a moment of advocacy

Last week I was scrolling through my inbox. I hadn’t checked it for a few days because it’s an email address that tends to get a lot of spam.

Somehow, I got on a list to receive action alerts from a state-wide advocacy group. I didn't recognize the name of the organization, but the issues they’ve promoted align with my values, so I haven’t unsubscribed yet. I usually just delete the emails.

But one message in particular caught my eye. “Contact the Senate committee today to support proposed changes in disability parking laws!”

Since I use a wheelchair and have first-hand experience with parking challenges, I clicked on the link, thinking I would just fill out and send the provided email template. I’d done this before for other organizations and causes, and it was easy.


This level of involvement was within my comfort zone.

However, listed under the email option was information about giving live testimony to the committee via Zoom. I was intrigued, so I found the full text of the House Bill and read the new language. I was encouraged by the possibilities of the law and wanted to make sure it passed. Before I could talk myself out of it, I signed up to testify! I submitted my name along with a brief written statement and requested the Zoom link for the hearing that would be held in two days.

I’ve spoken to lawmakers and their aides about policy issues in the past, and I’ve had some training on crafting a short yet effective persuasive story, so I wasn’t in completely foreign territory. But it would be the first time I would give public testimony for the record. 

This would be formal, official, and procedural. Yikes!

I reached out to my friend who has done this multiple times, and she gave me pointers about how the legislature uses Zoom and what to expect with the protocols and order of testimony. “You’ll want to start by saying ‘Mr. Chair and Committee Members,’ introduce yourself, and then spell your last name.” 

Buoyed by her advice, I typed up my speech and practiced it out loud to ensure it was no longer than two minutes. I had flashbacks to school assignments, and I was grateful I’d been required to take a speech class in college. 

As the time for the hearing approached, I logged on to an empty Capitol room and waited. And waited. And waited. With each passing minute, I became more nervous. I read and reread my speech, tweaking and making last-minute edits. After about twenty minutes, a disembodied voice came on and said the committee was running late because the senators were finishing up a floor vote. 

When the hearing finally started, my body tensed. Here we go! But the Chair called a different bill to be first on the agenda. Whew! I relaxed and watched the proponents and opponents testify on tow truck regulations. Some people were there in person and a couple were on Zoom. I got to see how the process moved, and my once-racing heart slowed as I gained confidence.

When the disability parking bill came up on the docket, I was ready.

Several people representing nonprofits or legal advocacy groups testified in support. Many of them were also disabled. They talked about the history of accessibility laws, the line-item details of the proposed changes, and the overall impact. When my turn came, I knew my personal message would be a perfect fit to round out the testimony. 

I spoke clearly and with passion. My video was turned off (a requirement of the hearing protocol), so I didn't have to worry about my appearance. I simply focused on telling my story. *You can read the full text of my testimony at the end of this post.

My testimony was over in a flash, but I felt like I’d made an impact. A warm glow filled my soul. I had made the right choice to follow my intuition and step out of my comfort zone. 

There were no opponents, and when I checked the status a few days later, I was pleased to find the bill had been passed out of committee with a unanimous vote.

I'm SO glad I didn't delete that email!

What “uncomfortable” actions are you called to take?

How can you find the hidden beauty in something you usually throw out or delete?

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    Other Doorways from this month:

    • We took a drive one Saturday afternoon and came across a bridge we'd never seen before. Turns out it's a historically preserved structure with trusses from 1899. There was a sign nearby with the details of the beautiful connection between late 19th century and late 20th century technology.


    • I got my second dose of the Covid vaccine and didn't have ANY side effects! I was filled with joy and gratitude.

    • A friend (and former colleague) sent me an unexpected text with a request to drop by for a front porch visit. She brought me a beautiful Easter Lily plant which is now blooming.


    • After waiting two weeks after my last vaccine shot, I finally got my hair cut! It was such a relief to have short hair again and to get rid of the half a dozen hair clips I'd been using to pull my hair back.


    -------------------------

    March 23, 2021 

    Zoom testimony


    Mr. Chair and Committee Members, my name is Lisa Michael, M-i-c-h-a-e-l, and I live in Bozeman. 


    I have a progressive muscular dystrophy and use a motorized wheelchair when I leave my house. I am still independent, and I drive a custom minivan that has an automatic ramp that deploys out the sliding door on the passenger side. 

     

    Parking is the most stressful thing about going out by myself. Not only are spaces limited, but I also need extra room for my wheelchair ramp to extend. Piles of snow or stray shopping carts often block the spaces. 


    And once I find a spot, my worst fear is that I’ll be parked in.

     

    Every time I’m in my wheelchair returning to the parking lot, my heart races and my stomach tightens. I wonder if someone has chosen to ignore the striped lines and park next to me. 


    Unfortunately, it happened for the fourth time last month. I parked in a handicapped space with a narrow, striped aisle - the minimal space needed for my ramp. When I came back from my appointment, I found an SUV parked almost completely in the painted area, blocking me in. My heart sank. 


    I had to fight back tears of frustration as I struggled to stand up from my chair and get into the driver's seat, so I could back out the van far enough to load my wheelchair. The ordeal was exhausting and disheartening.  


    Soon, I won’t have the ability to stand and hobble those few steps, and I will be stuck in the cold weather waiting for the owner of the car to return. I know there are other disabled people who have had similar experiences. 


    The proposed changes to the accessible parking laws add important and specific language to give law enforcement guidance and authority to keep disability parking accessible and available. Please vote to support HB 598. 


    Thank you, Mr. Chair and Committee, for your time and consideration. 

     

     



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