Interview with Senator Duckworth by Haley Moss and Conner Cummings
Senator Tammy Duckworth is an impressive woman who knows that “too many Americans continue to face harmful discrimination because of their age, the color of their skin, their disability or the person they love.” One of her key commitments is advancing policies to protect Americans from discrimination in all areas of society. Not just words, she’s in the arena and getting the job done.
Our editorial team, Conner, Sharon and Haley, were looking for one more amazing woman to interview for our cover story and when they heard Senator Duckworth speak, they knew she was the one. She agreed to an interview because she supports the message of this issue: That all women are working to open up new doors so everyone has an equal opportunity to follow their dreams.
What was it like acquiring a disability in adulthood? Did you think it would change the course of your life or what you’d be able to do?
SENATOR DUCKWORTH: After I woke up at Walter Reed in unrelenting, all-consuming pain, I realized I was suddenly mission-less. I was a helicopter pilot with no legs. I had planned to serve my country in the military for the rest of my professional life, but that was ripped away for me. Then, Senator Dick Durbin visited me in the hospital and gave me his personal number. He told me to call him if I needed anything so I did, again and again, on behalf of other servicemembers and their families who needed help getting care or benefits. This experience taught me that I could continue serving my fellow troops by advocating for them in Illinois and Washington. To this day, I am grateful that Senator Durbin never saw me as pitiful or broken, but as someone who could help make our nation better by running for Congress.
What inspired you to run for office?
SENATOR DUCKWORTH: When my “second life” began, I promised myself I would do whatever it took to honor my buddies who saved my life on that dusty battlefield in Iraq and repay them for their sacrifice. I became an advocate for our nation’s Veterans and I realized that the best thing I could do to continue to serve our country and help make it better was to run for office. I felt like we weren’t doing right by our Veterans. Veterans should be in Congress to hold the government accountable for the promises we make to our military men and women, who go out and do an incredible job at our behest, and their families.
How does having a disability shape your political experience and priorities? Has it impacted the way you lead?
SENATOR DUCKWORTH: I have prioritized issues impacting the disability community throughout my public service. As a result of the legislation I passed, airlines now have to report – for the first time – how many wheelchairs and motorized scooters they damage or break each month. This was initially a proposal by the Obama Administration but the Trump Administration delayed its implementation in March 2017, just hours after airline lobbyists asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to stall the rule. Frustrated by the delay, I wrote an amendment—which was included in the FAA Reauthorization Act that became law in October 2018—requiring DOT to implement the long-delayed rule within 60 days. Every airline passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but too often they aren’t. Travelers should be able to find out if certain airlines have high rates of breaking wheelchairs and other equipment that people depend on, just like we can find out if certain airlines have high rates of flight delays or cancellations.
Last year, when the GOP-controlled House passed a bill that would have gutted enforcement of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I was proud to gather 42 of my Senate colleagues in promising to oppose the bill. This was enough to stop it from being considered in the Senate during the 115th Congress.
I’ll keep working to make sure this discriminatory legislation doesn’t become law, and I’ve introduced a common-sense alternative bill that would make it easier for small businesses to comply with the ADA and become accessible for people with disabilities by doubling the maximum tax credit for renovations and allowing more small businesses to receive the credit. I was also proud introduce legislation in the 115th Congress to make fitness facilities across America more accessible for those with disabilities, and plan to re-introduce it in the coming months.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to young women with disabilities?
SENATOR DUCKWORTH: You can be anything and can do anything. You’ll face obstacles that others can’t comprehend, but keep just working hard. Perfection isn’t what matters – it’s how you respond to hardship and failure that defines you. You may try something and it may not work out, but as long as you keep trying, that’s when the victories come. That’s how you can make a difference in people’s lives.
What does being a powerful women mean to you?
SENATOR DUCKWORTH: It is an incredible opportunity to represent our country and be a voice for women, children and people with disabilities who traditionally haven’t had a voice in government or a real say in many of the critical decisions affecting our country. Congress is supposed to be a representative body but if it doesn’t look like the country it is supposed to represent, it is hard to effectively address the concerns of all Americans.
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Sharon daVanport Finds Power in Her Joy
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- Cummings and Goings: Finding Power in Who You Are by Conner Cummings
- #AskingAutistics: Have You Ever Been Accused of Acting MORE Autistic? by Christa Holmans
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
- The View from Here: Starring in the Real-Life Drama as “The Good Anesthetist” by Anita Lesko
With Updates from Jacob Fuentes and Carly Fulgham at end of article
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page