CHAPTER SIX: National Work
21:13:36:03 - 21:15:19:25 Lisa: Okay. Debbie, I wanted to talk a little bit about your work nationally, um, because your work as an advocate isn't limited to Speaking For Ourselves at least not to Pennsylvania.
Lisa: Um, you got to watch the ADA signed into law in 1990. Why were you one of the people...
Debbie: I don't know.
Lisa: chosen to watch this?
Debbie: I have no idea. Um, I was invited to Washington and, um, everybody wanted to meet, wanted me to meet, um, oh, what's that name? If she, If I forget her name it's going to be, the governors, old governor's wife that used to be the, Oh, God
Lisa: Ginny Thornburgh
Debbie: Ginny, yes. Thank you. Ginny Thornburgh. Um, but, um, I don't know. Like I said, um, it was, um, it was, um, you know, Mark and I and Roland. It was Mark, me, Roland, Steve and I think, um, one other of our members if I remember. Um, there was another member of ours. Uh, I don't remember if Tom was there or not. Um, but everybody was keen for me to meet Justin Dart and that's how it's all. I think I met Justin Dart then, um, I didn't know, uh, you know, I don't know, I think Roland or Mark asked me if I was interested in going to Washington. I don't, we got an invitation to go.
21:15:20:13 - 21:18:44:17 Lisa: Can you tell me a little bit about watching the law signed and maybe also a little bit about Justin Dart?
Debbie: Well, it was hotter than I can imagine. In July, you don't want to be on DC, I don't care, don't want to go to DC in July, Never. It was one of the hottest things I have ever, sitting in the sun just waiting, I mean we were, I don't know how, two or three hours. It was, it was horrible. It was hot. It was really hot that day. I, you know, I was burning up like this was not, ha, ha, we couldn't wait two to three hours waiting in the sun for, um, it was the most incredible thing I have ever seen. I don't know how to describe something, you see a president and you see this man in a wheelchair with a cowboy hat, ha, ha and then hearing his story how, how Justin did it all. Republican came Democrat and the media just loved him to death. It's a, I had never seen anybody, how you can describe Justin. Um, he, um, it was the most incredible thing I have ever seen and honestly meet the man that went all over the country to work on this, to do this and have your name to it. It was incredible and I don't know how he even got up around to meet us all but somehow somebody got him too, um, come around to meet us and with Jenny, I guess it was Ginny Thornburgh, I guess Ginny was the first one I met and I didn't even know she was our Governer's, Governor's wife. And, um, you know, um, Mark, Mark and Roland knew them so, you know, and I think, uh, somehow I think either Jenny got Justin up there or Mark did or Roland did or somebody, where we were to where Justin got up around to meet us all in the hot sun. There was no words that you could describe something you can't say it. There is nothing I could say or I was frozen in time or something cause you never met a icon or, uh, it was like meeting, uh, you know, the greatest leader in time was, uh, a whole lot of, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, uh, Roland in his own right but he led up there with the top people of all time. It, you talk about an icon, uh, in the disability movement. It was just incredible.
21:18:45:02 - 21:20:00:11 Lisa: You and Justin became friends.
Debbie: Friends, my whole family met, not my whole family, my mother and me and Justin became very close friends, um, not just me, my mother too. He just loved my mother to death.
Lisa: Justin, nominated you for a very special position a few years later
Debbie: Yes, he did and I turned it down three times.
Lisa: Can you tell me what the position was and why you finally said yes?
Debbie: It wasn't a position, it was being on a committee, a board, um, and I had no idea about politics. I really didn't know. I honestly didn't, I mean, everybody had experience or something. I had none, zip, zero and these people kept calling at least two or three times. I turned it down three or four, I really didn't, the man kept calling Mark said and he's trying to get me on this committee and I said no. He kept calling, he kept calling. I had no idea until later, way later I got on there. Justin was the one that, nobody, everybody kept it a secret from me.
21:20:00:20 - 21:20:41:05 Lisa: And what was the secret?
Debbie: Cause we had to fill out, Nancy, Mark and everybody had to fill out the applications, the form or whatever and I got up and they called I tell you three or four times. They had to track me down and the man didn't give up. The man did not give up and I had and I told, I don't have no, I don't even know what this is. Do you want to be on the national Council of disability? What is it? It's a committee in Washington and a little bit but I kept saying no. He tracked me down while I was in another state. The man called me on my phone and I said this is crazy. He is not going to take no for answer.
