What Is Disability Day on the Hill?
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.
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By Janet Shouse
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Disability Day on the Hill is one day set aside during the Tennessee General Assembly’s legislative session when people with disabilities, their family members, friends and advocates gather at Legislative Plaza to help our state representatives and state senators understand the impact of disability on the lives of their fellow Tennesseans. This year Disability Day on the Hill is Wednesday, Jan. 27.
We are, as members of the disability community, “subject matter experts,” and we can help educate our policymakers about our experiences. The process is simple.
1. Find your legislators at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/ (in the upper right-hand corner, where it says “Find my legislator,” you’ll type in your address, and the names and photos of your state senator and state representative will appear. Click on the photos, and you will get their address and phone numbers.)
2. Call your legislators and make appointments to meet with each one. Appointments usually last no more than 15 minutes or so. (I realize that for those of you who live in East or West Tennessee, it seems like a LONG way to drive for a 15-minute appointment, but you can learn a lot by spending some time at Legislative Plaza.)
3. If you’re willing email me at email@example.com to let me know you’ve made appointments with your legislators, and if you would like someone to accompany, we can try to arrange that. (We here at TennesseeWorks would love to know how many people get to talk with their legislators, and which legislators are involved in such meetings.)
4. Numerous disability organizations develop fliers with points for you to share about particular legislation, but the most vital thing is for you to share your life experiences with your legislators and let them know that disability policy is important to you and your family.
On Disability Day on the Hill:
1. On Jan. 27, drive to downtown Nashville, and find a place to park near Legislative Plaza, 301 6th Avenue North. (Here’s a map with parking lots marked: Click here. And be prepared to pay between $8 and $20, depending on how long you stay.)
2. You’ll enter Legislative Plaza, and the entrance is BELOW War Memorial Plaza, at the corner of 6th Avenue North and Union Street. You will need a state-issued photo ID to get in, and you will go through security.
3. If you have time, stop by the TennesseeWorks table as well as other tables set up in the main hallway to gather information from multiple disability-related organizations.
4. There will also be a short program, beginning at 10 a.m., which will feature several speakers about disability-related policy work that you may want to attend.
5. Meet with your legislators! Let them know the top three things that are important to you… is it transportation? Employment? Health care? Long-term supports and services? Inclusion in your school or community?
6. Sit in on some committee hearings if you have the time. Hearing legislators discuss legislation can be very enlightening.
7. Meet lots of people working to improve supports and services for Tennesseans with disabilities!
I know that if you’ve never met with your legislator, it can seem intimidating and a little overwhelming. These seem like big, important people. But they are also farmers, bankers, lawyers, insurance agents, ministers, businesspeople, teachers, doctors, and social workers. They have been elected to represent YOU, and they need to hear your story. You provide a perspective that most of them do not have. Please help educate them on what’s important to you and your family, and begin to build a relationship with your legislators.
In addition to Disability Day on the Hill, the Tennessee Disability Coalition hosts a Legislative Reception on Tuesday, Jan. 26, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel, located across the street from Legislative Plaza. You can eat and drink, mix and mingle, but you must register to attend. You can call 615-383-9442 or register online:
I will be there, so come by and say “hi.”
I hope you will join us for Disability Day on the Hill! Once you visit and meet your lawmakers, the process of contacting your senator and representative on issues that are important to you becomes much easier.
And remember to send a thank you note or email to your legislators after your meetings.
If you have any questions about Disability Day on the Hill, setting up appointments, what to talk about, or anything else, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 615-875-8833.
I’m looking forward to it!