This summer, in addition to interning for Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), I interned at the Massachusetts State House in Representative Kay Khan’s office. I met Representative Khan, of Newton, MA, at the beginning of my journey to create a dance program for children with disabilities and we instantly connected through our love of dance (Rep. Khan studied ballet for many years and organized a ballet program for young children in her basement during the summer when she was a teenager). From the start, Rep. Khan has supported me, shared valuable advice, and communicated with me the important work she is pursuing as the co-chair of the Legislative Joint Committee on Children, Families, and People with Disabilities. Rep. Khan is an inspiring advocate for people with disabilities and has been working hard to make Massachusetts, including her district of Newton, more accessible.
As an intern for Rep. Khan I learned a lot about local politics, state politics and, more specifically, the politics surrounding people with disabilities in Massachusetts. Recently Rep. Khan and I sat down for an interview. She shared her background and interest in people with disabilities: her current role in the State House, modern challenges, and ideas about what’s to come. Representing Newton since 1995, she has been “a strong voice on Beacon Hill for Newton and for the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Rep. Khan had a strong connection to people with disabilities before she came to the State House because of her experiences as a registered psychiatric nurse clinical specialist. Prior to becoming a psychiatric nurse she was a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Rep. Khan’s medical and psychiatric background influenced her interest in human services. When first elected, state representatives have the opportunity to request committees they would like to serve on and Rep. Khan requested the Joint Committee on Human Services and Elder Affairs. Approximately eight years ago the committee split due to its size, leading to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and People with Disabilities, which Rep. Khan now co-chairs for her third session.
One of the greatest challenges that Rep. Khan has been working on for close to 15 years is the issue of accessible transportation in her Newton district. The Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale commuter rail stations are all inaccessible—not only for people with physical disabilities, but also for elders and families with young children. Rep. Khan hopes to turn at least one of the Newton commuter rail stations into a fully accessible stop and with federal transportation dollars granted to the state from the help of former Congressman Barney Frank, Rep. Khan hopes this project really make a difference for people of any abilities.
Over the course of her time as a Representative in the MA State House, Rep. Khan has seen equality and inclusion of people with disabilities “come a long way.” In the next few years she thinks it will keep moving in the direction of helping more people to become fully included in society and continuing to ensure that their needs are met. She thinks that Jewish organizations in the Boston area, like CJP, have a huge and successful influence on the positive change that Boston has seen in creating a more accessible and equal society. She says, “Jewish agencies are amazing” and hopes to continue working with them in the years to come to continue bettering the lives of people with disabilities.
Dance, move, and empower,