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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

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Disability Inclusion with Tina Pedersen, Real. Access. Motivates. Progress.

Listen to this episode.

Emily Goodman: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

[music]

Hello everyone. I am Emily Goodman from the Rhody Radio team, and I'm joined in conversation today with Tina Guenette Pedersen, who's a motivational speaker and is currently the CEO Founder and People Connector for her own national non-profit RAMP, which stands for Real Access Motivates Progress. She works with all businesses, professions, government entities and first responders on all areas of communication and best practices for working to include the disability community.

She was appointed to the United States Access Board by President Biden, sits on Governor's commissions on Disabilities and Aging, and she's a community member of many businesses and organizations to ensure that all people, no matter their ability, are included in the conversation. Her two best quotes are, "Don't just sit there, make a difference." "If you can, stand up, stand out." Tina, it's an honor to talk to you today. Thank you for being here. Is there anything that was left out of your bio that you would like to share with everyone?

Tina Pedersen: No, that's pretty much it. Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to this conversation and talking to you.

Emily: First, something that was not in your bio but I know it's something about you, is that you have been named the national SLICC, which is the Success through Leadership, Integrity, Character and Confidence, ambassador organization. What has that been like and what have you been doing with that title?

Tina: Well, that's absolutely been incredible. It is a national pageant based on community service, and I was the first person of disability in a wheelchair to ever compete in all the years, and I not only competed, but I won. [00:02:00] The first top prize was a mission trip for Puerto Rico, which I just completed last week. We went out to Puerto Rico for a week.

The only accommodation I asked for was a plug to charge my wheelchair every day, but we slept in air mattresses in a church, and we helped the community rebuild from all the storms and hurricanes like Hurricane Maria. Having this national platform and showing the world that no matter your ability you can do anything has been absolutely a dream come true.

Emily: That sounds incredible. You're also on the Commission for Disabilities and Aging. What is that organization? What's it like to be a part of that and who else works on that project?

Tina: The Governor's Commission on Disability and the Governor's Commission on Aging are two commissions in the State that holds everything for disability and aging accountable. It's a group of like-minded people who work in those areas. They're two separate commissions, making sure that, like for the Commission on Disability, it's making sure that things are accessible. It's making sure that we keep people accountable. It's looking at legislation to make sure that it is including people of all abilities in all of our Bills and so much more. Aging does the same thing, but for the aging community.

Emily: Are there any projects that you're specifically working on with those commissions that you want to share?

Tina: Not really. Like I said, it's basically what's going on in Rhode Island. I'm at the State House constantly testifying on Bills for either commission or just personally. There's Bills like the Sherlock Plan and the ADUs which is Accessory Dwelling Units. So many things to just make sure that the aging community and the disabled [00:04:00] community are being included.

Emily: Related to that, what kind of changes are you hoping to see come to Rhode Island maybe in the next year, the next five years? Anything on the horizon that you're either hopeful for or working on?

Tina: I am hopeful for accessibility. RAMP works mostly with the businesses, events and organizations. We can't help the personal side, but I'm the only organization that works on the opposite side. 40% of Rhode Islanders use a mobility aid, whether it's a walker, wheelchair or a cane, in the disability and the aging communities combined. My one and only goal is to make sure that all businesses are becoming accessible.

We are the only state in the country that has a workability grant, which gives every business a $5,000 grant to become accessible on top of $15,000 in tax breaks each year. We help the businesses use that money in the best way possible to make their business affordably accessible. Just imagine every business let in 40% of the community, they'd raise their bottom line and people would have a place to gather. It's a no-brainer, but it's something that people just don't know how to do, so that's what we do. We help them do that.

Emily: How do people connect with you to do that?

Tina: They can check out my website, which is rampisinclusion.org or they can email me directly, which is Ramptina@yahoo.com. I'm pretty much everywhere, so it's easy to find where I am and what I'm doing. I just found out this morning that I am in the top five for Person of the Year for Rhode Island for the community service or the Community Choice Awards, I'll be out there even more. [00:06:00]

Emily: That's incredible. Is that through Rhode Island Monthly or who's that through?

