reflections related to disability advocacy, family and (needed) cultural change
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.
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!
I am the mother of three, wife of one. I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate and a committed disability advocate. I want to catch up on my scrapbooking, learn more about art-journaling, get my house in order, read all the books I have set aside to read and change the world--not necessarily in that order. The opinions in this blog are my own and not those of any of employers.