Q&A with Bill Fertig

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Monday, July 31, 2017

KEW GARDENS, N.Y. - In mid-June, the United Spinal Association held its 6th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill, which brought hundreds of members to Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of individuals living with spinal cord injuries and disorders.
HME News recently caught up with Bill Fertig, director of the association’s Resource Center and a wheelchair user, to hear about the event and how it’s changed from year to year.
HME News: How was this, the 6th Annual Roll, different from previous years?
Bill Fertig: It gets slightly bigger and slightly better each year, and this year it was much bigger. We typically do 200 Hill visits; this year, we did around 250.
HME: In what ways is lobbying on Capitol Hill important for the disability community?
Fertig: It puts us face-to-face with legislators on the issues that are important to us. We also have a visual cue that some other groups don’t, because we arrive in our complex power chairs and manual chairs that people don’t typically see in the community.
HME: Do you feel the Roll visits played a part in CMS’s recent decision not to reduce reimbursement for accessories for complex power wheelchairs?
Fertig: We certainly like to feel we had influence. There was also progress on a veteran’s bill in Congress on the same day. A lot of our community is affected by both.
HME: How do you stay motivated when this type of work—lobbying and advocacy—is never done?
Fertig: Success breeds motivation, but the biggest point is this is our life. We deal with the challenges every day, and the opportunity to advocate fixing things when they’re wrong is a big benefit.
HME: How is United Spinal working to get more wheelchair users involved in Capitol Hill visits?
Fertig: Our general plan for accepting new advocates into the mix is to include younger people, while still maintaining a large proportion of experienced advocates who can partner with newer advocates so they don’t feel like they’re going it alone in the visits.