Tina: It's through the Providence Journal. They used to be the Reader's Choice Awards, now they're called the Community Choice Awards. It is a new category for Person of the Year. I'm hoping I've earned everybody's vote and actually make that happen. It would be incredible for my community to see that a wheelchair user is seen and heard and valued just like everybody else. It's a bigger deal to me because of who I stand for and the community I represent, and we got some tough competition so we need all of the votes that we can get.

Emily: Well deserved. I will be plugging in my votes for you. We talked a little bit about your organization, RAMP. Can you talk a little bit more about what that is, how you founded that? You've talked a little bit about your goals, but give us a broad overview of RAMP.

Tina: What RAMP does is we educate and advocate for accessibility. Like I said, we mostly work with the businesses, events and organizations to make sure that they're set up for success for wheelchair users, walkers, strollers, knee scooters, basically for anybody. Would you rather have your grandmother and her walker or cane navigating a RAMP or navigating stairs? We just want to help make sure that everything is accessible. We help with grants, we help with businesses to show them how to use it, how to spend the money. We train their employees how to interact with the disabled community or to hire the disabled community.

We also have our big event in September, which is called Accessibility is Beautiful at the Steel Yard. This year it's September 23rd from 11:00 to 5:00, where all of our vendors in entertainment are from the disability community or related to the disability community. We welcome the general public [00:08:00] and the businesses to come in and learn and interact and realize how similar we are together. It ends up being a big party and we've had so many people hired, businesses opening their doors to us, and artwork and entertainment throughout our community from all walks of life.

Emily: That's incredible. That was one of the other questions that I had for you was about that event. It sounds really exciting.

Tina: Oh, it's an amazing event and we have been growing-- This will be our third year. We have been growing so much that this year, we have the Steel Yard and Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the entire Sims Avenue closed down because we bring in so many people each year that we had to expand.

Emily: Wow.

Tina: We're always looking for sponsors and vendors for this event, and you can go onto our website and fill out your application to be a vendor or sponsor or just learn about it. We also do the Presidential Service Awards. If you are a person who does a lot of community service, you can register for the presidential Community Service Awards or you can recommend somebody who does a lot of good work in our community for the awards and we give them out at the event.

Emily: How many awards do you do?

Tina: Last year, we gave out 30 awards. The awards come in bronze, silver and gold level, so depending on how many service hours you do, will depend on what level of the award that you receive. I have received the highest level, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year, I did 4,700 hours of community service in one year, but in order to earn that award, usually, most people do that over time, but because I have the time and the passion, I did it in a year.

Emily: That's absolutely incredible, a highly reserved award for you.

Tina: Well, actually, I just go back for my [00:10:00] Puerto Rico trip and my Miami trip for mission work. Next week I go out to Washington for a role on the Capitol with United Spinal, but I'm also finalizing my paperwork for my appointment by President Biden to the United States Access Board, which is going to be a huge undertaking.

I have a seat at the table for the architecture and transportation, which means I will have a lot of say on federal standards and regulations that I will be able to bring down to my State, which I will also have a vote on all of the other individual boards that that stands with. I'm so excited to have this seat and be nominated and appointed to this prestigious position.

Emily: That's incredible.

Tina: There's so much going on. I have my hands involved in so many different things. [laughs]

Emily: It sounds like it. Yes. [laughs] Can you talk a little bit more about that role on DC, the one that you're going to?

Tina: Role on Capitol Hill?

Emily: Role on Capitol Hill, yes.

Tina: All spinal cord injury individuals from across the country gather in Washington next week where we will be talking to legislators on the Bills that we are working on. This year, is working on ensuring that we'll be able to bring our wheelchairs on airplanes. After having four flights in two weeks, I can tell you the difficulty of giving up your chair, trusting it in the hands of somebody else and praying that it comes back in one piece is a huge piece to us. The first leg of my trip, I arrived in Puerto Rico but my chair arrived three hours later, so you can imagine-

Emily: Oh my gosh.

