During the Illinois Legislative Sessions, Access Living organizes regular advocacy trips to Springfield. Depending on the issues in Springfield, Access Living will travel to the capitol up to three to five times every month. In Springfield, from 15 to 30 disability rights advocates meet with legislators to raise awareness around legislation and initiatives that support the independence and self-determination of people with disabilities.
Chuy Campuzano of the organizing group Cambiando Vidas
Considering that Springfield is around 200 miles away from Chicago, transportation to the capitol can sometimes be a significant challenge. Typically, advocates travel to Springfield on the Amtrak Train. Over the past few years, Access Living began to experience roadblocks when traveling on, and working with Amtrak. Earlier this year, Amtrak instituted a new policy in which it wouldn’t allow more than three wheelchair users on the train. This policy created a major problem for advocates. On more than one occasion, advocates were forced to stay behind and wait for the next train because there was a lack of accessible space. Recognizing the lack of access as a major problem, community organizing groups at Access Living developed a plan of action.
“It’s difficult enough to deal with budget shortfalls and a lack of awareness of disability rights in Springfield,” said Mike Sentino of the Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing, (DRACH). “Now we also have to deal with a lack of accessible transportation just to get to Springfield.” DRACH is a Housing Organizing group and a part of Access Living’s Power to the People Coalition, an umbrella group for all Access Living Community Organizing Groups.
As a plan of action, Power to the People identified Sentino and Chuy Campuzano, of Cambiando Vidas, as the advocates who would represent the group. During the week of March 18, they presented their concerns to the Union Station Manager. On Tuesday, March 26, Mike and Chuy met again with the Manager to follow up on the concerns. At the meeting on March 26, the station manager agreed to increase the number of travelers who use chairs from three to 10 and gave them an authorized reservation for 10 chair users for April 10, the next scheduled date for a trip to Springfield. According to Beto Barrera, Access Living’s Manager of Community Organizing, “Mike and Chuy agreed that this decision is a step in the right direction by Amtrak. More still needs to be done.” Sentino agreed. He said they are working to secure a written commitment that guarantees Amtrak will continue to offer at least 10 accessible seats. Beto went on to say, “This is a good example of a people’s victory when the people take action! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!”
The victory comes just in time. A group of nearly 40 people from Access Living plans to travel to Springfield on April 10. They will join other Illinois disability advocates for a rally in support of the closure of the Murray Developmental Center, and in support of community integration, choice and independence.