The Triple A Study Act is a rare species in Washington DC: a truly bipartisan piece of legislation. Designed to improve health care for amputees, the bill is co-sponsored by Senator Marsha Blackburn, a conservative Republican from Tennessee, and Senator Tammy Duckworth, a progressive Democrat from Illinois. As a bilateral leg amputee, Duckworth also happens to be one of the nation’s most powerful advocates for Americans with limb difference.
The bill’s breadth of support reflects the fact that limb loss transcends ideological boundaries. It affects everyone, regardless of party registration—and the need to provide amputees with better support is just as acute in blue states as in red ones.
The Triple A Study Act would address that need by directing the government to gather comprehensive baseline health data about amputee care. Our current knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t is murky at best. Triple A would sharpen our understanding of how many amputees have access to the resources necessary for a high quality of life. More important, it would identify where gaps exist, enabling legislators to craft targeted solutions.
It all sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing’s simple on Capitol Hill these days. As Duckworth explained to Amplitude yesterday, even a bill that has widespread support requires a heavy lift to get enacted. While she’s confident it will pass, she’d feel more certain if more amputees across the country urged their Senate and House representatives to get behind the law. (The Amputee Coalition has a point-and-click portal to help you contact your legislators and express your support.)
While she rallies support for Triple A, Duckworth introduced a second piece of amputee-friendly legislation two weeks ago. Dubbed the All Stations Accessibility Program Act (or ASAP), it would establish a dedicated funding stream to make rail stations, bus stops, and other transit facilities 100 percent ADA compliant. That doesn’t seem like an extravagant thing to ask, given that the ADA will turn 31 years old next month.
The Illinois senator reviewed the state of play for both ASAP and Triple A with Amplitude yesterday.
What does the path forward for the Triple A Study Act look like?
I think it looks good because it’s bipartisan. Sen Blackburn is cosponsoring it with me, and she’s not exactly the most liberal of senators. So if you can get Marsha Blackburn on something, it’s likely to get the support of all of the Republicans, including all the conservatives. So I think we’ve got a good chance of moving it. We just have to see what larger piece of legislation we’ll be passing that we can use as a vehicle to pass this. I would love it if it could pass [as a] stand-alone [bill], but that’s all part of the legislative sausage-making.
Are there specific larger bills that you think are good candidates to attach Triple A to?
It might be able to be attached to the American Families Plan, because it has to do with supporting our families and workers. I don’t think I could attach this to an infrastructure bill; that doesn’t really make sense. But it might be able to be attached to something like the Families Plan. That makes sense, because [Triple A] really affects people’s ability to be productive. If you don’t have access to appropriate prosthetics, then you can’t actually go out and work.
For example, I just came home from a congressional delegation that I led to Korea. And I had to hop over to Taiwan for three hours and pop back on a military aircraft. And because I have prosthetics—even though I have some issues with them—I was able to do that. I was able to do my job. I was able to wear legs and walk.
So it’s really important that we get a real report on what current practices are and know the way forward when it comes to people with limb loss and limb differences having access to the prosthetics they need to live their lives.
Will the data-gathering authorized by this bill touch on things like employment, access to transit, or things like physical therapy and mental health? Will it address the full range of the care model in addition to prosthetic access?
That’s my goal. I think the recommendation [in the bill] talks about how we can improve patient access to the most effective assistive technologies. That does not mean it just has to be prosthetics. [It encompasses] all technologies—in particular prosthetic devices. But overall, it’s a review of current practices, so those considerations should fall under the current practices. And a subset of the review is particularly [focused] on assistive devices and prosthetics.
If Amplitude‘s readers want to support this and make their voices heard, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Reach out to your legislators—especially your senators, but also your legislators—and ask them to get on the bill and co-sponsor it. If we can get more co-sponsors, it becomes pretty unanimous and we know it’s going to pass. It may actually get to pass on voice vote. They can hotline it and pass it on voice vote if every senator is supporting it.
Is this something you anticipate will pass during this calendar year? During this Congress?
I think it has a good chance to pass during this Congress, which goes through next year. I think it’s got a good shot. Again, the more people we get on it, the better. The key thing was getting Senator Blackburn on it, which really makes it bipartisan. If we can make the House version [more] bipartisan, that would be really helpful.
Let’s pivot quickly to your new bill, the All Stations Access Program. Why now is the time to introduce it, and what does the path forward for it look like?
This happened because the CTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, invited me out [a couple of years ago] for an unveiling of their new initiative to make every single El station—the El, of course, is the subway system in Chicago—completely ADA compliant and accessible. Their goal was to make it happen in 25 years. They were so pleased, and they were showing me the first one that they’d worked on, and there was this big to-do over this grand [program]. And I looked at them and I said, “This is a lovely initiative and I really appreciate your support, and thank you for doing this. But today is the 25th anniversary of the ADA, and you’re saying in another 25 years—a half-century after the passage ADA—is when we’re going to be able to actually have fully accessible stations? This is crazy.”
I asked what was keeping them from doing it sooner, and they said ADA accessibility has always been one of the top five, if not the top three, of their priorities. The problem is they have a limited supply of grants and funding, and when it comes right down to it they always have to [prioritize] safety or the purchase of new train cars. If the choice is to put in an elevator [for accessibility] or putting in assistive devices for the blind versus putting in safety mechanisms or getting new train cars, they go with the other decision.
I realized we needed a pot of money that could not be touched for anything else other than station accessibility. And we also needed to include buses in that as well. Living in Chicago, I know what it’s like to try to get to a bus stop [in a wheelchair] with all the snow and ice. You end up having to roll down the road to try to get to the bus stop. So that’s when I created this grant program. It’s focused on legacy programs that were created well before the ADA ever came into existence.