The term ‘lobbyist’ often sparks derision and outright anger in many. After all, when it comes to Washington politics, it takes a certain poise and determined attitude that many people lack. But that is no challenge for Kayla McKeon, the first registered lobbyist with Down Syndrome.
McKeon works at the Capitol petitioning lawmakers on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). The human rights organization strives to create “a world in which all people with down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming communities.”
The 31-year-old powerbroker is an integral part of that mission, meeting with senators and representatives to garner support for legislation that will benefit those who live with Down Syndrome.
Her boss, NDSS CEO Sara Hart Weir, attests to this fact: “She’s an incredible asset to this organization. She’s extremely articulate. And she’s quick on her feet.”
And she must be. The fast pace of Washington politics can overwhelm anyone who isn’t prepared. But what sets McKeon apart from others is her amiable approach in an otherwise hostile environment.
Such an approach is a welcome change as many politicians on both sides of the aisle are quick to help her in any way necessary.
But what exactly are McKeon and her colleagues fighting for? Their goal is to obtain equal wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Per the Department of Labor, the FLSA “establishes the minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.”
But there is a portion of the act, Section 14(c), which permits employers to pay a subminimum wage to workers with disabilities.
We had the opportunity to hear from Kayla McKeon, and she explained that her goal with the FLSA is to phase out Section 14(c) and eradicate subminimum wage.
And McKeon and her team know exactly how they want to make this change: “We want the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act to pass so Section 14(c) can be phased out in six years. We want the differently-abled community to have access to meaningful and competitive jobs that provide fair wages.”
Despite her status, the gravity of McKeon’s role as the first lobbyist with Down Syndrome hasn’t escaped her.
“I feel like I’m giving a voice to everybody, to all self-advocates, and to those who don’t have a voice. They can find their voice one way or another, if it’s typing on a keyboard or if it’s facilitated communications,” she told NowThis. “There’s always a way to find a voice and speak to that. And we have to make sure that all those voices are heard and not just one.”
But in the end, the sheer will of helping to create change for many Americans is enough to put a smile on her face: “I just love the feeling of, ‘Wow, I’m here, I’m making history.’”
Sign Up For Our Newsletter