Disability protesters show the rising stakes of healthcare debate in the US

After dozens of protesters arrested, disability activists tell The Stream about the fight that still remains.

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  1. The protesters demonstrated in Washington DC against proposed healthcare legislation that promises to cut funding to key services. The protests came as the Senate published their plans to reform the Affordable Care Act, which was passed under former President Barack Obama.
  2. Planned by ADAPT, a disability rights organisation, activists staged a "die-in" at the office of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. Protesters, some of whom were in wheelchairs, lay down on the floor to dramatise the deaths they say will result from these cuts.
  3. Arresting the activists

  4. Soon after the protesters staged the sit-in, they were arrested by police and taken into custody. Gregg Beratan, a disability activist, was one of the first to be arrested. "We took over the hallway when we got there," he told The Stream. "People were chanting and before I was dragged out (by police), I heard them say 'We would rather go to jail than die without Medicaid'."
  5. Stephanie Woodward, an activist with ADAPT, was photographed being pulled out of the office by police. She spoke to The Stream about her experience: "They attempted to lift me (from my wheelchair), then attempted to put me in the wheelchair and finally just lifted me out. My shirt kept getting pushed up the more I was carried. I was out on the sidewalk and given my wheelchair back after being handcuffed."
  6. Videos of her arrest were also shared online:
  7. Accessibility while arrested

  8. The recent protests, which gathered attention from mainstream media outlets, are part of a long history of activism carried out by people with disabilities. Stephanie pointed out that the results of that activism were evident during her arrest. "ADAPT started fighting over thirty years ago for lifts on buses [for people with disabilities]," she told us. "The Capitol Police had a lift on a police bus to arrest us. It was a nice reminder that our advocacy had led to this."
  9. But some arrested also pointed out the lack of accessible bathrooms at the police station for people with disabilities:
  10. Life without Medicaid

  11. Thursday's activists aimed to bring attention to the importance of Medicaid, a government insurance programme, to their lives. Two in five people with disabilities rely on the programme to fund their medical needs and long-term care.
  12. "People are going to have to choose between our lives and our communities, and access to healthcare," Gregg said. Changes to Medicaid could impact funding for community health centers, hospitals, nurses, physicians and nursing homes.
  13. "People with the most serious disabilities, who need assistance with daily tasks like eating, showering and (transportation) are going to be hit first," Stephanie said. She argues that these cuts will force people with disabilities out of their communities and into nursing homes.
  14. Future of disability rights activism

  15. Gregg, who also co-founded #CripTheVote, a nonpartisan campaign working to engage voters and politicians on disability issues, said the protests should make voters and government look more critically at the proposed legislation. He is hopeful of the impact of this movement around the world: "I've heard from people who want to know if they can start up ADAPT chapters in other countries," he said. "I've lived in countries ranging from Britain, to Poland, to India, and the disability activists there do incredible work. I want to recognise that. But the activism in the US doesn't get enough attention."
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