Senate Fun

Over the past two days I have had the opportunity to speak with both of my favorite Senators. Yesterday I attended Senator Franken (D – MN)’s constituent breakfast. He served wild rice porridge for breakfast. When asked why he wasn’t eating any he responded “after you eat something every week for five months, the taste becomes unappetizing… That happened for me with the wild rice recipe from Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis four years ago.”

Today I had the opportunity to get my photo taken with Senator Harkin on the steps of the Capitol. He remembered me from our many encounters at Drake, so after giving me a big hug we talked for a few moments after the photo was taken. I was proud of myself for being able to correctly congratulate him on the passage of the bill (WIOA that I posted about last night) in American Sign Language.

I remembered that the Senator had explained some of his post – retirement plans with his interns at lunch a couple of weeks ago. Senator Harkin wants to explore the bike trails in Des Moines with his wife Ruth. While on the steps of the Capitol I invited him to contact me when he is in Des Moines and in need of a biking companion.


Exciting Week

This past week my parents came into town to celebrate the Fourth of July. We watched the fireworks from the west steps of the Capitol, which was a spectacular experience.

The Air and Space museum was very magnificent, impressive, and educational as always; shout out to President David Maxwell for suggesting that I spend a day there. Speaking of Drake, one of our alumnus Darci Vetter got confirmed today as U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Chief Agriculture Negotiator. I was so proud to be in the gallery as a fellow Bulldog was being confirmed to such a high position within the Department of Agriculture.

Life on the Hill has been quite hectic recently. Just a few days before the Fourth of July recess the Senate passed the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act (WIOA) which provides vocational and rehabilitation services for students who want to either enter into the workforce or attend college. The final Senate vote was 95 – 3.

Today marked the end of what was years in the making; the passage of a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which was renamed WIOA during this reauthorization. After working tirelessly for months the House of Representatives passed WIOA 415 – 6. In all, from first mark up to passage from the entire Congress; the process took under a year, although this was the third time that the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee had tried to reauthorize the WIA. My entire office was elated after the vote; everyone had huge grins on their faces when leaving the gallery. Of specific significance to the passage of this bill was that now the United States will (hopefully, if signed by the President) one step closer from doing away with sheltered workshops which put people with disabilities at a disadvantage in their ability to be included into society.

This week in 1999

This past week has been very influential in shaping the kinds of freedoms and rights that People with Disabilities (PwD’s) receive in the American workforce today. In particular, there were three significant Supreme Court decisions that were made during this past week in 1999.

The first case decided was Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg. This case was trying to determine weather a company was requires, under section II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is required to be lenient with federal safety regulations when hiring a person with a disability who does not, without accommodation, meet the required safety requirements. In the decision, the Court decided that no, not everyone who claimed to be disabled under the ADA was truly disabled, unless they brought sufficient evidence that was to be examined by a potential employer on a case by case basis. This ensured that companies were, hopefully, not going to be accused of discrimination in hiring since the decision about a person;s protection under the ADA (and therefore discrimination in hiring) was to be done on a case by case basis.

The second major disability related decision was made on June 25,1999 was Bragdon v. Abbott. This case involved the case of an HIV positive dental patient and weather altering her treatment (performing it in a hospital rather then a dentist office) violated that equal treatment clause of the ADA. The 5 – 4 decision by the Supreme Court showed that the ADA does not require practitioners to treat patients who directly pose a threat to the health of other, but that the ADA also protects a disabled individual from discrimination in a public place (such as a dentist office.)

The final disability related case was decided on June 22, 1999. Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc. invoked twin sisters whose vision was worse the 20/200, but with corrective instruments was good enough to allow them to apply for commercial piloting jobs at United airlines. The major question in the case was weather the definition of a disability – as defined by the ADA – was to be applied to an individual’s circumstances before or after corrective measures were taken. In a 7 – 2 vote, the Court found that an individual’s status as being disabled or not, under the ADA, should be made after all attempts at corrective methods were made.

Of course, the most well known disability related Supreme Court case was Olmstead v. United States, which made the integration of people with disabilities into society more obtainable with reasonable accommodation. This case was further explained in my last post.

