How Your Input Can Shape the DD Council’s Work for Change
By Jolene Sharp
Have you ever faced a problem with transition or employment services that was so frustrating, any solution felt impossible? Have you ever found a program that was so wonderful, you wished you could make it available everywhere?
Progress for people with disabilities depends on stories like those. Finding and using supports for transition and employment can be very hard work. It also gives you a powerful force for change: personal experience.
You aren’t alone in finding how to turn your experiences into change.
Councils on developmental disabilities, which exist in every state and U.S. territory, were created by the federal Developmental Disabilities Act (DD Act). The DD Act’s stated purpose is to “assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life.”
Sounds good, right? But how do councils do that?
The DD Act gives councils the work of:
- supporting advocacy (making sure the voices of people with disabilities are heard)
- building capacity (growing the supports that are available)
- and systems change (making the disability services system better)
The Act then gives the structure for councils to use to do that work. It requires each council to write a new state plan every five years. The plan outlines major goals, and shorter-term, more specific objectives. The state plan is our map for how we will do the work given to us by the DD Act.
The Tennessee Council’s current plan began in 2017. It has three major goal areas:
- Goal 1: Developing Leaders
Prepare Tennesseans to be leaders who influence policy and practice through scholarships, information, internships and training. This goal includes:
- Partners in Policymaking® Leadership Institute, which includes employment-focused core content.
- Investments over many years in advancing employment for Tennesseans with disabilities, including in the state’s first Employment First program.
- Youth-focused trainings to help young people with disabilities prepare for life after high school, including employment.
- Goal 2: Impacting Policy and Practice
Improve Tennessee policy and practice through tracking key legislative activity, developing and nurturing collaborations, and providing resources for demonstration projects. This goal includes:
- Leadership roles on the state’s largest employment-focused collaborations, including TennesseeWorks, the Governor’s Employment First Task Force, and the Council-led Employment Roundtable that brings together 11 state agencies.
- The Council also participates in smaller collaborations, such as multi-year grant projects with support from the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy.
- These activities and many others are tracked and progress shared annually in the state’s Expect Employment report.
- Goal 3: Informing and Educating Stakeholders
Implement public information activities that increase Tennesseans’ awareness of disability policies and practices. This goal includes:
- Our efforts to promote the work and stories of employment, including our role in helping to write the state’s annual Expect Employment report.
- Outreach to rural areas with stories and resources, including for employment. A recent example: Our “Stronger Together” newspaper insert that ran in several rural newspapers (and is slated to run in many more later this year).
We Need YOU
The Tennessee Council’s current state plan ends next year, in 2021. As you may imagine, we start working on a new state plan many months ahead of time.
The DD Act says our work must be guided by people with developmental disabilities and their family members. Before we can write a new state plan for the Tennessee Council, we need your input. This is where your experiences can help shape change.
Our public input survey gives you the chance to tell us what services and supports you use, how well they are working, and where there are gaps. You can tell us where we should focus our work, and what most needs to change. The more people who respond, the better our information will be as we plan our goals for the next five years.
Without your input, we won’t know about that service that felt impossible, or the program that turned things around for you. Those are experiences only you can share.
The Council Public Survey is now closed. Thank you.
My thanks to Jolene for the work that she does and the effort she’s spearheading to get input for the Council’s state plan. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please email me at email@example.com. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and thank you for reading.
Jolene Sharp is chief public information officer for the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. Her roots in the disability community go deep as both the daughter of a blind father and mother to two beautiful kids with disabilities.
June 16, 2020