Observations From Below: Time Keeps on Slipping.....Into the Future

03/02/2017 12:20 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2017

In my short time as a disability advocate, I’ve had the honor of sitting on several boards. One thing I’ve learned from sitting on these boards, is that sometimes it takes participating in a project for me to feel like a real part of the organization. In my time with the Adaptables Center for Independent Living in Winston-Salem, NC, I helped found a successful school program called the Youth Empowerment in Schools Program. Through this program, the staff at the Adaptables go and talk to students with disabilities and help prepare them for what is coming up after high school, whether it’s college or a job. The program is still active and has a great reputation within the school system. Now I could potentially have a similar impact on a bigger scale, since I am participating in an initiative that is exploring advocacy training programs that have been funded by the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD -a.k.a., the Council).

In the past, the Council (or NCCDD) funded two different advocacy training programs. One program was called Partners in Policymaking. Partners was designed in 1987 by Dr. Colleen Wieck, Executive Director of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. There are over 27,000 graduates of this program worldwide, including most of the United States and such countries as New Zealand, Ireland, The Netherlands and England. Based on my experience, classes are typically offered in the city of state capitals during an eight-month period. The total amount of training is 128 hours and the goal is for graduates to become leaders in their communities. Many of us graduates are appointed to boards that help shape policies for individuals with disabilities and others have gone on to become elected officials. The curriculum includes the history of disability, community organizing, boards and commissions, state and federal legislative process, and best practices in employment and housing. The investment for a single participant in the fully replicated Partners in Policymaking ™ training program is between $7,000 to $10,000. For the NC Partners in Policymaking program, the NCCDD funded this investment.

The second advocacy training program the NCCDD funded is called Advancing Strong Leadership in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ASLiDD). The NC ASLiDD program is based on the Leadership Institute by The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, a program of the University of Delaware’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. This initiative was meant for young professionals in the field of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). The Leadership Institute is an immersive, week-long experience at the University of Delaware with up to 40 participants per class that come from across the U.S.. The North Carolina-based program started in the early 2010’s as a demonstration initiative of the NCCDD with the aim to provide the training to up to 40 emerging NC IDD professionals. NC produced three graduating classes, and I had the honor of graduating with the third and final session that was offered.

The NC ASLiDD training program combined learning best practices in the field of disability, leadership development activities, and mentoring with established professionals. There was a lot of required reading on subjects such as personal development, organizational change, transformational leadership, avoiding burnout and motivating others. There was a bevy of speakers, all who were experts in the various aspects of the field of I/DD. Finally, and most importantly, there was a required individual project, called the Leadership Challenge where the participant was asked to address one problem within the organization that sent them. The investment to send a single participant to the University of Delaware Leadership Institute is between $2,500 - $3,500. The investment for a single participant of the NC ASLiDD training program was less than $1,000.

After graduating from both NC ASLiDD and NC Partners in Policymaking™, which is a rare combination, I can say that both were beneficial. As I indicated, both programs require significant financial investment to keep program costs free to participants. For 2017, the Council decided to pause funding both programs and use those resources to engage graduates, coordinators, mentors, and other staff and participants of both programs to examine, and if needed, redesign the advocacy leadership training funded by the NCCDD.

The exploration of the advocacy leadership training programs is one element of a two-element effort by the NCCDD. The Inclusive Advocacy Leadership Development Initiative also aims to support self-advocate leaders and leadership building in NC. Because of my previous experience with NC PIP and NC ASLiDD, now I am also involved in the steering committee made up of self-advocate board members of the NCCDD, Disability Rights NC, and the UNC Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (a.k.a. the NC DD Network).

One of the goals identified by the NC DD Network self-advocate leader steering committee is to form an organization, by self-advocates for self-advocates, so that we can have a more robust, grassroots presence in the Old North State. This consortium will help chart the future of NC’s advocacy leadership programs, advance self-advocate organizing, build upon existing self-advocacy efforts, and initiate the formation of this self-advocacy organization. After several months, we have recently devised the moniker North Carolina Empowerment Network (NCEN), and have almost finalized our mission statement. Our long term dream for NCEN includes but is not limited to focusing on: ability (not disability), making sure that all people with disabilities have a seat at the table (pertaining to education, employment, and housing), and building community equality.

This is a big lift for me and the Council, and I’m excited to see to where we wind up.

That’s how I roll…..into the future…….

Shout out to Anna Cunningham and Melissa Swartz for helping with this blog.

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