As the first registered Washington lobbyist with Down syndrome, Kayla McKeon is fighting for change on behalf of people with disabilities across the country! Kayla began working as the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in October, lobbying for laws that will make it easier for people with disabilities to be independent and thrive. She also hopes that her example will inspire other people with disabilities, especially people with Down syndrome, by showing them that they can achieve their dreams. “We are most definitely ready, willing and able to do anything we set our minds to — getting a job, driving a car, going to college,” she asserts. “We want to showcase our abilities, not our disabilities.”
Kayla, who is from Cicero, New York, was already familiar with the work of NDSS when the job opportunity came up: she was a member of the group’s self-advocate advisory board and was named their self-advocate of the year in 2016. When NDSS President Sara Hart Weir offered Kayla the position, she was hesitant at first: it not only meant new responsibilities, but also a move to a new city, away from her parents. “In the beginning, I needed help with the metro,” Kayla says, but now “I’ve been taking the metro independently in the morning. It’s huge just to be independent.” Today, she loves her work, which involves both lobbying elected officials and reaching out to NDSS members; as she says, “When I’m at the office I make phone calls after phone calls after phone calls… I love it because this is how we can get our message out.”
Kayla’s work has already helped other people with disabilities enjoy greater independence; her work helped pass the ABLE to Work Act and the ABLE Financial Planning Act in December, which allows people with qualifying disabilities to work and save funds in a tax-advantaged savings account without losing state-provided benefits. “I feel the power. And how amazing it feels, just knowing I’m on Capitol Hill. And I get to talk to people that can help me enact laws,” says Kayla. “Being a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, I don’t realize how many lives I touch. This is why I love being a role model for others… Me being in Washington D.C. is just beyond every expectation I could ever dream of. I love my job. This has always been my dream and I’m following my dream.”
Watch a interview with Kayla on BBC.