Tina: -what that was like. We have to transfer out of our chairs. They had forgotten me on the airplane. They were re-boarding the next flight and forgot to take me off the plane because I just can't get up and walk out on my own. [00:12:00] There's so many challenges of chairs being broken, chairs being lost, forgetting you on the plane or what have you.

Having the dignity to be able to dock our wheelchairs on an airplane would be the most incredible thing. Besides the fact we're the first ones on the plane and the last one's off, what people don't realize is we can't use the bathroom in between. If it's a four to six-hour flight, we are not able to use the bathroom. Imagine not having that dignity to be able to use the bathroom when you need to.

Emily: Absolutely. Is that going into in front of Congress this year?

Tina: Yes. It's going in front of Congress each year, but this year we're hoping that it passes, but Delta has stepped up. There's an article on my social media pages. Delta has stepped up to raise a concept of lifting a seat in first class where we would be able to dock and tie down our chairs to the seats. They have just launched that on June 6th, and I am so excited because Delta has been one of my favorite ways to fly. They have always had disability in mind, but having this option now where we could just roll our chairs on and dock it to a chair and a seat would be a huge first step. It's one seat on a plane but it's a start. That's the way I look at it.

Emily: What about legislation that's specific to Rhode Island? Is there anything that you're working on?

Tina: Yes, we're working on the Sherlock plan, which I just found out got put into the budget, but we're still waiting for the vote on it, which means that people of disability we're not allowed to take raises or we're not allowed to work too many hours or they take away our disability and our medical, which people [00:14:00] don't realize doesn't pay for much but pays for a lot more than private insurance pays.

If we were to lose our medical-- imagine getting appointed to the president's board and getting a stipend three times a year and having to waive that stipend because it will take away your SSDI or your medical insurance for you. Now I'm basically working for free. I don't know a lot of Americans that would do that, but as a disabled American, we don't really have a choice until they pass Bills like this where we can work as much as we want and be contributing members to society with no fear of losing anything.

Emily: Absolutely. Especially because as I understand, disability is not a very large sum of money that you're getting in the first place. [crosstalk]

Tina: No, most people get $1,000 a year on average a month. I would challenge anybody to live on $1,000 a month for food, clothing, rent and everything like that to live amongst yourselves. It's not even a living wage, but by losing that, we have nothing to fall back on. We're also not allowed-- The other thing that this Bill would do is we're not allowed to have more than $2,000 worth of assets in any bank account at any given time. I have to put $4,000 worth of equipment into my wheelchair every year or buy a new wheelchair and they're $5,000 to $7,000 just for the down payment of one of these chairs. Not counting all of our medical equipment that we need and whatever.

How do we survive? How do I pay for my van that's my only means of transportation and getting out of the house on $1,000 a month? How do I live or have rent? Rent is $1,000 a month, so either I pay my rent or by food and medication. People don't [00:16:00] realize how restricted we are. It's not that we can't work. It's not that we don't want to work. It's the fact that we're so restricted with everything that we can't work because we'd lose too many things. We're trying to change that so we can be contributing members of society with humanity and dignity.

Emily: Absolutely. How can people support what is going on in the Rhode Island legislature?

Tina: They can write to their Congressmen, their Senators and their Representatives to make sure that they're passing Bills like this. We also brought a brand new app to Rhode Island called the Parking Mobility app. We all know how accessible parking is so difficult where people park in the hash marks or people block us in or they take up our parking spaces when they're doing events and stuff like that. Now there's this new app called Parking Mobility that RAMP has brought to Rhode Island where people can now go on and report these things that are going on.

Quietly without confrontation, they can just take a couple of pictures through this app and make a report. They can also find out the status of their reporting. Did this person pay the bill? Did this person get a citation? Did this person go to court? They won't get any personal information, but they will just get a status update generically on the report that they made. The other thing that this app does is you can report bikes and scooters that are left all over the sidewalks.

What happens is you'll get a citation saying, "Hey, you blocked hash marks. You can either pay the $250 fine or for $50, you can take a 30-minute online course and learn about accessible parking or you can't rent another scooter until you take a [00:18:00] three-minute online course of how to properly place those scooters after the fact. Two violations, it's $100 fee, three violations, you can't rent another bike or scooter for six months. We're not going after the money aspect, we're going after the education to stop the violations, to let everybody enjoy life properly.

