Inside the race to replace Congress’ first quadriplegic — and its effect on disability rights


Now that Fung is a critical contender to switch Langevin, the bespectacled 58-year-old and his allies face a tough query: Should a Democrat win his seat so as to keep it up his work for the rights of individuals with disabilities — or can a Republican who counts Langevin as a buddy additionally tackle the trigger he championed?

Langevin, who’s endorsed Rhode Island Common Treasurer Seth Magaziner over 4 different Democratic major contenders — together with his personal former staffer, Pleasure Fox – mentioned in a current interview that Fung is “the fallacious particular person for the district” and certain to again Home GOP leaders in “pushing the far-right agenda.”

However Langevin declined to go unfavourable on Fung, a onetime faculty classmate and two-time GOP gubernatorial nominee, saying: “I’ve nothing dangerous to say about Alan.”

And Fung mentioned the duo has come to one thing of an understanding to not talk about the race to switch Langevin.

“I’m not going to place him on the spot,” Fung mentioned, including that he’s “simply used to being within the minority celebration in a blue state.”

Certainly, Fung praised Langevin’s work to broaden protections first laid out by the 1990 People with Disabilities Act and mentioned he’d wish to protect funding for present incapacity packages if elected. However he supplied nothing particular but on proposals for find out how to enhance entry and independence for individuals with disabilities.

Fung’s stances on LGBTQ rights and abortion entry put him out of the present GOP mainstream. He name-checks blue-state GOP governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland, each critics of Donald Trump, as emblematic of how he’d like to control in Washington.

However Fung additionally mentioned he’d vote subsequent 12 months to raise a Home Republican management crew that stands notably to his proper. That makes different Democrats skeptical of Fung’s aspirations to make incapacity advocacy right into a extra bipartisan concern.

As the favored mayor of Cranston, R.I., Fung has “prevented actually the entire points the place I believe it’s gonna be very clear he doesn’t characterize the place most Rhode Islanders are,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) mentioned in an interview.

A pioneering presence

When Langevin first bought to Congress, he assumed he’d need to navigate its halls alone regardless of vital accessibility limitations. It turned out he had a strong ally from the getgo in now-Majority Chief Steny Hoyer of Maryland, then the highest Democrat on the Home Administration Committee.

Hoyer, an unique sponsor of the People with Disabilities Act, “rolled out the purple carpet” for Langevin, the Rhode Islander recalled. The older man noticed his colleague’s arrival in Congress as a direct results of that landmark laws.

So Langevin didn’t need to enter the raucous freshman lottery for Home workplace house; as an alternative, Hoyer labored with the Architect of the Capitol to safe a first-floor suite with house for his energy wheelchair. Then a crew set to work retrofitting an accessible lavatory and the Capitol’s personal woodworking store constructed out workplace furnishings.

“He actually did ensure that the limitations had been introduced down and the chance to serve was there,” Langevin mentioned of Hoyer.

Throughout Langevin’s 11 phrases, moveable wheelchair ramps had been changed by built-ins and committee rooms had been slowly renovated to fulfill accessibility requirements. Later, the Capitol Customer Middle was constructed to adjust to ADA tips.

However a lot of the heavy, slim doorways across the Capitol don’t but have push-button entry, and up to date audits discovered 1000’s of limitations to accessibility throughout the campus. It additionally took virtually a decade earlier than the speaker’s rostrum was made accessible for Langevin, a quadriplegic since age 16 when a misfired weapon severed his backbone.

A mechanical elevate lastly elevated him to the top of Home governance in 2010, permitting him to preside over the chamber.

His work isn’t achieved: There’s no information obtainable on how many individuals engaged on Capitol Hill have a incapacity, regardless of efforts to review demographic illustration in Congress’ workforce. And it’s not unusual to see a constituent’s wheelchair that doesn’t match by an workplace door or indicators that lack braille or audio steerage.

Taking it off the Hill

Langevin’s work to assist People with disabilities didn’t cease with opening up the Capitol. He has championed a slew of great coverage adjustments, becoming a member of allies comparable to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who’s particularly centered on increasing dwelling and neighborhood care assets.

Different unreached benchmarks embody making it unlawful to pay staff with disabilities a subminimum wage and a U.S. signature on the United Nations Conference on the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities.

Even when Fung wins in November — he led all potential Democratic rivals for the 2nd District in a June Boston Globe/Suffolk College ballot — he gained’t arrive as essentially the most outstanding Republican on incapacity advocacy. That title belongs to Fitzpatrick, named by Langevin as a brand new co-chair of the Bipartisan Incapacity Caucus and a longtime champion for points like respite care and paralysis assets.

“He’s already hit the bottom operating with me and been very proactive and forward-leaning,” mentioned Langevin.

However Fitzpatrick is more and more an outlier within the Republican convention and doesn’t convey the identical clout as his co-chair predecessor, the late Home Dean Rep. Don Younger (R-Alaska).

With Fitzpatrick doubtlessly unable to ship swaths of GOP votes for payments or amendments on incapacity points, his fellow Incapacity Caucus co-chair Dingell is prone to step up as effectively. She brings vital private expertise to the trigger as a longtime caregiver to her late husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), one other unique co-sponsor of the ADA.

“When you’re really residing with mobility points, you really see the challenges and the obstacles,” Dingell mentioned in a current interview. She mentioned she needs to “get into good hassle on this” with Fitzpatrick, quoting the late civil rights chief Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Whether or not anybody will attempt to fill Langevin’s footwear by their aspect stays to be seen. The incumbent has endorsed Magaziner in opposition to 4 rivals in subsequent month’s major: Fox; Commerce Division lawyer Sarah Morgenthau; progressive former metropolis council member and state legislator David Segal; and refugee and entrepreneur Omar Bah.

“Nobody can ever substitute Jim,” Magaziner mentioned in an interview. “However what I do hope to do once I take workplace is to proceed to be an advocate for the problems that he advocated for.”

Sarah Ferris contributed.


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