Editor’s note: Heidi Myrhe lives in West St. Paul and is one of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) All-Star Advocates. She doesn’t let disability keep her from making a difference for her and others. The following is excerpted from comments she made at a legislative kickoff event.
I was born in the hospital right behind the Minnesota state capitol. I was born with multiple disabilities, adopted as a baby and raised in Minnesota.
I live my life with multiple disabilities, every day. Who knew I would be at the capitol speaking about my disability someday? Growing up, I did not know this is the way I was going to go in my life.
Being a self-advocate makes me happy. There are days when I am not happy being a self-advocate. That is ok to not be happy as a self-advocate all the time. I am a self-advocate and I volunteer and publicly speak to help better the lives of people with disabilities and the people around them. I have volunteered a lot to help people with disabilities to have the services they need to live the best they can. I stand up for what I believe in. I have met and made a lot of friends along the way, doing this in my life. Speaking up for myself and others makes me feel good about who I am. I am giving back to the community.
To me being a self-advocate means having the power to take care of myself the best way that I can. It means being able to ask for help when it is needed.
I’ve learned to respect the people I have to work with, so I can get the help I needed. I’ve learned not to give away my whole disability. I want to have choice in where I live, how I get places, who my support person is and where I go for health care. It is my life and I want to be involved in what is going on in my life.
I am learning, too, that not all advocacy is about public policy. I want you, as self-advocates, to get involve in other things to round you. Learn about what is going on in the community so you can talk to people about many things around you in your life. Meet people from other agencies that have the same passions as you do. Learn how to get along with other people who have different disabilities. I have been at the capitol and learned ways to make life better for myself and others. I go to hearings to learn about issues that are going on in Minnesota and the United States. I talk to legislators about things I am concerned about in the community and in my life too.
My tips for the day: Get to know your legislator, in the community and at the capitol. You can call them, email them and set up a time to see them. Prepare your story ahead of time. Put your heart and soul into your story to them. Do not be afraid of the legislator about your situation. Tell the truth to them. Share a fact sheet about what you are talking about if you can find one to give to them. Do an elevator speech and keep it very short. Hand out your story to the legislators as you see them and they can put it in their pocket.
If I made a difference in one person’s life, I have done what I set out to do in my life.