Advocates pose standing and sitting in wheelchairs in front of the Capitol in D.C.

MDA on the Hill 2023: Advocates Return to Washington, D.C.

We are back in person (and better than ever!)

Three women in wheelchairs pose in front of the United States Capitol building

MDA National Ambassador Amy Shinneman, MDA National Ambassador Leah Z., and Advocate Reagan Imhoff at Hill Day.

It’s been over three years since MDA’s grassroots advocates traveled to Washington D.C. to meet in person with their lawmakers. Despite the pandemic-caused hiatus, advocates returning to the Nation’s capital this month arrived with renewed passion and purpose.

On May 9 and 10th, MDA grassroots volunteers were a force during MDA on the Hill as they urged lawmakers to make air travel more accessible for people living with a disability.

Here are the highlights of those impactful, couple days.

By the numbers

Advocates from across the country made the trip to Washington D.C. to ensure that their lawmakers work to finally improve air travel. We know they made a difference, and here are the numbers to prove it.

  • 31 advocates and staff attended
  • 11 states represented
  • 31 meetings with key MDA advocates were strategic and met with those Representatives and Senators who are in Leadership positions or served on key committees that will make the final decisions about air travel reforms this year.
  • 370+ additional messages were sent to Capitol Hill by our digital advocates, boosting the voices of those who were in Washington, D.C.
A young woman in a wheelchair with a man and woman standing on one side and two men, one a Senator, standing on her other side

MDA Advocates Michael Lopez, Jessica Lopez, Madison Lawson with Senator Josh Hawley and MDA Staff Michael Lewis

A simple, but vital ask: improve air travel now

Air travel for people living with a disability is a nightmare, but Congress has a unique opportunity to finally improve the system. This year Congress MUST reauthorization the Federal Aviation Act (FAA). This legislation gives us an opportunity to insert key reforms that will make air travel more accessible. Advocates urged Congress to include these key reforms in the FAA reauthorization:

  • Making airplanes more accessible
  • Ensuring the safety of air travelers with disabilities
  • Minimizing damage to wheelchairs and other mobility devices
  • Holding airlines accountable for broken, damaged, or lost wheelchairs and violations of passenger rights
  • Giving the disability community a seat at the table

But time is running out!

The next time Congress can reauthorize the FAA will be in 2028, so we might not have another opportunity like this for another five years.

Therefore, in the end, advocates had one simple, but urgent message to lawmakers:  Make air travel accessibility a top priority by supporting the inclusion of accessibility provisions in this year’s FAA reauthorization.

Taking the meetings to the next level

Relying on statistics or talking points around legislation is important, but MDA’s advocates took their legislative meetings to the next level by sharing their own personal, powerful travel experiences with their lawmakers. These personal stories “cut through the noise” and left a memorable impression on the Congressional offices that will last long after MDA on the Hill ended.

A young woman in a wheelchair poses with a Senator in front of the American flag

Advocate Reagan I. with United States Senator Baldwin

Some examples of the powerful, individual stories that were shared include:

  • Being dropped by airline staff, resulting in broken bones
  • Wheelchairs being destroyed by the airlines. A few advocates even experienced and discussed damage to their wheelchairs that occurred while coming to MDA on the Hill.
  • Refusing to fly altogether because of previous experiences
  • Letters from constituents in the district urging lawmakers to improve air travel

There is no doubt these stories heightened the urgency around reforming air travel and ensured that members of Congress remembered MDA’s advocates after the meetings ended.

What happens next

Even though MDA on the Hill was a huge success, our work is far from over. Congress is scheduled to release its draft bill reauthorizing the FAA in the next couple of weeks. We truly hope these accessibility provisions are included. If not, you can be certain that MDA and its advocates will raise their voices even louder.


Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.