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My Turn: For some, remaining remote is not a choice, but a necessity

For the Monitor
Published: 10/24/2021 8:30:10 AM

The early days of the pandemic cast a cloud of uncertainty over exactly how our state, our society, our citizens could continue working, contributing, earning and connecting when we all had to remain in our homes and physically apart from one another.

Thanks to technology now known simply as a “Zoom,” we overcame distance and allowed our computers to keep us connected. It’s almost second nature to use this platform today.

Keep in mind, for literally years leading up to this moment, the disability community had asked for exactly the same opportunity. In order to work, contribute, earn and connect, our community asked for simple remote access. If there is a true silver lining to this pandemic, it has been the expanded use of technology to allow everyone equal access to the workplace and to the legislative process.

And yet, as we work to emerge from COVID, House and Senate leaders intend to return to in-person only hearings and testimony. We cannot go back down that road and close off an entire community of citizens from a process they rightfully should be able to access.

Recently, I joined with two dozen other health providers and advocates, representing tens of thousands of Granite Staters and families, to urge New Hampshire House and Senate leaders to continue to offer the option to testify on legislation remotely, using the Zoom function that has become such an integral piece of daily existence in today’s world.

Our letter reads in part:

“As you often remind us, the State House is the people’s house, and public input and the right to know are critical components of New Hampshire’s legislative process. Yet with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging throughout our state, individuals would have to put their own health, and that of their families, friends, neighbors and communities, at risk in order to attend and testify in-person at legislative committee hearings, meetings and sessions. This not only jeopardizes the health and welfare of Granite State residents, including you, your fellow legislators and many of your constituents who face underlying health issues, but it also threatens to deprive the Legislature of critical constituent and stakeholder voices needed to craft responsive and responsible public policy.

Without remote access over videoconferencing or other technology, we, as public health providers and advocates, are unable to safely appear at the State House, and the hundreds of thousands of individuals we represent and serve will be unable to be heard on the many legislative proposals critical to their own health and welfare. Conversely, as we learned during the 2021 session, videoconferencing effectively provides safe and secure access to legislative proceedings to citizens, health care providers and advocates all across New Hampshire.”

It’s critical to see the broad list of agencies and advocates that have joined this effort to protect access to our political process — Waypoint, Coalition of Recovery Residences, Granite State Home Health & Hospice Association, ABLE-NH, N.H. Alliance for Healthy Aging, N.H. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselors Association, N.H. Nutrition Network, LeadingAge Maine & New Hampshire, N.H. Community Behavioral Health Association, N.H. Legal Assistance, New Futures N.H., Nurse Practitioner Association, N.H. Public Health Association, N.H. Association of Residential Care Homes, NAMI New Hampshire, N.H. Recovery Community Center Network, Disability Rights Center – N.H., N.H. Medical Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, N.H. Community Support Network, Inc., Bi-State Primary Care Association, N.H. Alcohol and Other Drug Service Providers Association, N.H. Brain Injury Association, NH Health Care Association.

There’s a lot of debate lately over rights and independence, whether it's masks or vaccines, there are passionate feelings on both sides. I would hope everyone would recognize the right to access our political process remotely. There is no argument against it that makes any logical sense.

If it’s about limiting access to just constituents or limiting numbers, we can have that conversation. But an “all or nothing” remote access option ignores the longtime needs and rights of the disability community who are on the verge of being shut out of society once again. Don’t pull the plug on rightful access to our society and its leaders.

(Deb Ritcey is president and CEO of Granite State Independent Living.)

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