DDH: Confessions of a First Timer

       About the Author

DDH-Courtney-Rep Clemmons[1]

Courtney with Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville

Courtney Taylor is associate director of Communications and Dissemination at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. She coordinates the Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability  Project and sits on the board of the Arc Tennessee.Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email janet.shouse@vumc.org.

By Courtney Taylor

We’re launching a new blog series Rise to Work: An Insider’s Look at Disabilities and Employment! Each week, we will bring you interesting and important information on employment-related topics for family members of individuals with disabilities. Find the latest issues at tennesseeworks.org/blog. Want our weekly blogs delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to subscribe.

So I’m ashamed to admit this to you, but…

Though I’ve been working professionally at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities for just shy of 10 years, I had never attended Disability Day on the Hill (DDH) before. Until 2016, I had never met with my state representative or my state senator to educate or advocate for or against a piece of legislation that would have an impact on the lives of people with disabilities and their families. Not once. It’s true. So, why not?

I’ve thought about going every year. When I really look at why I haven’t been, it doesn’t make much sense. I’m active politically, both personally and professionally. I vote. I yell at the radio when I disagree with an issue being discussed. I’m on the Public Policy Team at work and on the public policy committee of The Arc Tennessee. I coordinate the Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability project, which annually collects stories from self-advocates and families that are then shared with legislators and policymakers at Disability Day on the Hill and the Federal Disability Policy Seminar. So, it’s not like I haven’t been involved, but why hadn’t I attended Disability Day on the Hill?

Here’s my Top 5 List of responses to that question that I have given myself over the years:

  1. Work is too busy. I can’t get away. I have meetings! I have deadlines!
  2. It’s cold outside.
  3. I don’t know where to park or how to get there.
  4. I don’t know what to say.
  5. Who am I to talk about disability issues?

This year, for some reason, when I asked myself if I was going to Disability Day on the Hill I actually didn’t buy any of my excuses. Work is definitely busy, but what else is new? Yes, it is 20 degrees outside, but I can wear two coats. This is a recent discovery of mine. Two coats make the cold go away! I know where to park and go, but guess what? I can take the bus. It’s free for Vanderbilt employees going to and from work, and it drops off right in front of where I need to go.


I don’t know what to say. Oh. That’s been a big one. What will I say? Whom will I say it to? My family moved about a week before DDH 2016 from the east side of Nashville to the west side (west side, represent!). I had never met my new representative and senator. I looked them up at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/ by typing in my address in the “Find My Legislator” field. Could they make it any easier? Oh. And I do know what to say, because I work with students enrolled in the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program who would benefit from current legislation that proposes to expand the Tennessee STEP UP scholarship from two years to four years for eligible college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I can talk about my support of that, because I have seen first-hand the benefits of postsecondary education for these students. So, I do know what to say.

Perhaps the biggest excuse I have given myself over the years is: Who am I to talk about disability issues? I don’t have a disability. I don’t have a family member with a disability. There are so many people there already. They don’t need my voice. Let me repeat that. My friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community do not need my voice. Wow. That’s just not true.

None of the excuses held up.

So I shut down my computer at work. I put on two coats. I consulted Google Maps, which gave me the exact bus route to take, and I walked down to the bus stop. It dropped me off right in front of Legislative Plaza, and I walked into the building to attend my first Disability Day on the Hill. I met with my state representative, John Clemmons. He listened to me as I talked with him about the importance of postsecondary education for students with IDD. I introduced him to the students, who were so articulate and forthcoming about what was important to them. We added our voices to the collection of voices that have been asking for and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities for generations. It was incredible, inspirational, and I hope an effective visit.

It only took me almost 10 years to go to Disability Day on the Hill.

So, why haven’t you gone?

You don’t have to wait for next year’s Disability Day on the Hill to begin to build your relationship with your legislators. They all have offices in their home communities, and you can visit them there. You can get to know them, and let them get to know you. You can also call or email, if issues come up that concern you. That can help pave the way for next year’s big day at Legislative Plaza.