I first met Josh Green across a hearing room table. We were the people testifying against a corporation, and he chose to listen to us.

Some of us often feel like society doesn’t understand us. Stereotypes are everywhere in daily conversation, and a lot of people believe those stereotypes more often than we are willing to admit.

We all have biases and prejudices, but the best leaders are able to step back and examine situations objectively, being careful not to reinforce the bias that society has taught them. I have watched Josh Green do this very well, and I think it is part of what makes him a great leader.

Senator Josh Green shares that he is voting yes on HB2730 but had serious reservations about a part in the bill that physicians would not write the real cause of death on the death certificate.

State Sen. Josh Green.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In early 2017, another member of the blind community pulled me aside to tell me that there was a bill in the state legislature to make blind people eligible for handicapped parking placards. Who was pushing it? It was a local corporation that is commonly, though inaccurately, recognized as a guide dog school. For the record, there are no guide dog schools in Hawaii.

This corporation was trying to use a pitiful portrayal of blindness to try to game the system in the name of “safety.” Members of the organized blind movement, the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii, rose up in opposition. We knew that we had to convince our elected officials that society had fed them a lie about blindness, which this corporation should not have been harnessing.

Age-Old Portrayals

We gave all the logical reasons why blindness should not qualify someone for a handicapped parking placard, and some of us told stories about friends and family members here in Hawaii who have disabilities that actually make them need handicapped parking. I have an aunty who has had a hip replacement, which makes it difficult for her to walk long distances. I would take issue with someone who is just blind taking her parking space out of convenience.

The trouble was that the corporation was asking our elected officials to believe that being blind is inherently difficult and scary, that we cannot walk safely through a parking lot. All they had to do was think of the blind beggar and the age-old portrayals of us as helpless. We, the people, who are actually blind, know that blindness does not inherently make life difficult, but low expectations can be our greatest incarceration.

We went to the joint committee hearing, and the second committee was Josh Green’s Senate Committee on Human Services. The lead chair was pretty icy, but Josh came in with little comments of aloha from time to time. Our members continued to approach the microphone to testify against the bill. After the hearing ended, we were unsure of whether the committees would listen to the corporation or to the people.

Josh approached us outside the hearing room to thank us for our testimony and voiced his support for our desires. He also told us that he’d love to help us in the future with anything that we actually did need in the blind community. Two days later, his committee killed the bill, which was what we wanted.

In the summer of 2017, Josh approached me at a cookout to talk story, and I brought up one of the most pressing issues in the blind community. Here in Hawaii, blind people do not currently have a legally defined right to raise our own children. If a prejudiced social worker or family court assumes that blindness would prevent a parent from effectively raising a child, the state can take children away from blind parents.

This can happen in Child Welfare Services cases, family law proceedings, adoption, and foster care settings. No functional deficiency is necessary; prejudiced assumptions about the abilities of blind people are sufficient “evidence” here in Hawaii to take blind people’s children away. His response was so clear and so strong; of course, he wanted to fix this problem! We immediately began drafting a bill.

Josh introduced Senate Bill 2208, Relating to a Right to Parent for Blind Persons, and brought it to a hearing still within the month of January. Doug Chin’s Department of the Attorney General came out in opposition to the bill, and their representative listed blind people with substance abusers during her testimony in the hearing. While some legislators might be intimidated by the AG’s influence, Josh tactfully and respectfully pointed out that she had just demonstrated the type of bias that had caused so many blind people to lose their children.

I marvel at his ability to listen to people’s stories, to understand quickly, and to relate to them.

He explained to her, as a physician, that any person who is abusing substances is automatically impaired in their ability to care for a child, but, as the blind community was saying, a blind person is not. He did it without shaming her, and he demonstrated an exceptional understanding of our issue as a community. The next committee chair was unable to grasp the importance of the issue and refused us a hearing, so Josh introduced a resolution form of this bill, which had the same fate. So many blind people love Josh Green for standing up for us and literally fighting for our right to have children.

As I continue to be around him, whether in hearings or just out in the community, I marvel at his ability to listen to people’s stories, to understand quickly, and to relate to them. I often wondered if this was a skill that he developed as an emergency room doctor, since an ER doctor needs to learn about a situation so quickly, or if it was a skill that he already had that made him a great candidate for the profession. While we were sign waving one day, I had the privilege of meeting one of his former teachers from high school, and I asked about this. His former teacher told me that he had always been something special.

I grew up in a family where people do not trust the government or “politicians.” I grew up thinking that my voice was never going to be heard because I did not know people with political power. From getting to know Josh Green, I now understand in my heart that elected officials are real people, too. I know when people look down on me for having a disability or for something I may not know, but Josh just talks to everyone like a human.

I am confident that, if we elect him lieutenant governor, he will continue to listen to the people, continue to investigate problems here in Hawaii, and continue to take action to address them.

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