United Spinal Association will host Frances M. Ozur Cole from Albuquerque, New Mexico, at its 7th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill, June 24-27 in Washington, D.C., along with other prominent disability advocates, to speak directly with legislators on issues that affect the independence and quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and disorders and other pre-existing conditions.
Ozur Cole, 59, who has used a manual wheelchair since 2004 and is a business entrepreneur, graphic designer and former electrical engineer, will be attending Roll on Capitol Hill to advocate for greater access to complex rehab technology and medically necessary wheelchairs.
“Because I grew up in the DC area, politics became ingrained in my blood. I became involved in Roll on Capitol Hill knowing the importance of one voice and how to use my vote,” said Ms. Ozur Cole.
“It is important for me to speak out for my community, especially for those who can’t,” she added.
Ozur Cole, explained that the first time she attended Roll on Capitol Hill she burst into tears.
“Here were others just like me wanting to make a difference. I finally knew I was no longer alone,” she said.
Last year Ozur Cole was awarded Roll on Capitol Hill Advocate of The Year in Washington, D.C.
In her home community of Albuquerque as current president of United Spinal’s New Mexico chapter, Ozur Cole is working to increase disability awareness and the importance of accessibility.
“I have heard horrible stories about religious institutions not allowing members to sing in the choir or participate in services because they are in wheelchairs. I am appalled that houses of worship treat their members this way,” she said.
The synagogue Ozur Cole attends fixed the ramp from the parking lot to the sidewalk entrance of the building to make it accessible and installed an elevator lift so that everyone can reach the bima (raised platform) that is the focal point in the congregation for the leader of the liturgy.
She hopes to urge other congregational leaders to follow suit to make their own places of worship more accessible to wheelchair users.
Ozur Cole is now looking forward to the upcoming Roll on Capitol Hill to share her story, push for positive change and oppose legislation that negatively impacts wheelchair users, including the ADA Education and Reform Act, which recently passed the House Judiciary Committee.
This bill states that a person with a disability send a letter to a building owner, explaining why they cannot access the structure. The owner has 60 days to acknowledge the problem and has another 60 days to make substantial progress in fixing the barrier or reply in writing why the accessible barrier cannot be completed.
This can lead to lengthy court proceedings before anything regarding what the business may or may not be required to do is finalized.
“As someone who relies on a wheelchair for my mobility and as a private citizen, I have the right to enter any public facility,” stated Ms. Ozur Cole.
“Why should disabled people for example, have to return months later to visit a public building and then only if the problem has been fixed?” she asked.
“This is why I attend ROCH: lawmakers need to be educated about the difficulties of living with a disability,” said Ms. Ozur Cole.
Ozur Cole, who graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland in College Park, MD, lives with congenital narrowing of the spinal column. Despite recurring herniated discs that have severely impacted her mobility, Ozur Cole was able to pursue a rewarding career designing flight simulators for the military and as a graphic designer.
As a disability advocate for many years, finding a peer mentor who reaches out to offer support is the best suggestion she can give to someone living with a new spinal cord injury or disorder.
With the support of her therapist, husband and close family members, Ozur Cole has overcome many of the obstacles that have limited her quality of life.
“My husband and I reinvented the wheel for everything; it would have helped so much to have found local support as many now have through United Spinal,” said Ms. Ozur Cole.