The man sat in front facing us. He spoke with casual ease, immediately making us feel like we’re already friends. “How many of you live in an apartment, condo, or home that I can get in? Show of hands?” I looked around. Two hands were raised. “Guess who’s not coming to dinner!”, he quipped. Our speaker then shared some of his experiences and at the end of his talk, he asked if we would think about the next time we were going to rent, build, or buy a home. Would it be a structure that could include him and others in wheelchairs?
Mark Johnson, Director of Advocacy for The Shepherd Center and founder of ADAPT, was one of four national speakers I heard last weekend. Mark leads by example, showing how one person can make a difference for people with disabilities. As a newly accepted 2010 North Carolina Partners in Policymaking trainee, I’m learning to change the world for people with developmental disabilities. The first place I’m starting is in my home.
Mind mapping, brainstorming, a mind-blowing history of disability, public speaking, tales of civil disobedience with intent, landmark litigation and legislation, table swapping, and note writing etiquette were just some of the topics we discussed, or practiced. (We just talked about the civil disobedience part!) And that was only the first session.
Twenty-eight advocates and parent advocates selected from across the state gathered in Raleigh to begin this intensive advocacy training. It was the first whirlwind weekend in a series of eight monthly trainings. Modeled after Minnesota’s successful program, NC Partners in Policymaking produces graduates who advocate at every level of government and who create and participate in community initiatives that promote inclusion.
Funded by the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities, NC Partners in Policymaking is part of an international program and has a mouthful of a mission statement. What it boils down to is this: The people who need and use services should know how to work with leaders to decide policy that affects them, and then go out and do that. The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities is “building bridges to community”. NC Partners in Policymaking is building the builders of these bridges.
When we speak of disability rights, we’re not only talking about services and supports. The issue is not about disability; we’re talking about people. The issue is civil rights. This hit me hard; it reminded me of what my teenage son said. “I’m not a woman or in a wheelchair, and I’m not African-American. But I’m still discriminated against because I have autism.” He was speaking about social acceptance in high school, but I wonder if someday he’ll want to be a candidate for NC Partners in Policymaking. I hope he and others in North Carolina will continue to have this incredible opportunity to experience what I’m learning.
The fact that society still talks about Inclusion as an issue only highlights how much work still needs to be done. Disability issues are civil rights issues. I want to hear your stories of how the civil rights of people with autism have been violated.Tags: ADAPT, Alison Davis, autism, Autism Society of North Carolina, Mark Johnson, Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, momof3au, North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities, North Carolina Partners in Policymaking, Partners in Policymaking, Shepherd Center