From its earliest days, MossRehab has been an advocate for the most vulnerable among us. Starting as far back as the 1970s, the Friends of MossRehab initiated community outreach programs for people with disabilities - predating the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The volunteers would assess stores, parks, and other public areas in the Philadelphia region to determine their accessibility for people with different abilities and make recommended changes.
“If you go back in history, MossRehab not only transformed physical medicine and rehabilitation but was one of the first to reach out to the community to advocate for people with disabilities,” says Julie Hensler-Cullen, RN, MSN, Director of Education and Quality at MossRehab.
Today, MossRehab continues to work with federal, state, and city policymakers as well as local communities and organizations to protect the rights of people with disabilities and ensure their inclusion in programs offered to the general population. “MossRehab brings attention to the issues of people with disabilities whether it's for better access to public facilities or inclusion in education or employment programs,” explains Bill Ryan, Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs at Einstein Healthcare Network (of which MossRehab is a part). Ryan, who leads the governmental and community affairs operation, oversees and directs federal, state, and local lobbying efforts.
Bringing to Light COVID-19 Challenges
For example, because of COVID-19, many businesses adopted video communications platforms (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams) to conduct meetings remotely and keep staff connected. However, many enterprises did not consider the need for these programs to adapt for people with disabilities. Early on, MossRehab stepped in to bring awareness to this need and began working with local governments to create policies requiring businesses to implement technologies that accommodate everyone.
MossRehab also is trying to raise awareness of rehabilitation services for individuals dealing with the long-term impacts of COVID-19. "Those with any physical limitation already have challenges in addition to those health problems imposed by the virus," explains Ryan. "We want to start the conversation with state and federal legislators on ways to research the long-term effects of COVID-19 that can be beneficial to the nation."
"Before the pandemic, we also worked with public work departments at certain beaches such as Wildwood, NJ, to adopt the new accessibility icon as the official parking logo," notes Ryan. "In addition, we lobbied to make their beaches more accessible by adding boardwalk-type entrances and increasing the availability of Mobi-chairs made for people with disabilities to transition from the boardwalk to the sand and water. We also provided disability etiquette training to 42 beach patrol guards."
Lobbying Federal and State Government
On a broad scale, MossRehab continually petitions the federal and state legislature to raise awareness about disability etiquette, the need for greater accessibility, acute care reform, and other issues. "I have spent a lot of time in Harrisburg and Washington working with our U.S. Senators and members of Congress to raise awareness about MossRehab and our causes," notes Ryan. "We have talked with State Senator Christine Tartaglione (PA-2) in Harrisburg about the importance of disability advocacy and have become recognized as a resource on different topics."
Locally, MossRehab works with organizations and focus groups that include children and people with communication disorders to understand and champion their needs. Ryan also coordinates with Hensler-Cullen, who is a member of the Philadelphia Mayors Commission for People with Disabilities, Alberto Esquenazi, MD, Chief Medical Officer at MossRehab and colleagues of the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association (AMRPA) to remain current on issues.
Working with Local Municipalities
One initiative prompted by local residents is making Township Line Road in front of MossRehab Elkins Park easier to cross. Without a proper pedestrian crossing and sidewalks, it is difficult for a person, especially someone using a wheelchair, to safely cross the street after leaving the bus. Since Township Line Road divides two townships - Cheltenham and Abington - MossRehab is working with both to create a safer pedestrian crossing that will incorporate lighting, signaling, and some roadway adjustments.
"We also are working with SEPTA and PennDOT because that's a state road," remarks Ryan. "Thankfully, State Senator Art Haywood (PA-4) is very involved, and Abington Township donated some funds while Cheltenham said they would do their part. We all agree the solution is necessary and are working today in a collaborative effort to achieve it."
Additionally, MossRehab is advocating for Philadelphia to adopt public work improvements implemented by Harrisburg such as crossing lights with sound connected to timers so that individuals who are visually impaired can more safely cross streets and curving pavement corners that are more conducive to wheelchairs and those with visual impairments. "We are asking for the city to endorse a new policy for these improvements moving forward in certain areas," says Ryan.
Become an Advocate
Advocacy does not just fall on big enterprises. Individuals can serve as a voice to speak on behalf of individuals with a disability. Community members knowing what's happening or what needs to be done in their neighborhoods can advocate for people with disabilities.
“I encourage patients, staff, and members of the local community to reach out to us to become involved with issues, programs, and basic rights of people with disabilities,” notes Ryan. “Working together, we can make a difference.”
To learn more about becoming an advocate for people with disabilities, visit our Disability Etiquette program.