inMotion Magazine

November | December 2018 20 On Tuesday, May 8, just a few hours before the end of the 2018 legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Senate Bill 376, which would protect insurance coverage for prosthetics. Led by two citizen advocates – whose only previous political experience had been voting – Herb Kolodny and Brenda Novak managed to get this bill through the legislature on their first try. How did they do it? These above- knee amputees share the story of their journey to bring this initiative into law. Getting Started Herb Kolodny began in 2017 as a participant in the “Partners In Policymaking” (PIP) training, a federally funded program training citizens to become more effective advocates for people with disabilities. For the six-month training, Herb chose the topic of fairness in health insurance coverage for prosthetics. Brenda Novak met Herb in May 2017. By this time, Herb had spent months researching the issue and tracking down state politicians. Their conversation soon turned to legislative advocacy. From personal experience, they knew that most private health insurance policies didn’t fully cover the cost of prosthetics, and that many people in the state couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expense. Commitment to Success Herb was inspired by the Amputee Coalition’s “Arms and Legs Are Not a Luxury” campaign, and saw an opportunity for a similar effort in Connecticut. At that time, 20 U.S. states had passed prosthetic parity laws, including all of the New England states – except Connecticut. While working on his PIP project, Herb made a personal commitment to get prosthetic parity legislation passed in Connecticut. After Brenda became an amputee, she recognized that the visibility of her prosthetic leg gave her an opportunity to familiarize people with prosthetics and normalize their daily presence. “Sometimes people are startled or uncertain how to react,” she explains. “Children will point, which embarrasses their parents, and sometimes adults ask me questions, so I decided to approach everyone with a smile and openness to talking about it.” When Brenda learned about Herb’s legislative work, she immediately offered to help. Their shared sense of social justice fed their passion to change the law to provide fairness in health insurance coverage for all amputees. Keys to Success Be a Leader To support their legislative efforts, Herb and Brenda formed the Connecticut Amputee Network (CAN). Working at a grassroots level, they attended amputee support group meetings across the state to introduce themselves, announce the formation of CAN, spread information about the legislative push, and ask for support through activism. As the bill made its way through the General Assembly, they shared updates with their supporters. With each step forward, they received encouragement that boosted their spirits and made them feel they could really make a difference. Build Relationships To build support for the initiative, Herb literally walked miles tracking down legislators, and attending town hall meetings and other community events. By participating in local meet & greets, he built a strong relationship with one of his local representatives, State Senator George Logan (R-CT). Logan became a champion for CAN and worked to bring the Republican caucus on board. Brenda’s representative, State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-CT), a longtime disability rights advocate, CITIZEN ADVOCACY: by Herb Kolodny and Brenda Novak