"What Partners In Policymaking Means to Me"
by Susan Lait, Class 8, Graduation June 2005
When I applied to Partners In Policymaking, I had recognized that true system change would be occurring on the state and federal levels. My husband, Alan, and our daughter, Leah, age 15, who has disabilities, had transferred to the Upstate Area of South Carolina. The Upstate Area is a rural area of South Carolina. I wanted to make a new commitment to advocacy for people with disabilities. The Partners In Policymaking program would give me the training I needed. I walked into the first weekend session ready to work and benefit from the training.
My first day in class, I received some on the spot training from a classmate. I learned that if I did not have a slot number that I was not on the MR/RD Waiting List, a waiver services program for people with MR and related disabilities. I also learned that an application for Katie Becket (TEFRA) Medicaid, a Medicaid Program for children with disabilities until the age of nineteen, had most likely not been submitted. Another classmate gave me an on the spot training on filing an appeal with the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs. I came to the first class ready to be a stronger advocate for people with disabilities, and the first person I was going to be able to help was my own daughter. At this first weekend session, I met a classmate who lives in the same small town in which I live. We decided to do our Partners Project together.
A month passed. By the time the second weekend of classes arrived, our daughter's name was on the MR/RD Waiting List and we had her TEFRA Medicaid Card in hand. Also, the classmate that lives in the same town and I had become members of our local, ARC Board. My classmate and I decided to form a support group as our Partners Project. As the Partners class sessions progressed, so did our support group and the foundation for our support group. Family Connections in Greenville, SC provided us a manual on how to form a support group and a family sponsor to assist us. Our local ARC offered to sponsor the support group.
Our local Board of Disability offered to sponsor the support group. Family Connections provided us training on how to be support group leaders and a parent to parent sponsor. We visited support groups in neighboring counties for ideas. Meanwhile, in the Partners Training Program, the training format took us through the disability services field from birth to adult. We were able to network with speakers on the state level in state agencies and advocacy organizations. We learned about state and federal programs. We learned about the state and federal government, how a bill becomes a law, and effective ways to advocate.
Our homework assignments placed us in our community connecting with agencies and organizations. Our homework took us to visit our state representatives and to advocacy day at the state capitol building. In my case, an article I wrote was published in the Advocacy Day Booklet telling state representatives about my daughter. I have written the governor, my federal representatives, my state representatives, and the President of the Untied States on advocacy issues. My daughter has used her Assistive Technology adaptive writing software to write her own advocacy letters using picture symbol communication. Much to her delight, our Congressman wrote her back telling her how proud he was of her efforts.
When you ask me what Partners In Policymaking means to me, Partners means a training foundation that will serve my community and people with disabilities. Partners In Policymaking has translated into services for my daughter that she did not have before I attended Partners In Policymaking. Partners training took our family towards Person-Centered Planning, Outcomes and a higher quality of services.
With the training I received at Partners, I feel that I can reach out to advocate on state and federal levels, and build a strong advocacy community right here in my own small community. Partners means a community of advocates who are my classmates. Partners means friendship with classmates who live in the same area. Partners means a new vision of the future of services for people with disabilities.
Working with the self-advocates in our class, I was able to envision my daughter's future as a young adult by listening to what the self-advocates wish their parents knew. The training that I received at Partners will make me a stronger advocate for my community, and a better, more prepared parent for my daughter when she becomes a young adult. I am very grateful to have participated in Partners In Policymaking.
I have exceeded my initial goal of making a renewed commitment to advocacy for people with disabilities. The Partners training has provided me a wide variety of tools and support to be a strong community advocate. I also have a new level of excitement at becoming a community advocate. A level of excitement that I believe will sustain me as our family looks toward the future.