The Advocates are Returning to Washington!

Ten teams of students and staff from inclusive college programs are once again coming to Washington, DC to educate their policymakers about the importance of the college experience, employment, community services, and people with intellectual disabilities. The Think College Policy Advocates (TCPA), a joint project of Think College and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), began with its first group of students coming to DC in early 2019. Only five teams that year joined attendees at the Disability Policy Seminar to learn about policy. In 2020, the second cohort had to be cancelled as a result of COVID, but the 2021 class went forward virtually with 10 teams. We are so excited to have this year’s teams return to DC in person! 

This year’s teams are from wide variety of programs across the nation, nine of whom are first-timers to TCPA. There is team from a career and technical college, a team from a community college, two teams from brand new inclusive programs in their first year in existence, and a team from one of the largest and most established programs. Chosen through a competitive process, there are teams from California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington. (Read more about the teams in this article.) And the students include program alumni, current students, and recent (as in last week!) graduates. They are as diverse as any college students – coming from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, geographic locations, and with a wide variety of interests.

Each team has a coach from Think College, AUCD, or the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). The training in Washington is being done during the NDRN conference and the Think College Policy Advocates will be able to join that conference for a general session on guardianship and supported decision-making – an issue of importance to the disability community as a whole, but also to these students and staff.

The teams arrive in Washington on June 5 for an introductory dinner, followed by a day of training and then visits with their Members of Congress on June 7. Before coming to Washington, they will have already learned about policy, how to do meetings with policymakers, and received information about issues and what is going on in Washington right now. They have shared their hopes and dreams and why they have come to college. They have also all talked about how their attendance at college is only the first step – they each want to make sure that others can follow them. This is one of the most important things about advocacy – you can do it for yourself, but the impact is greater when you can also do it to benefit others. And we have heard about some of the issues they care about: transportation, sexual education, having families, employment, sub-minimum wage, and of course, more inclusive college programs so that everyone who chooses to, can go to college.

In the past, the relationships with legislators and staff and the expertise built by the TCPA program have led to:

  • legislative and staff visits to inclusive college programs,
  • student internships with legislators,
  • state legislation to expand programs, launch pilot programs and expand scholarships,
  • and a host of new and experienced advocates now mentoring others out in the world.

Most importantly, these Think College Policy Advocates demonstrate to all who meet them, the importance of inclusive college. As the buttons they wear tell everyone who meets them, “Ask Me About College!”

Post author: Denise Rozell is 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 she is a self-described policy geek, and a valuable contributor to the work of Think College NCC. 

National Coordinating Center