One of the most important things in making services and systems for people with disabilities work better is remembering that everyone has a voice. And when I say that I mean EVERYONE! They may not speak the same language as you do, they may not speak at all. They may use American Sign Language. They may use an assistive technology device. They may not learn the same way you do. And, perhaps most importantly, they may not have the same opinion as you do. But everyone has a voice and an opinion. And in our country, everyone has a right to share their opinion with the people who make decisions about their lives through policy – in Washington DC, in your states, in your towns and communities. I hope that in the future, in this space, you will hear from a variety of people – not just me – about policymaking and advocating. And we will make sure those people speak in a variety of opinions.
Sometimes, and maybe most of the time, if someone has never shared their opinion with a policymaker it can seem hard or scary. But there are always some things you can do to be more comfortable and learn how to do it better. One of those things is available to you right now. The applications for the Think College Policy Advocates are available on the Think College website. The Think College Policy Advocate program is an opportunity to learn about and practice policy advocacy skills. Up to 10 teams from different inclusive college programs across the country will be accepted into the program. Each team will be made up of a student or alumni and a program staff person. Teams will be supported to participate in the Disability Policy Seminar (DPS), a cross disability conference held every year, usually in Washington, DC, but this year held virtually.
DPS offers the opportunity for advocates, self-advocates, experts, and professionals in the field to come together and learn about key issues that affect them most. After two days of training and learning, attendees will participate in a day of virtual meetings with their Members of Congress. As part of the Think College Policy Advocates you will also be participating in some pre-DPS activities to get you ready for the events, as well as some activities throughout the coming year to build on your skills so you are able to continue to share your voice and your thoughts. We will also offer chances to get to know the other teams and ask questions of each other and of us, and understand more about DPS. It is a great activity for students and staff who want to learn more about policy and the decisions that influence their lives, and how to change the policies that impact your life.
Don’t worry: if you don’t become a Think College Policy Advocate, there are other ways to learn more about policy advocacy. For students, Liz Weintraub, my colleague at AUCD, holds a quarterly call with students on advocacy called Emerging Advocates. The next one is scheduled for March 11. It is a call for people with disabilities by people with disabilities specifically to learn more about advocating for yourself and others. Check it out!
And there is a monthly blog in this space about policy as well. Sometimes it will be about what is happening in Washington, DC, sometimes about what is happening in the states, and sometimes by an individual who is making policy change in their world. Keep an eye out for that too!
To visit with your Congressman or Senator in your state capitol or in Washington can make us nervous. You have seen them on TV, you have heard them making speeches, they have traveled across your state and been elected by a lot of people. But remember: no one knows about Your life, Your needs and YOUR story better than you do.
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.