Friday, February 08, 2008

Partners in Policymaking

Partners in Policymaking, an advocacy training program for adults with developmental disabilities and family members of people with developmental disabilities was started in 1987 by Colleen Wieck and the folks she worked with in Minnesota. This extraordinary group of people felt that if parents and self advocates had the appropriate skills and information, they could improve the lives of people with disabilities in their communities, in their states and the nation.

In the US Partners in Policymaking is federally funded through the Developmental Disability Act and administered through each states DD Council. In NY it is funded byt the Developmental Disability Planning Council and directed by Joyce Steel of The Advocacy Center.

I applied to be in Partners in 2002 and was accepted so one weekend a month for 8 months I made the 4 hour trek to the state capitol (Albany) to take my course. There were lessons on public speaking (“the microphone is your friend!”), person-first language, building life-visions, inclusive education, housing, community-building, the legislative process, rights, advocacy skills and more. We learned to speak publicly, to present testimony and to be attentive to each others strengths as well as accommodate each others' needs.

Partners in Policymaking is a leadership program and the presenters on each topic are top-of-the-line. My class heard Deborah Whitfield on person-first language and disability history, Al Condeluci on community inclusion, Lou Brown on transition and employment, Tom Harmon from the NYS Commission on Quality Care spoke about Willowbrook and taught us how to give public testimony, Pat Johnson from NYS CQC as well spoke about New York’s legislature, Jean Tellier spoke about housing issues, Curt Decker from NDRN taught us how a bill becomes a law and about working with legislators. And the list goes on: Rob Davies then at OMRDD spoke about housing issues and rights, Carol Blessing spoke about transitioning to adulthood and Sue Cullen presented on self-determination.

Cutting-edge ideas and principles are taught every year. Some classes have the opportunity to hear different speakers.

Being away once a month wasn't terrible either! It was always hard to disengage from my home life, but they were fine and so was I!

And as good as the presentations were, the relationship that was built between my classmates was by far the best part! I shared my Partners class with and extraordinary group of people. We were a diverse group—many races and religions were represented, there were people who came from the largest city in the country and from towns so small you can’t mapquest them, and we had a vast variety of ability levels.

At the first session, like most people, we circulated the room looking for people just like us to hang with, but as the sessions went on common ground was built and all of us expanded our definition of “just like us” to include everyone else. That diverse group of folks became a support system—-I can’t tell you how many times an issue would come up at home that I would tag to discuss when I got to Albany (and I can’t tell you how much I missed that when it was over!)

We learned to talk so that all of us could understand and we supported each other so we all shone—I helped one of my Partners remember to take his meds and he kept me on time schedules (He still does today. Thank you Jason!)

And those relationships continue today—with our own class and with the other graduates from across the state. In NY we have a graduate website and list-serv and when I am taking up a new project the phone line from here practically burns up with calls to the Partners I know who have experience with my situation in their town. We frequently unite on common issues as well. Among other things we have rallied for IDEA, in support of a family who lost their son who had autism to abuse, and we took part in a phone/fax campaign on burden of proof last year.

Let’s see, have I said it all? Great speakers, awesome content, leadership skill practice, full-immersion diversity training, ongoing friendships and a dynamic statewide network…

And do I have to say that all of this experience is an asset in your whole life?

The only thing left to say is: Find the program in your state, apply, attend, and learn to conquer the world!

(NY’s applications are available now, due March 14. Classes start in May and I’ll be presenting!)

I invite other Partners grads to share additional information and thoughts--just click on the comments button below!


Paula said...

Terry you have said it all. I am a graduate of the 2004 class. It not only taught me about the history of disability and how to advocate it gave me a sense of belonging. I realized I was not alone in my journey to unravelling the mysteries we call rights, regs. and laws. It has also taught me I can acheive my goals and make a difference. I am proud that I am a Partner grad becuase I feel it is very prestigous. Yes, it does take a commitment but once you meet all the other participants you can't wait to go back and see what everyone has been up to in the past month, not only that you make friends all over NYS, from the tip of LI to Buffalo, that have similar interests, and that is extrodinary in it-self.Partners is an invaluable part of my life, and I would not be where I am today if it were not for its training that is unsurpassable. This program is well worth the time and investment.

Anonymous said...

Partners in Policymaking was the most self-empowering trainings/programs I have ever attended. To say that it helped me learn how to successfully advocate for my son who has multiple disabilities would be an understatement.
The techniques, information and first hand experiences instilled within me the realization that I had the ability to ask for and get what we needed.
Although the commitment to the program was at times a difficult one to honor it was an effort well spent.
IL 1997

Anonymous said...

Partners is life changing, I define my life as Before Partners and After Partners; the skills I learned I used EVERY day in some way or another. The friends I made will be with me a lifetime.
Could we ever thank Dr. Colleen Wieck enough for all the lives Partners has changed.
Jayne, Alabama

Erin said...

I am a graduate from 2005 NYS PIP. Partners was life-changing! Our Maggie has Angelman Syndrome and her disabilities are so complex. We had so many fears and questions about Maggie's future when I started Partners. Partners gave me so much information, wonderful friends and allies, and so much hope. But mostly, Partners helped me redefine how we view Maggie's challenges. We've been able to let go of so many assumptions about her abilities. We were able to re-define what will make Maggie's life valuable and meaningful. And for me, Partners challenged me to confront so many assumptions I had about disability and intellectual disabilities in particular. I wish I could take Partners ever few years!

Anonymous said...

Since graduating from Partners in Alabama in 2006, we have been able to help my daughter move into a condo with a roommate and manage self-directed services through her Medicaid waiver. The learning, the experience, the friendships are indeed life-changing. Bill, Alabama

Terri said...

Thank you fellow Partners Grads!

Julie said...

I couldn't agree more. Partners in policy making has also changed my life and the life of my children. I am a 2006 NYS partners graduate. The program taught me to believe in myself my vision and to reach out and help others find their paths. Advocacy is not something that I was born to do but rather something I have had to work at consistently. Being an effective advocate is a process of finding yourself and learning how to work with the system. I credit my advocacy skills to everyone who has had an impact in my life and my childrens lives. I have learned to recognize learning experiences and embrace each individually. Whether negative or positive experiences each teaches you about yourself, what you need to do different next time, and what tools need to be added to continue to be successful. Before partners I was building myself up the best I could through training and life experiences. Being a part of the partners program gave me more tools, helped me to focus and to understand the system, how government works so that I could work with the system instead of against. Most important I learned that one person really can make a big difference. I not only became confident in myself and my abilities but developed a support system and friendship with other Advocates, Self Advocates, and Service Providers from all over NYS. I am proud to be a graduate of Partners in Policy Making and encourage others who want to help make postive changes within the disAbility system to apply. Some of the best people and greatest influences in my life are my fellow partners!
Julie - NY