Point of Order: A Disability Awareness Moment in Congress


December 9, 2019 at 10:30 AM was a good time to doze.

Had it been only ninety minutes since Congress’s Judiciary Committee Impeachment hearings started?  Roll call after roll call.   A “point of order” outburst. Then another roll call. Like the Congressmen in the House Chamber, I began to nod off.

“Point of order!  Point of order!  I can’t read the slides!”  The speaker was Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida.

The meeting came to a standstill until technicians adjusted the graphical display so that Mr. Gaetz could see it.

Quite alert now, with a raging heartbeat, I imagined myself tweeting to 66 million people:

“Mr. Chairman, Panelists, Honorable Congressmen and women, members of the Press, and fellow Americans:

The communications barrier that Representative Gaetz just encountered is NOTHING compared to the barriers which millions of Americans with disabilities still experience every day.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for thirty years.  Yet, steps still block wheelchair users from some hospitals, government offices, schools and stores.  Many Health providers and insurance companies still require those they serve to complete and sign paper forms using a pen, an often impossible task for people who are blind or have limited motor coordination.

Our own Commander in Chief perceives traumatic brain injuries as little more than headaches.”

(To be fair, Congressmen can request accommodations in advance.  Also, there was speculation that the “slides incident” was merely a delaying tactic.)

A Message To Representative Gaetz

A significant number of your Florida constituents will encounter disability-related barriers during this election year:

Will candidates insure that voters with disabilities have equal access to their literature, meetings with staff and debates?

Will accessible transportation be available to architecturally accessible polling places?

How will individuals who are nonverbal or deaf participate in town meetings?

In 2000, a significant number of Floridians, some of whom may have had difficulty processing written information, incorrectly completed and submitted ballots:

“It turned out that the (ballots) that were the most decisive were write-in ballots where people would check Gore and write Gore in and the machine kicked those out. There were 175,000 votes overall that were so-called “spoiled ballots.” About two-thirds of the spoiled ballots were over-votes; many or most of them would have been write-in over-votes, where people had punched and written in a candidate’s name.”

What will happen when Floridians who vote easily this year acquire disabilities later in life?  Congressman Gaetz, will your protégés advise them to shout “Point of order!” when they encounter barriers to voting independently?

God’s Point of Order

For millennia, righteous prophets, preachers and poets of all faiths have shouted “Point of Order!” to those who abuse their earthly power.  In this spirit, I apply God’s attributes (as described in the quotes from Psalm 146 to disability advocacy:

God is the One who–

  •  “Secures justice for those who are wronged”–by inspiring us to work towards a better world;
  •  “Restores sight to the blind”–through inventors and trainers who make information access and independent travel a reality;
  • “Straightens those who are bent”—through extra-skeletal outfits which many could use if insurers paid for them;
  • “Watches over the disadvantaged”—(whose pleas are not heard,) inspiring us to seek their input.

Championing accessibility may or may not be a parliamentary point of order.

For me, it is a point of ardor.

Rabbi Michael Levy: As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to email him.