A Trip to the Capitol: Citizens with brain injury gain experience

Participants in Opportunity Partners’ brain injury program, TBI Metro Services, made a New Year’s resolution as a group to be more involved in the community. After making their resolution, the difficult part began: What could they do to become more involved in their community?

The group bounced ideas off one another such as writing letters to area malls to request doors be made more accessible, taking part in community events, or joining an adaptive recreation bowling league. They chose to write a letter to the State Capitol.

The next question was, “What should the letter accomplish?”

Jeff Nachbar from the Minnesota Brain Injury Association spoke to participants about advocacy. He instructed participants on how to write to their elected officials and provided them with an outline that took group members through the letter-writing process, step by step. The outline suggested writing an introduction, including a description of current problems and possible solutions, and concluding with a thank you.

After Nachbar provided the tools participants needed to write to their senators and representatives, narrowing down issues they wanted changed became a challenge. Based on Nachbar’s suggestions, group members chose two issues: Medical Assistance (MA) income and asset standards increase for people with disabilities (a bill supported by Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities) and transportation concerns. They then split up into two teams to follow through on each issue.

The transportation group highlighted concerns such as bus stops not always being pedestrian-friendly. Some stops do not have sidewalks and others do not have traffic control for pedestrians. The group working on MA income and asset standard increases focused on current MA qualifications and reasons for change.

The group members researched who their lawmakers were by using the Minnesota Legislature Web site. Participants also made phone calls to Metro Mobility to research issues such as weekend rides. The two groups practiced together preparing what they would say when meeting with legislators.

TBI staff contacted representatives to arrange meetings. On April 12, group members met with Rep. Jean Wagenius in a State Office Building hallway during a committee break. Rep. Sandy Peterson also spoke with group members and offered to help organize a meeting with the Met Council and to work on transportation concerns. She told TBI group members they were the third group this session to speak with her regarding transportation and encouraged them to contact her when the session ended.

There were two rallies the same day, and the group attended both: one in the Rotunda put on by Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, and another for transportation on the Capitol steps.

The TBI group members were empowered by the process. “It took many steps to get there, but we did it,” said program participant Joanne Weise.

John Popko was asked if he enjoyed meeting with the legislators. “Fine,” he said, and when asked if he would do it again, responded with a thumbs up.

Kris Hanson added: “You learn to hurry up and wait, and the true meaning of patience.”

Angela Rose is a Community Integration Service (CIS) instructor for TBI Metro Services, a division of Opportunity Partners. More information is available at www.opportunitypartners.org