Able News Column March 2024 – Shifting Systems with Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

I was thrilled when Able News approached me about producing a regular column. First, because I’m a wheelchair-user who frequently travels to New York for my work as a disability rights lawyer and non-profit leader.  I believe strongly in this newspaper for, by, and about people with disabilities that has served the community for more than three decades. Second, because Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), the national non-profit organization that I lead as President & CEO has also been around, serving the disability community for 30 years, and boy, do we have a lot of news to share!

When I was a law student exploring career opportunities, I searched for an organization that was using the legal system to create systemic change for people with disabilities. At that time, DRA was led by co-founders Larry Paradis and Sid Wolinsky. By all counts, these two were leading the way in bringing big, bold cases that were changing the fabric of American society to improve access to education, transportation, healthcare, employment, and more. I packed my bags and moved from North Carolina to Berkeley, California where the disability rights movement all began. Larry, who was also an attorney with a disability, became my mentor and now, nearly two decades later, I have the privilege of leading DRA’s national work to advance the rights, inclusion, and equity of people with disabilities through high-impact litigation, education, and advocacy. Our work is improving the lives of people with all types of disabilities, including the aging population and people with chronic illnesses who may not even identify as disabled but who are nonetheless protected by disability rights laws. 

DRA’s specialty is identifying and dismantling systemic barriers in partnership with a broad network of local and national client organizations—many of whom you are very familiar with if you’re a regular reader of Able News. For example, we worked with Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Bronx Independent Living Services, Harlem Independent Living Cener, Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, New York Statewide Senior Action Council, and many passionate, brave individual clients to bring about a settlement with the MTA that will make the New York City subway accessible for more than half a million people with disabilities who cannot use stairs to access the system. Years of hard work and litigation resulted in the MTA committing to making 95% of its inaccessible stations accessible. 

This kind of tangible, monumental, systemic change takes time, resources, and community. And that’s where you all come in!  In this column, I will share with you what issues DRA is working on and how you can support our work. I’ll tell you when we’re looking for folks to share their personal experiences or show up to a local courthouse to support a critical case. We will celebrate together DRA’s recent victories, because our victories are the disability community’s victories, and they span the gamut. Because of these wins, many people with disabilities can now access basic healthcare through accessible exam tables and effective communication at medical appointments. Members of our community can now cast their votes independently at accessible polling places that were inaccessible for far too long. Others can watch movies and television shows with audio description.  The list of successes goes on, but so does the list of systemic barriers we still need to dismantle together! 

I look forward to the journey ahead with you all and welcome ideas about what you’d like to read here! You can reach out to me at and find me on Instagram (@rebecca.williford.dra) and LinkedIn. If you want to read more about DRA’s recent work, you can visit our website’s press page.

Read the entire March 2024 Able News issue