Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson will join a select group of advocates and experts on the newly formed Disability Rights Advisory Committee, where she will consult with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on issues of inclusion, access and equality for people with disabilities.
“This is an exciting fit for my work and my advocacy experience,” Charlson said. “Civil rights work has always been my passion – it’s system-changing and it’s life-changing.”
Healey announced the formation of the committee in late July in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The committee will include 23 individuals with a range of backgrounds and experiences, as well as people with hearing, mobility and visual impairments.
“My office is committed to expanding opportunities and enhancing inclusion for individuals with disabilities,” Healey said. “I know that our work will be more effective and better informed by direct and regular contact with the advocates who understand these issues intimately.”
The Disability Rights Advisory Committee will meet regularly with Healey’s staff to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected. In particular, Charlson hopes to advocate for access to transportation for people who use service dogs. ADA law prohibits taxi services and other businesses from refusing service to customers with service animals, but issues of discrimination persist.
“That’s one thing I’m very, very interested in,” she said. “[My dog] Dolly and I travel all over the world and the right to be able to do that is hugely important to me. It’s important for anyone who chooses to travel with a service dog.”
Charlson also plans to speak out for the rights of parents with disabilities, who sometimes face discrimination from other parents or government agencies.
“There’s a lot of bias out there in the world that says, ‘How can someone with a disability raise a child?’” she said. “I want to make sure the system protects parents with disabilities and their right to have a family.”
Charlson, who is also president of the American Council of the Blind, will be joined on the committee by Amy Ruell, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts; John Winske, executive director of the Disability Policy Consortium; B.J. Wood, former commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and other leaders in the disability community.
“There’s a whole cast of really amazing advocates that are serving,” Charlson said. “It’s going to be great to work with all of them.”