One of my first times to speak to legislators was in Washington DC. I was about 8, and my mom’s boss, Dr. Travis Thompson, invited me to go with him to Washington. He wanted me to help me tell members of congress why research funding is so important. He thought it would have much more impact if members of congress could hear from someone with a disability.
I told them about how my parents had been told early that I probably wouldn’t be able to talk very well. I told them about a speech study I was in with Dr. Ann Kaiser and Dr. M.L. Hemmeter. I also told them about my school. I was named “Witness of the Week” by the committee.
For several years now, I have met with our legislators here in Nashville at Tennessee Disability Day on the Hill and at the federal Disability Policy Seminar in Washington DC. I really look forward to talking with our representatives about what we want for our school programs and what we want for the community.
Several years ago, I talked in front of the entire Tennessee House of Representatives about why the STEPUP bill was so important. That’s the law that now makes scholarship funding available to students with disabilities wanting to attend college.
At the time, some people said we wouldn’t be able to get the bill passed. But we did! I told them how important it was to help students and postsecondary programs in Tennessee. I was so happy to get to represent all my friends who also wanted to go to college.
If you are getting ready to advocate, here is my advice:
When you meet, it’s always important to share your name and where you are from. They want to know that you can vote for them! Tell them what you are doing now - whether it’s going to school or working or looking for a job. Tell them something that is very important to you – it may be education, or health care or voting or transportation. It’s important to be brief and to the point. They may ask you to stay longer, but remember that they probably have many other appointments that same day.
What are the meetings like? The meetings can happen many different ways. You may be in a representative’s office, or you may be in their conference room. You may be meeting with the representative or you may be meeting with a staff member. You may be in a very small group or you may be with many other people.
Remember to listen, be respectful, and make sure they know who you are, what’s important to you, and how you can be contacted. If possible, get a picture with them. You can post it and share it, and they probably will too.
Always thank them for their time and be sure they know how to get in touch with you. You can give them your email, your address, your phone number, whatever you want.