Disability Day on the Hill Offers Chance to Network, Learn, Advocate

By Jennifer Heflin

About the Author

Jennifer Heflin is a wife and the mother of three daughters, the youngest with Down syndrome. She stays busy working part time for Williamson County Schools, driving her girls to all their activities and helping parents advocate for their kids.

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 me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

If you have a child with a disability, you are no stranger to advocacy.  Advocacy comes in so many facets of your child’s life you may not realize how often you do it.  There are doctors, nurses, therapists, the Tennessee Early Intervention System, religious institutions, summer camps, extracurricular programs and peers, not to mention the school system and the IEP process. Many times, the entities mentioned above are guided by state and federal laws.

This is what makes Disability Day on the Hill so important. You’ll pack a lot into one day as you learn about different resources available, get to network with other advocates, learn about legislation specific to the disability community and most importantly, meet your state representative and senator. This year’s Disability Day on the Hill is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 12, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The Tennessee General Assembly is in the Cordell Hull Building, at 425 Fifth Ave. North, which is east of the Capitol. You can see a photo of the building, a map, and below on the right, a list of places to park with this link. And here is a map of the building itself.

When you arrive, you can visit the exhibit tables on the lower level hallway of the Cordell Hull Building. Various disability organizations are represented as you peruse the different booths.  Find out if the organizations you’re involved with will be in attendance. The halls are buzzing with excitement, filled with advocates, leaders of these organizations and the lawmakers themselves. The casual atmosphere makes it a perfect time to meet and network with other parents and people with disabilities.

After visiting the exhibit tables, where you can find talking points about upcoming legislation, you’ll head over to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol Building. (There’s a tunnel you can take into the Capitol building.) The Disability Policy Alliance has a panel presentation from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. Speakers vary from directors of organizations and government agencies, legislators, parent advocates and, my favorite, self-advocates.  You will hear about what legislation has recently passed and the success stories. Learning about the big picture on how these successes affect the outcome for different disabilities and how it plays out in the continuum through adulthood is exciting. Panelists will also share what proposed policies are being discussed and why it’s important. This information may help when you visit your state representative and senator.

Lunch will be provided, with no RSVP required, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the fifth-floor conference room 5C in the Cordell Hull Building.

Following the presentation, you are encouraged to visit personally with your lawmakers. But make sure that you have scheduled a time to meet with your senator and your representative. Usually these meetings are 10 to 15 minutes long.  Many people may feel intimidated and overwhelmed.  Know that the legislators are welcoming and glad to meet their constituents.  All that is expected is that you introduce yourselves and tell them about your child and what’s most important to your child and your family.  You don’t have to be a policy expert or know how the system works. Let them know your successes and struggles as parent of a child with a need; what’s working and what’s not. This year I’m hoping to bring my daughter with me so she can begin the process of learning to self advocate with her local representatives.  She has had significant achievement in her school, and I want to explain why I think that is and how I would like for them to protect that for her and extend those opportunities to all Tennesseans.

I hope to see you Feb. 12 at Disability Day on the Hill. Together, we can help our state enhance the future of those we love with disabilities.

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I appreciate my friend Jennifer sharing her thoughts on Disability Day on the Hill. I have seen her “on the Hill” for the past several years, and she’s always excited and happy to be there. She knows how important it is for legislators to understand our families’ experiences. This year’s theme is “LiveAble.” Let’s help our lawmakers see how to make Tennessee “LiveAble” for all of us.

If you don’t know who your legislators are, and with the November election, a number of the names and faces have changed, you can find your elected officials at http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/. In the upper right-hand corner, immediately under the Search bar, you will see “Find My Legislator.” Click on that, and you will see a place to type in your address and city. You will then get photos of your district representative and senator, their names and their email addresses. If you click on their photos, more information, including their office phone numbers, will show up. Call or email to set up appointments for Disability Day on the Hill. If you need assistance with scheduling meetings and/or reasonable accommodations, the Tennessee Disability Coalition can assist with those needs in advance. You can email ddh@tndisability.org or call 615-383-9442.

If you would like an opportunity to network and meet people the evening before, the Tennessee Disability Coalition is hosting a community reception from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11, at the Millennium Maxwell House, 2025 Rosa Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228. Please RSVP with the Tennessee Disability Coalition here.

If you’d like to learn more about how to advocate with your legislators, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Educate to Advocate event will take place on Feb. 4, 2019, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in Room 241, 110 Magnolia Circle, Nashville, TN 37203. Parking maps and information may be found here: https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/vkc/contact/

Everyone is invited. The event is to equip attendees with the tools, information, and/or confidence they need to influence service systems by educating legislators and other public policy makers. Registration is required: https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/events/6174

CART services (real-time captioning services) are available. If you would like CART services, please contact Laurie Fleming at laurie.fleming@vumc.org for information.

If the drive into Nashville is daunting, you can join Educate to Advocate by live videoconferencing though Zoom. So, you can sit at your computer or even on your phone and see and hear what’s going on. Information on how to connect through Zoom is provided in the registration confirmation email. (It’s very easy!)

Educate to Advocate offers:

  • A panel discussion on making effective in-person legislative visits, with advice from experienced public servants, an individual with a disability, and a parent.
  • An update on key federal and state disability issues from Carrie Guiden, executive director of The Arc Tennessee.
  • Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, leading a discussion of alternate ways to engage elected officials.
  • Onsite voter registration with the help of Disability Rights Tennessee.

If you have questions about Disability Day on the Hill, the reception, the Educate to Advocate event or other legislative/disability concerns, please contact me, Janet Shouse, at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

If you are savvy with social media, this year’s Disability Day on the Hill event will be using #DDH2019 and #LiveAbleTN. Let’s make Disability Day on the Hill go viral!