Emily: And access the sidewalks.

Tina: Yes. You can download that app. It's on parking mobility.com. Just download the app and you can start using it.

Emily: Okay. The last question that I have for you here is, I think that in an earlier conversation you mentioned that you work with the Dog Rescue and I'm a rescue dog mom myself. I wanted to hear a little bit more about your work with the Dog Rescue? Which one do you work with, and what's that like?

Tina: I will work with any Dog Rescue, to be honest with you. I am a foster fail. Both of my service dogs I have 170 pound Great Dane and an 80 pound Pitbull who are both my now service dogs. They were both rescues at very early ages, but I will work with any rescue. I'm a foster fail. I try to foster, but they never end up going home. Adopting is so important in Rhode Island, "Adopt, Don't Shop" that is the word. But Arkanpaws is one that I use a lot among so many others, but like I said, I will work with any Dog Rescue because I believe the dogs-- I like dogs sometimes better than people. They give you unconditional love. They are always there to support you and we need to be there to support them and to rescue them and to give them the lives that they deserve.

Emily: So well put. Yes, I agree. Did you train your dogs to be service dogs yourself?

Tina: I absolutely did train my dogs. I believe in-- unless you need them for blind services or diabetic or [00:20:00] something constantly like that, I trained my service dog, but I've been a trainer for a long time to do the services that I need. I don't believe a lot of the time in sending a dog away for a year. You're missing a year of bonding with that dog. Also, the ACI does a great training program where the inmates will train the service dogs and then give them out as service dogs after the year that they've been training them. Both of my service dogs have been trained for what I need.

My Great Dane has too much love to take him out, so he's more of an in-house service dog because if I take him to restaurants, he's eye level with everybody, and he likes to lick and kiss them. I don't take him out other than if I'm outside. He can crawl under me, and when he stands up, he can put me back into the chair. My Pitbull is my security when I go out and about. He's the one who comes out with me most of the time. He's got a lot of extra training because of his breed to protect him, not for the fact that he needed the extra training.

Emily: We're here on our Rhody Radio podcast, but you have your own podcast that you do on Facebook every week. Can you talk a little bit about that and how people can get [crosstalk]?

Tina: Every Wednesday night at seven o'clock, I do a live broadcast that goes out to many outlets. We talk about all different kinds of resources, whether they're in Rhode Island or across the country that people of disability or aging can tap into or a new service. We didn't have a taxi service here in Rhode Island that was wheelchair-friendly. Now, there is one called With Love Transportation that there are CNAs that run the transportation. Not only are you putting your loved ones in these vans that can take them anywhere 24/7, but then you know that they're well taken care of.

We support any business, any organization, [00:22:00] or event that goes fully accessible. We will promote them, we will talk about them. We will talk about upcoming Bills. We talk to a lot of legislators. The Lieutenant Governor, Congressman, Senators, they have all taken the time to be on my podcast. Actually, the Senators and Congressmen believe in what we do at RAMP so much that they all sat in a closet at the Capitol building to be on my show live one night while they were in-between voting on Bills at the Capitol level.

It just shows their commitment to accessibility and all things aging and how important it's to them. We have some great representatives and leads. Our Lieutenant Governor, our Governor has been on several times, Secretary of State. We have buy-in of what we do from the top right down to one-man operations that are just opening their doors.

Emily: I think those are all the questions that I had. Is there anything else that you feel like we missed that you want to talk about?

Tina: No, that's pretty much it. That's who we are in a nutshell. If we don't know the answer, we will find the answer and we will make it happen.

Emily: Excellent. That sounds like a librarian. [laughter] All right. Thank you so much.

Tina: All right. Thank you so much. Thank you for this opportunity.

Emily: Of course.

[music]

Speaker: Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and is brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State. This episode was made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities seeds, supports and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders. [00:24:00] You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook and Instagram. If you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and rate or review us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to help us reach more Rhode Islanders.

[00:24:28] [END OF AUDIO]

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