Pictured, l-r: Michael Anderson; staff member for Michael, Elie; former Pennsylvania Treasurer, Joe Torsella; Michael's mom, Susan; and a member of Joe Torsella's staff.
Michael Anderson is the Legislative Advocate for The Arc of Philadelphia. Recently, he has worked on a voting campaign for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), a project to secure support from local businesses for The Arc of Philadelphia, and a campaign to advocate for access to the COVID-19 vaccine for people with IDD in the distribution and execution of the vaccine.
This is SpArc Philadelphia's interview with Michael.
Michael, how did you get involved in advocacy?
Do you want the long or the short answer?
The long answer!
Well, the long answer is, it started back in the 1970s, when my parents started to work on Capitol Hill. So I was born and raised with an advocacy and policy lens. And then as I grew older, I was always interested in political campaigns. And then I got involved in The Arc of Philadelphia because of my interest in advocacy. I am related to a Supreme Court justice, my parents worked on legislation, and my grandparents were involved in the Civil Rights movement.
Tell me about your case against the Franklin Institute, and why you think it was important.
My case against the Franklin Institute was that I sued them because I wouldn’t pay twice for my attendant and myself. I felt strongly that I should only have to pay for one admission instead of two. It was expensive, and also important because people who do not have enough money, or have a disability, should be able to enjoy the attractions as much as able-bodied folks. The lawsuit wasn’t to change things just for me, but for other people too. I wanted them to be able to experience things and be able to afford to go to Sixers games, Flyers games, Eagles games, only having to pay for one admission.
We also thought it was against the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). And it was a matter of principle.
What are you working on now?
I am working on making sure that people with disabilities have equal access to the Covid-19 vaccination. In order to do this, I am sending letters on behalf of The Arc of Philadelphia, reminding elected officials not to leave out the ID (intellectual disability) and DD (developmental disability) population when it comes to the distribution and execution of the vaccination. I am sending these to Pennsylvania state senators, state representatives, and all of the city council members.
Why is legislative advocacy important for people with disabilities?
Legislative advocacy is important for people with disabilities because I don’t want people with ID or DD or people like myself to be forgotten. Because sometimes, without pushing politicians, we can be forgotten.
For instance, I feel like people like me who are living in their own home, sometimes are forgotten by politicians-- like when it comes to the distribution plan for the vaccine. I don’t know when I’m getting my vaccine because I don’t live in a group home. They forget about us when it comes to the distribution and execution of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is one example of why telling your story, and having your voice heard is important.
What do you want people to know about advocacy for people with disabilities?
I wish people would get educated, as I did, about disability rights. And I encourage people to always advocate for themselves, and when they don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask.
I also recommend that people with all types of disabilities take self-advocacy classes. People can also learn more about becoming a self-advocate when they listen to my keynote speech at the virtual Youth Leadership Conference this year.
What do you think you need to be successful in this job?
I am an outgoing person and I get straight to point. This helps because politicians are very busy and you don’t usually have a lot of time to tell your story. You have to be fast and compelling. You know what’s really cool about doing all this advocacy? I can look at a list of names and say, “Oh, I’ve worked with these people before.” Being involved in advocacy, you get to know politicians personally. When you’re involved in the government, you get to know people, which is really great, because I like to meet new people. It’s all about relationships with politicians. That’s how you get them to support the things that you need to be more successful and included.