Jennifer Longdon, a Democratic candidate for the Arizona State House of Representatives, is widely expected to win in next month’s general election. And, since she is a T4 para, the Arizona State Capitol is probably about to see some significant accessibility upgrades.
“I was given a tour of the entire building and detailed notes were taken on what needed to be improved,” says Longdon. “I can only use one bathroom stall, so my goal is for them to eventually have wheelchair accessible bathrooms on every floor. By them just meeting with me and visually seeing the struggles I face trying to fit into a regular bathroom stall or seeing how my wheelchair won’t fit under all tables or desks, I’m really encouraged by the immediacy and broad support these issues have received.”
Though she is presumed to have clinched her seat in November’s general election — District 24 has leaned heavily Democratic in at least the previous three general elections — Longdon says she doesn’t dwell on winning, instead choosing to work hard showing her constituents that she is fighting for them.
“I never assume I’m going to win, because life has thrown me a lot of curveballs,” she says. “I’m just focused on the issues that I’m passionate about. Issues that I know will improve the lives of my constituents — education, LGBTQ rights, stricter gun laws, quality health care, immigration and of course disability-related issues. I really want to work hard for the people of District 24 who entrusted me with their vote.”
Longdon chronicled her harrowing story, where she wrote about how a seemingly random act of road rage where the other driver fired shots, instantly paralyzed her and also left her then-fiancé with a permanent brain injury. She detailed her passion for advocacy, her struggle to regain her life and identity after her injury, and her transition into politics and her efforts to improve accessibility at the Arizona State Capitol, an issue on which she says she has seen noticeable advancements but still requires more work.
Securing a November win would put her in the history books, making her the first Arizona legislator to use a wheelchair full time. She says it’s important that people with disabilities be seen in more leadership roles. She believes visibility creates knowledge and helps diminish ignorance. By sharing her experience and showing her struggles, she says will be able to translate the needs of the disabled community into all types of policy-making.
“We are not used to seeing leadership modeled in disability,” she says. “Whatever policy approach you take, I am a living example of how it affects a person with a disability. I believe in advocacy by showing up. My mere presence and personal story of how disability impacted me is advocacy in itself. So by simply existing side by side with other legislators and being seen as a leader to the public, I am creating an awareness that people would not otherwise recognize.”
Image credit: Photo by Author