Disability Day on the Hill Will Be Feb. 14, in a New Spot

By Janet Shouse

About the Author

Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

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.

Those who know me know Disability Day on the Hill is one of my favorite days of the year, which probably makes me an oddity. Disability Day on the Hill is a day when people with disabilities (self-advocates), their family members, their friends and professionals who work with and care about people with disabilities show up to talk with their elected state officials about issues that are vital to the disability community. This year’s date is Feb. 14. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day!

This year I’m even more excited than usual. The Tennessee General Assembly has moved to new quarters. No more underground Legislative Plaza, no more wandering through back halls, and then up and over into the War Memorial Building, trying to find a legislator’s office.

Late in 2017, the General Assembly moved into the Cordell Hull Building, at 425 Fifth Ave. North, which is directly 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. (More about parking below.) The Cordell Hull Building is a newly renovated space, and I’ve heard it’s lovely. So, this will be like an exciting field trip to a place you’ve never been before!

Second, the folks who spearhead Disability Day on the Hill (the Tennessee Disability Coalition, The Arc Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center) have come up with a theme and a couple of hashtags. The theme is “Let’s Get Together.” I’ll show my age, but that phrase ALWAYS starts a tune in my head that’s hard to dispel. (You can watch and listen here if you’re so inclined.) And the hashtags, for you Twitter users, are #LetsGetTogether and #DDH2018.

If you don’t already know your state senator and state representative, you can go to the Tennessee General Assembly’s wonderful website, http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/, look at the top right-hand side and see “Find My Legislator.” You can then enter your address, and the names and faces of your two elected lawmakers will show up. If you then click on their faces, you will get phone numbers, addresses and email addresses. You can use those phone numbers or email addresses to make your appointments for Feb. 14.

You can also contact Carrie Guiden at The Arc Tennessee, by emailing her directly at cguiden@thearctn.org (preferred) or call her office at 615-248-5878 x14. The Arc can assist you in setting up appointments with your legislators. Or you can contact the Tennessee Disability Coalition at ddh@tndisability.org or call 615-383-9442 and talk to Beth, who will be taking calls to help set up appointments.

The Tennessee Disability Coalition is also offering to accompany people on their visits with lawmakers. If you’ve never made such a visit, the moral support of someone who is familiar with the process can be comforting and helpful. I am also happy to go with people, if my schedule allows it.

While the legislative visits are the primary focus of Disability Day on the Hill, there is also an event scheduled from 10:00 to 11:45 a.m. The program will offer a panel discussion with leadership from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, TennCare, Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services as well as a parent advocate and a self-advocate. The program, which is hosted by the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, The Arc Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and the Statewide Independent Living Council, offers a wonderful opportunity learn about disability news from across the state. The event will also include comments from two state legislators: Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory. This event will take place in the Capitol, in the Old Supreme Court Room, which is, unfortunately, rather small. The Capitol can be accessed from the Cordell Hull Building by a tunnel.

Some Related Activities

If you know a young person who would like tips on preparing for a legislative visit, the Coalition has created a video starring Jason Rogers, a student at Lipscomb’s IDEAL program, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, that offers helpful advice. Check out the video here.

Another way to hone your advocacy skills is the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s “Educate to Advocate” on Jan. 17, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., in Room 241 of the VKC at 110 Magnolia Circle, Nashville, 37203. This free event will feature a panel of experienced public servants, disability professionals, and parents of individuals with disabilities to teach you about making your voice heard. You can register at http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/events/6003

One key topic that the Tennessee General Assembly will be considering in this session is supported decision-making. Supported decision-making is a less restrictive alternative to conservatorship that uses trusted friends, family members and advocates to give people with disabilities and older adults the help they need and want to understand the situations they face and the choices they must make, so they can make their own decisions.

If you would like more information about supported decision-making, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture will feature Jonathan Martinis, the senior director for law and policy at the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and a nationally recognized expert in the subject. Martinis will discuss supported decision-making on Jan. 18, from 4:10 to 5:10 p.m., in Room 241 at the VKC, 110 Magnolia Circle. The lecture is open to everyone.

Also, the Disability Policy Alliance will have a one-page fact sheet on the supported decision-making bill that you can share with your legislators. In addition to that fact sheet, the Tennessee Disability Coalition will have issue-specific talking points available by Feb. 1 (at least that’s what I was promised.) Check the Coalition’s website here.

For those of you who are Twitter users, the Coalition will be hosting a Twitter chat on Feb. 7 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. CST on disability advocacy. The Coalition folks say they would love for you to join the conversation.

And finally, I would encourage you to mark your calendar for Feb. 13 evening. The Coalition is planning a “Community Reception.” In years past, the Coalition has served as host for a “Legislators Reception,” but while legislators will still be invited, the focus this year will be on the disability community. The reception will offer a time to network, discuss Disability Day on the Hill and share materials prepared for Feb. 14. The Community Reception will be at the Millennium Maxwell House, 2025 Rosa L. Parks Blvd, Nashville, TN 37228, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., Feb. 13. Please RSVP to the Coalition, if you plan to attend. Here’s the link to RSVP: https://www.tfaforms.com/4653454 or by phone: 615-383-9442.

The Coalition also has arranged for hotel rooms at a discounted rate if anyone coming into town would like to stay at the Maxwell House.

Now, the more about parking information: The Maxwell House has graciously agreed to allow folks to park in the hotel parking lot and take AccessRide or carpool or use a ride-hailing service, such as Uber or Lyft, to the Cordell Hull Building on Feb. 14. (This parking offer is for anyone, whether you stay at the hotel or you just don’t want to drive downtown.)

Some Final Words

If you don’t think you have anything important to share with lawmakers, or you don’t feel like you know enough about legislation they might be considering, often just sharing your story of what your life is like or the life of your loved one can be important. Many legislators have few connections to people with disabilities and making that personal connection can be very helpful. Please join us!

If you have questions or concerns about Disability Day on the Hill, please email me at janet.shouse@vanderbilt.edu.

Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah! I hope to see you there!