Partners graduates look back on experiences, accomplishments

Disability advocacy and leadership training for parents of young children with developmental disabilities and adults with disabilities is provided through Minnesota’s […]

A family gathered in front of a house posing for a picture.

Disability advocacy and leadership training for parents of young children with developmental disabilities and adults with disabilities is provided through Minnesota’s groundbreaking Partners in Policymaking program. Some of the 2023-2024 graduates shared their experiences in the program, which was developed by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. 

One parent was motivated to  talk with Anoka County Commissioners Mindy Meisner and Julie Jeppson to discuss the county’s need for adaptive recreation and inclusion services, from parks and recreation to library services. Her goal is to have services that will provide her daughter and others with expanded interactions with the community and a range of community experiences. 

Another parent applied for the program, to better understand government programs and policies that apply to people with disabilities and how to make them better.  The family has a teenage daughter with Down Syndrome. This family found themselves taking months to get through the waiver services process, and now is committed to helping others do the same. The class also pushed this parent to plan for the next phases in her daughter’s life in the areas of customized employment, housing, and transportation.  Her goal is to give her daughter the “dignity of making choices” to guide her growth and the “dignity of risk and failure.” 

2 adults and their three sons posing for a picture.

Another parent, with a daughter with autism, didn’t know where to begin when advocating for her child. She said, “Partners in Policymaking class appeared to be the best place to learn advocacy skills. The class emphasized the inclusion of people with disabilities in home, work, school, and community life. . . This class helped me not only advocate for my son, but also helped me feel less alone.  I found a community of individuals who were without judgement and will be lifelong friends.” 

When another parent learned that her son had autism, she realized that she had never met anyone with autism and had no idea of what to do or what his future would be like. She applied to Partners to become a better advocate for him and assist him in having a good relationship with others. In the class she befriended several class members with disabilities, realizing that she would want the same for her son when he is an adult. 

“The speakers, and the adults with disabilities in my class, helped me realize that my son could someday be employed, live on his own, be independent and learn to be an advocate for himself,” she said. She also credits the class with opening doors to “amazing friendships” with people whom she would have not met any other way.

Parents posing with two daughters.

She sees parenting a child with disabilities as a lonely challenge and requires each parent to take time to recharge. “The class causes you to miss work and family obligations, but it is worth the effort because it changes how you feel about your child,” she said. “When a parent feels ashamed that their child has disabilities, it is not good for the child.” 

She considers that Partners gives you “a degree in disabilities” and especially in the role of parenting. “Above all, I am a better parent because of this class.”  

One man applied to Partners to be part of a class setting, learn new things, and to meet new people. He was interested in the history of how people with disabilities have been treated. The class gave him opportunities to work in teams and to practice his public speaking skills. He valued going to the capitol and making arrangements to meet Sen. Matt Kein.  

With the emphasis on networking, he became more comfortable in meeting and working with new people and now has more people he can contact if he has questions. He recommends this class because of the experience gained when working with others, meeting with elected officials, and learning about the history of disabilities. 

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