Disability and accesability on Television

Over the weekend I have had the opportunity to watch a few shows on ABC Family. I was very impressed with their representation of disability. In particular, there is a fish in Finding Nemo who is obsessed with bubbles, whiz clearly represented Obsessive Composive Disorder. I also liked to see how Nemo has a smaller fin, but how his father fights to have him integrated into  society with some assistance from the teacher. This shows how even people with disabilities can succeed in society with some accommodations. 

Another interesting representation of disability is shown in the show Switched at Birth. This show depicts the tribulations that a young deaf girl faces while trying to live a normal life, while trying to stay connected to the Deaf culture that she grew up in. This shows how important it is for individuals who are deaf to be proud of their unique culture, much like any other cultural group; weather they are hispanic, jewish, or any other number of distinct cultural groups. This same show also describes the hardships that people in wheelchairs face simple trying to get around and into establishments around town. This was shown in the show when one of the girl’s friends – who is in a wheelchair – is denied entry into a restaurant simple because of the fact that he is in a wheelchair. Although this is not said lout loud, the hostess at the door tells the two friends that the restaurant  is at capacity. After another group is let in; the discrimination based on disability becomes apparent. 

Accessibility and Olmsted








It was such an honor to be able to attend the 15th anniversary celebration of the Olmstead decision. 



Listening to all of the wonderful stories and t4estemonies makes me grateful for the advocates who came before me who make it possible for me to live, with the support that I need, in the community that I want. 

Week Before Orientation

I am awaiting the beginning of my orientation with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). This past week, I took advantage of my time off to explore the city further and make some more professional connections.


On Tuesday I met with Tara Sonenshine at her office at George Washington University. She and I discussed her career path; from writing for her school newspaper in College at Tuffs to becoming the Undersecretary of Communications for President Clinton in addition to my career aspirations and how I could make connections to help me to help me to learn about different career paths that are related to my interests.


After I got over my initial star struck of meeting this amazing woman, she introduced me to Taylor Cook, who works for Planet Forward. Planet Forward is a group of Universities – including Drake – that works towards increasing equality for many I different individuals. The only place that they do not have anyone focused on is the environment and People with Disabilities.



After learning this, Mrs. Sonenshine and I discussed how often times, natural disasters have more of a profound effect on the Disabled community then is often times portrayed in the media. Our discussion concluded with Mrs. Sanenshine offering to help me to become further connected to a variety of disability advocacy groups in Washington, D.C. After this, Mrs. Cook and I discussing the Drake community over coffee.


On Thursday I met with Erin Hennessy who is a consultant for an organization that helps to increase the ability of University Presidents – including David Maxwell – to be more approachable by both students and the press. During our meeting, we discussed my vision to see the college experience more attainable by students with Disabilities. I brought up the fact of how, currently only 15% of blind people are in some form of post – secondary education program or job opportunity and how I see this as a large obstacle to seeing People with Disabilities succeed in society, because it is hard to get ahead in society today without a college degree.


I added my personal experience to the conversation. While I was looking at colleges to attend, I physically had to travel to each school I was looking at to see the education accommodations they were able to give me in order to help me to succeed in my classes. I personally was not able to find the academic accommodation information that I needed through Internet searches or phone inquiries. I see this as an extra deterrent for a student with Disabilities to want to attend colleges, because the process to find etiquette accommodations makes the college search experience exponentially harder.



Before I begin to reflect upon my first week in Washington, D.C. I would like to tell you, my readers, a little more about me and what you can expect from my blog posts throughout the course of this summer. I am a sophomore Public Relations and Law/Politics/Society major at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

This summer, I will be interning for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. I received this opportunity, in part, thanks to the connections that I made during my first year at Drake.  I would not be here today if it was not for the many supporters that I have at school wand home. In addition, I received financial support from the Skay Fund for Social Justice at Drake Universty which strives to help out students like me who embody Drake’s mission of community service and active engagement in the local – or in this case national – community.

My blog posts throughout the summer will highlight intereting events that I attend, activities that I participate in, in addition to my insider perspective of how the legislative process works. In addition to my blog, you can follow my adventures on Twitter @AnnikaGrassl or with #HelpDC14.


Drake University Student