The comprehensive advocacy training course Partners in Policymaking is now taking applications from Minnesotans with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities. Applications are due July 10 for the nationally recognized free program, which starts in September.
Training is presented in eight sessions over nine months. Participants become effective advocates for themselves, their children and others with disabilities
Participants enjoy sharing success stories and highly recommend the training to others. A presentation on the historical treatment of people with disabilities was especially moving for participants, who also found themselves angry over the systematic degradation of those with disabilities.
Brittanie Hernandez-Wilson of St. Paul has arthrogryposis. She is unable to walk and has mobility challenges. She works as an adjudicator with U.S. Bank.
Hernandez-Wilson wanted to get started on the path of self-advocacy. She found each class eye-opening and was inspired by every speaker to do more and take action. She was surprised to hear of the wide ranging impact of disabilities as the class shared personal stories and challenges.
Kim Seguin of Proctor learned to be a strong advocate for her son who has Asperger’s syndrome, joining the class “to show him how to advocate for himself.” The strongest impact came from “all the other parents and self-advocates in the class, who shared their stories, heartache and triumphs.” Seguin recommends the course due to the “abundance of information, direction and resources to help yourself or your child.”
Slayton resident Kelly Konechne and her husband are raising two sons with disabilities. They moved to Slayton to involve their extended family in their lives. One son has Down’s syndrome and the other has achondroplasia (dwarfism). Konechne wanted to learn to be a better advocate for her boys, to create more awareness of their disabilities and to better herself and share her experience. Although her sons are still young, Konechne knows more resources will be needed later on. The class discussions, problem-solving, brainstorming solutions and hearing different perspectives has given her smart problem-solving skills. She valued the presentation on state services and how they work, covering waivers, appeals, TEFRA and more to learn about possible programs she might need. It became clear to her that many services aren’t available outside the metropolitan area.
Samantha Haus is a self-advocate with a learning disability. The Cloquet resident took the class to become a better self-advocate and values the continual emphasis on effective communications with a wide variety of people. Haus recommends the program especially to parents with young children so that appropriate supports can be requested as early as possible in their child’s education
“We aim for self-confidence and understanding of disability law and policies. This will help individuals be more effective in advocating for their needs,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD). “As they gain experience in speaking up for people with disabilities, many have become leaders in their own communities.” The Minnesota-inspired program is offered in most states and several foreign countries.
The training taps into national experts and uses group participation. Over the program’s 34-year history, more than 1,080 Minnesotans have become leaders in their own communities. Many have described it as “life changing.”
“This program is based on the belief that systems change is best brought about through the efforts of those most affected by them, and we seek to arm these individuals with the tools needed to be successful in the public policy arena,” said Wieck.
Sessions cover the history of disability and advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living and customized employment. Individuals learn how to influence county, state and federal legislative processes.
Monthly two-day sessions are held on Fridays and Saturdays, from September to May, with no session in December. In March participants prepare for and meet with their state legislators at the capitol.
Partners program is covered by a federal grant. Childcare and respite allowances are given. Overnight accommodations are provided for those who travel from outside the Twin Cities area to attend. Mileage is reimbursed and meals are provided. Sessions are held at the Crowne Plaza Aire, 3 Appletree Square in Bloomington, near Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Each annual program is limited to 40 participants, who are selected by a panel of past graduates and representatives of MNCD. Participants must take part in all sessions and do homework.
Applications are due by July 10.