21:20:41:27 - 21:22:11:10 Lisa: Do you remember your first meeting when you finally said yes?
Debbie: Oh God, I was, uh, I was in another state. Ha, ha. Yeah, I said yes but I didn't know what I was getting into and all my friends were like, and we had to fill out forms and then when the government had to, um, and there were these other forms and they started coming to my, about my background, school background, the whole nine yards. I had to have friends help me fill this out. My mother was going nuts and nothing like having the government, FBI going to your house and going to your job interviewing people and what really upset everybody and I don't know they just coldhearted because the man came to Roland's funeral. After we left the funeral home and we came back for and soon as I got off the FBI is sitting right there. Interviewed probably a 100 people and everybody that knew me came up and yelling at me because they think I sent them. Ha, ha. Cause you're not on the day that Roland was buried, they interviewed everybody in that room. They came to my job. They came to Roland's funeral. I told them, I said, this is a funeral, I kid you not.
21:22:11:21- 21:23:11:27 Lisa: Which president did you serve, Debbie?
Debbie: Um, President Clinton.
Lisa: Did you meet President Clinton?
Lisa: What kind of issues did you work on as part of the national council?
Debbie: Actually, we didn't know too much about the national council disabilities so we had to go through, um, a learning curve because we didn't know what the national council was. You know, we had to know what we were getting into, the committee. We had to take our oath and all that, um, because we didn't know what, none of us knew what cause nobody heard of them, you know what I mean so.
21:23:11:17 - 21:27:37:05 Lisa: I know they had a big charge. They wanted to work on enforcement and implementation of the ADA, family supports, healthcare, um, transportation, loads of things. Was there a particular type of work that you were most proud of contributing to?
Debbie: Um, I think with maybe cause I didn't have any experience at all, so I came from, everybody on that committee had government experience or legislative. I come from the advocates, uh, the, um, keep the people that they're supposed to be, you know, making sure these, these services work. I come from that spectrum so I think what I gave was the insight of regular folks like, I don't know, you know, with somebody that, um, and I was frustrated cause I couldn't get it. Um, it was hard for me to grasp it in the beginning, for me to grasp it because we had this big old book we and everything was going so fast. We had to slow, I mean, I had to figure out a way to slow it down but how can I be more helpful but I needed more assistance than I thought I needed so I had Mark and other people go with me at each meeting to see, to help me through this stuff because it was very complicated in the beginning. You have legal words, big book, as big as, I mean, gigantic and you only have a day to go through it, to break it down. First we had a travel day then we get up at seven o'clock to go to different committees. I'd only pick the committees that I think I would, I would like to be on but I had to learn about how the government worked so it took me maybe a year or two to figure it out. I was frustrated to the point where, um, I wanted to just not do it anymore. Um, it really got to me. Um, and, um, and I wanted to quit in the middle of my years. Um, I even went to Justin at one time and that's when it came out that, uh, he's the one that got me into it and he, I went to him or I called him cause he was my mentor too. I, um, needed somebody, I didn't know what to, uh, I was frustrated, um, and, you know, when I started bringing people to it they understood my frustration, my friends Tom, no Nancy went a couple of times and Mark went a couple of times and he understood and he started looking, saw how it was supposed to go. He saw the frustration and how I could figure out how in the world you could do it, I don't know. And I went to Justin. He talked to me and told me what I needed to do, stick in there. He gave me what I needed to stick it out and to ask for the help that I needed and to slow down the process. I was scared cause everybody, you know, I was really scared, um, but when I started speaking up and asking them to slow it down and to have a way that we can understand this stuff then what I was feeling was relief because everybody was feeling the same way I was and I had no idea. I had no idea cause I was the outcasts because I didn't have no, no experience but Justin got me on there cause he saw that they needed somebody like me even though I didn't have experience they needed somebody like myself, an advocate to see the other side of the track but they needed to understand my side of the track and, um, so and then I, you know, slowed down the process some and then I asked for some help and some guidance to help me go through this stuff.
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About Debbie Robinson
Executive Director, Speaking For Ourselves
Education, Freedom Campaign, Institutions, Roland Johnson, Self-advocacy, Self-determination, Speaking For Ourselves