It’s summer! School is out, the weather is hot, vacation is calling. But did you know that there is still work you can be doing to help your inclusive college program? Just like you take a vacation over the summer, your legislators take a break from Washington, DC. And, unlike some of us who may go away for vacation, legislators usually go home to the state or district that elected them and hold meetings with the people who elected them: their constituents. That could be YOU! They have vacation from Congress during the week of July 4th and most of August! (Learn more about a Congressional Recess by clicking here.) They may have town hall meetings, attend the local Rotary Club, Kiwanis, or Chamber of Commerce events. They may be at Fourth of July parades. They may meet with individuals. It is their chance to hear what is important directly from the people in the area. And this is a chance for you to be heard, so what do you do?
- Find out where they will be: Their schedules will often be on their web pages, or you can call their local offices to see where they will be. You also can call to make an individual appointment in their local office for while they are home. This will be easier with your representative than with your senator, because senators represent the entire state while your Representative only represents a part of the state. Remember, appointments with staff are ok too!
- Even if you don’t get to meet with them individually, go to a town hall and be prepared to ask a question or share information about your higher education program (check out this easy-to-use template)…. Even better if a student wearing their college t-shirt asks the question! Take along a flyer from your program and share it with the staff there, whether you get to ask questions or not.
- What question do you ask? How about – “I am [name] from xx program at xx University. It is a program for students with intellectual disabilities to go to college and graduate with a better chance to go to work. We need more programs in our state so more students with intellectual disability can choose to attend these programs. Do you support more funding for these programs? Can I get you some more information and have a longer visit about it? And then get them the information!
- Or, if a student is asking the question: “I am [student’s name] and I live here in your district. I am a student in the xx program at xx University. I am going to college because [why?]. Do you support more money for programs like mine so that more students like me can go to college?”
- Don’t forget to invite your representative to come visit your program and follow a student around for a day.
And it is not only your federal legislators from Washington, DC who will be more available in the summer. Most state legislatures have completed their work by the end of June. (There are some exceptions of state legislatures that meet all year round, such as California and Massachusetts. And even those folks will have some time off from their full-time legislature during summer.) Then your state legislators become much more available to see you, learn about your programs, and visit. Many state legislators go back to doing their regular jobs when not in session and are back in the community full-time. Your local doctor, lawyer, grocery store worker, teacher, mechanic, or even your neighbor may be a legislator!
Again, this is a great time to build a relationship with them, invite them to visit, talk about the college program, or hand them a quick one-pager on what your program is about when you see them in the grocery store or around town. Remember, they are on vacation or with their family, so don’t take too much of their time without an appointment. But they do represent you and if you are ready with a statement, a thank you, an invitation to visit, or that one-page description of your program, they will be willing to listen. (Click here to learn why it’s important to develop a relationship with your Representatives and how to find yours.)
So, enjoy your summer and be prepared to promote your inclusive college program!
About the post author: Denise Rozell is director of Policy Innovation, Education and Employment, at Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Denise works primarily on issues affecting youth in post-secondary education, employment and independent living and was the co-director for the PROMISE Technical Assistance Center (Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income). As she often says, she is a self-described policy geek, and a valuable contributor to the work of Think College NCC.