Washington, D.C., Sept. 5 – “Wherever you are, and whatever you do, there is a way of making a contribution if you have the will.”
That was the closing note of Kenneth Marcus’s speech at RespectAbility’s annual summit focused on the future of people with disabilities. “There are many different ways that you can be of public service,” he added.
As a long time civil rights lawyer, Marcus has been an advocate for the disability community for years. From 2004 through 2008, he served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “There was really no area of law that wasn’t pertinent,” Marcus said of his career. The main part of his current job, though, is implementing regulations. “Law enforcement is a big part of what we do.”
The newly appointed Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, the regulations Marcus enforces work to create a more equitable education system. “Last week we had a complaint,” Marcus told the audience, “in which a student came to us and told us that the bathroom stalls in her school the doors were too heavy… And she was literally left behind on various situations—including perhaps most horribly in multiple, multiple fire evacuations skills.” Marcus and his team worked with the school to resolve the problem. “That won’t happen again… they will make sure that no one is left behind either literally or figuratively.”
While discussing his work in government, Marcus highlighted the importance of offering your own suggestions when trying to create change. “What is really helpful if you can use your knowledge or experience, your expertise, to give us specific examples of things that we ought to be doing, or that schools ought to be doing, colleges or universities should be doing. We can’t think of everything.”
He also discussed that having a specific person who is impacted by the problem can really help get to get the ball rolling. “If there is a student who is harmed, please do let us know.”
Marcus was confirmed as head of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, only three weeks prior to RespectAbility’s summit. For five years, RespectAbility has been a nonpartisan nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “This is not just the first disability-related organization I’ve spoken to, but this is the first organization of any kind I’ve spoken to openly. And who better, who better?”
The summit, held by RespectAbility, took place on July 30 in the Rayburn House Office Building. The event consisted of networking opportunities, as well as panels on employment, media inclusion, fighting bias and intersectionality.