For Disability Day on the Hill, Let’s Go Further

/ February 16, 2021

By Tom Jedlowski

“You are now being placed in the conference.”

“Can you hear me? Wait, am I on mute?”

Let’s be honest. In pandemic-world, “virtual events” have become a zero-calorie substitute for something personal. For something face-to-face. Something we can feel, and something real.

“Oh, we can’t meet in person? We’ll just make it a virtual event!”

As if it were that simple.

For those in marketing and advertising, I guess “virtual event” sounds a heck of a lot better than “second-rate, watered-down, boring event” –but the second description is often true. Personally, almost anything labeled as “virtual” conjures images of staring at a screen for hours on end, doing my best not to nod off. Thoughts of wishing it didn’t have to be this way. Spending the better part of a 45-minute Zoom meeting or webinar praying we could all just go back to normal.

For Disability Day on the Hill 2021 DDH 2021, we knew it had to be better. It had to go further. The Tennessee Disability Coalition takes a key role in activities surrounding and during Disability Day on the Hill, and we knew it had to be something engaging, relevant, and definitely NOT boring. Something meaningful. To do that, we put together a three-part event giving Tennesseans more opportunity to get inspired, to get involved, and get plugged into the issues and policies that impact our lives.

The proof?

Let’s start with the numbers. Registrations have been pouring in from all corners of the Volunteer State. In fact, registrations are up 30% over 2020. Instead of having to travel to the Capitol in Nashville, Tennesseans simply need a computer and an internet connection to plug into conversations about the policies, laws and decisions that — for better or worse — hit our community the hardest. As the COVID pandemic has taught our community, challenges for others are opportunities for us.

Virtually, socially, figuratively, and literally, our community is plugged in like never before. We’re connected. We’re organized, and sharing what we know.  From laws, to policy, to avoiding institutionalization, and improving access to care; Tennesseans with disabilities are finally being heard. We’re finally being seen in ways that matter. Ways that resonate. Ways that make others stop and notice. Ways that make real change.

Ways that light up awareness of our community and our advocacy.

Further proof: March 11, 2021 (also the day of our Disability Day on the Hill Town Hall) will be proclaimed “Disability Advocacy Day” in Tennessee by a House resolution in the General Assembly. To celebrate and raise awareness, dozens of buildings, bridges, and other landmarks across the state will “light up” blue to commemorate the day. A day that recognizes two things: 1. Laws and policies often impact Tennesseans with disabilities much more than others. And 2. Tennesseans with disabilities have made huge achievements by working together.”

This video was made by Mallorie, who is an occupational therapist, a mother to a child with a disability and now a health care advocate. She learned the value of advocacy during the push to create the Katie Beckett Waiver in Tennessee.

Real change, powered by real people. That’s it. No special degrees, certifications or skill set. The “secret” is just a bunch of regular folks, doing incredible things. Speaking out. Lifting up others. Talking with legislators, media, providers, pastors, and anyone else with influence and power. Folks and organizations across the state are organizing, working together, and having each other’s backs. A policy may not impact us directly, but if it impacts our brothers and sisters in the disability community – we will speak out on their behalf. In doing so, we’re gnawing away on the ropes of injustice, freeing us to put opportunity within reach. We’re gnawing away one conversation at a time. One email at a time. One interview at a time. One meeting at a time.

It’s called democracy. And it’s for everyone.

So that’s what we’re doing. We’re sharing our stories. We’re emailing. We’re calling. We’re networking, we’re organizing, and we’re voting. We’re seeing fruits of our labor.

For Disability Day on the Hill 2021 -and all throughout the year- Let’s Go Further.

Because it’s working.

For the latest information about Disability Day on the Hill, Disability Advocacy Day, public policy updates, and other must-know information, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

In addition to the Coalition’s efforts, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center also is offering, as usual, its Educate to Advocate training on March 2 from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Central Time. This virtual workshop will feature stories and strategies from disability professionals who have experience advocating in Tennessee and Washington, D.C.

Educate to Advocate will feature the policy expertise of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), the Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network, and community partners.

On the agenda:

  • A conversation with the 2020-21 AUCD Disability Policy Fellow about policy and virtual advocacy considerations in Washington, D.C.
  • Strategies for advocating in the time of COVID-19 from the Tennessee Disability Coalition
  • Highlights of key disability policy issues in 2021 from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities

If you’re interested, please register here:

I’m grateful to Tom, the Tennessee Disability Coalition, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and all the folks who work to make Disability Day on the Hill a time of learning about policies that affect us and our loved ones and helping us advocate to improve systems and outcomes. I hope you’ll join us!

Tom Jedlowski smilingTom Jedlowski is the director of communications and technology at the Tennessee Disability Coalition. Tom has been with the Coalition since 2018 and is responsible for the Coalition’s communications and brand management, including messaging, media relations, copywriting, and strategic event planning and execution. Also, he is responsible for achieving the Coalition’s technology goals while providing the support and infrastructure to achieve them. He’s passionate about the power of systems change through collaboration and enjoys working with cross-partner and member agencies committed to fair and equal access for Tennesseans with disabilities. He currently serves on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities in Nashville and is a district activist leader for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Tom is a proud graduate of Northern Michigan University (go Wildcats!) with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in public relations and a graduate of the Ruder Finn Executive Training Program in New York City.

February 16, 2021

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