Eight Things to Do Right Now with New (and Returning) Legislators

My favorite blogs to read are ones that explain things in a straightforward way using plain language, and then have a call to action, or tell me to do something. I am Denise Rozell, Director of Policy Innovation at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and I work with the National Coordinating Center on policy issues and systems change. What does that mean? It means I am a “policy geek”. I love all things Washington DC and I am always working to make systems and legislation work better for people with disabilities and their families. As you probably all know (because I hope you all voted for the candidates of your choice), we had an election last fall. The candidates who won will start their work sometime in January, earlier for the state elected officials and later in January for the federal folks like the new President and Congress.

So, what can you do now?? Do you just wait for the new folks to go to work? No! Here are some simple things you can do now to engage with your federal, state, and local leaders.

  1. Make sure you know who won the election in your state or district. Who are your new State Representatives and Senators? Don’t forget Local Council people and anyone else who might have an interest in college options for students with intellectual disability in your state.
  2. Write each of them a note of congratulations! Tell them who you are: “I am a student in college at…”, or “My son/daughter with an intellectual disability is a student at…”, or “I am part of the program at…” Tell them why the college program or a specific  issue is important to you. Need some tips on what to say? Check out this handout from AUCD.
  3. Offer to be a resource to them on issues around disability, higher education, inclusive postsecondary education, or offer to help inform others in the community. Don’t limit your help to just higher education – if it is something disability related, you can always find someone to help. You want them to get in the habit of calling you for things they need.  Don’t forget to give them a way to contact you! Remember, you are the expert.
  4. If you have a newsletter or regular communication about yourself, your program, or your college, add them to your mailing list.
  5. Send them some basic information about the program – create a flier if you have to! Make sure it includes a personal story, the number of students, the employment outcomes (if you have them yet – or if not, use the Think College national employment outcomes). Eventually you will want to ask your representatives for something and they will want to know why it is important to spend money on this. But make friends first! Other people will be asking them for things and you want to stand out by offering to help.
  6. Since right now it may be difficult to invite them to come and visit the program or spend the day with a student, be creative and help them “visit” your program. Invite them to have a virtual conversation with one of your students (or with you, if you are a student); create a short video following a students to various classes and activities or talking about why they wanted to go to college and what they are learning; invite them to join a Zoom class with students. Be creative and show off your program!
  7. Don’t ask for anything now, but be prepared with something in case they ask you what you want from them when they start work. Maybe you want more scholarships for students with ID. Maybe you want to work on expanding your type of program across the state. Don’t just ask for money, but tell them what you want – they will know it costs money. But if they don’t ask, just build the relationship.
  8. Give them information about Think College – its newsletter, website, college programs database, and state legislation.

Now you are on your way! Making changes in policy can take some time; but know I’m here to help!

That is it from Washington DC. Stay tuned to learn more about what you can do next. And have fun. You are the best person to talk about your program.

Denise, a white woman with short reddish hair, wears metallic rectangular glasses and smiles at the camera. Post author: Denise Rozell, Director of Policy Innovation, Education and Employment Team, at Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD). Denise works primarily on issues affecting youth in post-secondary education, employment and independent living including as the co-Director for the PROMISE Technical Assistance Center (Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income). As she says above, she is a self-described policy geek, and a valuable contributor to the work of Think College NCC.