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Partners in Policymaking Celebrates 35 Years of Advocacy and Training for People with Disabilities

Published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune September 24, 2022

Thirty-five years ago, the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Administration created a groundbreaking advocacy and leadership training program to give people with disabilities and their families the resources and skills to communicate effectively with elected officials. Since 1987, more than 1,100 self-advocates and family members have graduated from Partners in Policymaking in Minnesota. Another 29,000 people have gained confidence and agency as participants around the world. As the 40th cohort of Minnesotans begins the program this month, we check in with Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Governor's Council for 41 years, who reflects on early challenges and considerable progress.

Partners Class 40

Partners in Policymaking 35th Anniversary

Partners Posters

The Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities celebrated the 35th anniversary of Partners in Policymaking on May 21, 2022 during an Open House. During the celebration, the Council released a new mobile museum exhibit that traces the evolution of disability services from the early 1900s through today.

The Wallace Group was on hand at the Open House and taped some messages from the attendees as they were touring the exhibit photos. These testimonial messages were combined into a brief video to commemorate the occasion.

Partners Class 39 Participant Radio Discussion on KFAI

Sherie Wallace joins host Sam Jasmine to discuss Class 39 of Minnesota Partners in Policymaking with class participants Arbdella Hudson, Cassie Kallis, and Nicole Laudont.


Partners in Policymaking® In the News

Montage pf photos from news articles

Minnesota Partners in Policymaking creates a supportive and educational environment to help individuals change habits, expectations and attitudes about themselves and their loved ones with developmental disabilities. The free program equips people with leadership skills to impact their communities. People with fascinating stories attend workshops and group interactions in preparation to make a substantial difference. Here are some of their stories:

"Service dog, advocacy group helps family to navigate autism challenges,"

St. Cloud Times

When her alert 18-month toddler was losing communication skills and avoiding eye contact, a St. Cloud mother sought help for an autism diagnosis.

"After finding out her kids had lead poisoning, one mother is making sure others are spared,"

Star Tribune

A mother realizes the impacts of lead poisoning on her children from a rented apartment and begins a campaign to draw attention to the problem and propose legislative changes.

"Lino Lakes father works towards bright future for his three daughters with Down syndrome,"

Quad News

After the birth of their child with Down syndrome, this family of six adopted two girls with the same disability to provide companionship. Partners participants introduced the father to positive experiences of self-advocates with independent living.

"Young skater enjoying time on ice despite disabilities,"

The New Prague Times

After realizing that the phrase "dignity of choice" could apply to her daughter with vision, hearing and muscle tone deficiencies, Jennifer Pedersen gave her daughter, Mia, the chance to try ice skating. She went on to learn from her sister and perform in skate shows.

"Advocating for special needs, program teaches how to transition from grade school to adulthood,"

Lakeville Sun This Week

An award-winning elementary school teacher learns from self-advocates about the importance of communication skills and speaking up for one's self.  She sees this valuable skill as critical for her teens to learn as they move into adulthood.

"Elizabeth Hoff chosen for 8-month advocacy program,"

Balaton Press Tribune

Elizabeth Hoff's has two daughters with a progressive, genetic disorder that affects the skeletal system, vision, and heart, a rare form of dwarfism. Hoff's positive, hopeful attitude focuses on abilities rather than disabilities.

"It OK to be different,"

column in Redwood Gazette

A mother's guest column shares her excitement about being accepted into Partners program and a published article about her daughter with Down syndrome. She offers to speak to any community group about the disability.

"Maplewood resident says advocacy training class was life-changing"

The Maplewood Review

Taking the Partners program emphasis on inclusion in the schools, a mother realizes her role in revamping her son's middle school Individual Education Plan (IEP).  It focuses on his strengths and "supports his civil right to be fully included in the general education classroom with appropriate supports."

"Robbinsdale women helping others make sense of disability programs"

Sun Post

Mother of adopted twins who have multiple disabilities shares how person-centered thinking with her children (asking them for their preferences) increases their self-confidence and decision-making skills.

"Rochester moms learn from Partners in Policymaking,"

column, Rochester Post Bulletin

Two Rochester mothers raising children with disabilities describe their Partners involvement as "life-giving and life-changing" and, "a phenomenal, empowering experience." They share how they benefited from the network of advocates and friends and recognize the power of their own story.

"Advocating for those with disabilities, Kelly Konechne completes Partners in leadership training,"

Murray County News

Raising two young boys with disabilities, one with dwarfism and the other with Down syndrome, in a small rural community, Partners spurred Konechne to build a network of peers "to come together to be stronger advocates for our children."


The "Telling Your Story" App Has Been Updated

We are pleased to announce the release of an updated and simplified version of the "Telling Your Story" app.  In six easy steps, create your personal story, tell how a policy issue affects you or your family, add a photo, and send  your message directly to your elected public official.

iOS Version for iPhone and iPad available from the App Store

Android version for phone and tablet available from Google Play

Telling Your Story Banner

Partners Class 37 Has Graduated

American Idol Finalist Sends Congratulations to Partners Graduates

Grace Leer, American Idol finalist, prepared a video message of congratulations for graduates of Class 37 Partners in Policymaking.  This message can be shared with all Partners in Policymaking graduates in 2020.

This has been a year of tremendous change. Individually and collectively, you have gained a wealth of new knowledge about the history, and the evolution of policies and practices in the developmental disabilities field. You have acquired skills in how to best educate and communicate with your elected officials to advance positive public policies for individuals with developmental disabilities and families. You have learned from and taught each other how to navigate delivery systems, and created and strengthened your personal networks.

Hi, Partners graduates. I'm Grace Leer from "American Idol," and I wanted to send my sincere congratulations to you guys for completing this extraordinary program. You guys did it. Congratulations. I'm so proud of all of you and especially for just staying focused during such a crazy time with this pandemic going around the world.

It takes a lot of dedication and focus and hard work to get this done, so you guys did it. Congratulations.

And I know that my Uncle Rob had let you guys know that I would be competing on season 18 of "American Idol," and he urged you guys to jump on Team Grace and follow along my journey and support me. And you guys did more than that. You guys seriously changed my life, and I could not have done it without your guys' support and your love week after week. I am just so grateful.

And now you guys are taking the reins as you take the lessons you've learned from this partners program and take it into the world and really apply what you've learned here. The work really doesn't stop. It's just beginning. And I just want you guys to never let someone tell you you can't do something. You can do it. And take those risks to get things done.

I am proof of that. I was scared, and I have been told no so many times in the music industry, but I still went and auditioned for "American Idol," and it truly changed my life. So just like you guys cheered me on and rooted for me throughout this season of "American Idol," I am rooting for you, sending my congratulations to you guys all the way from Nashville, Tennessee.

Congratulations, Partners graduates of 2020. You guys did it. Now go out there and continue the work, and I am just sending all my love to you guys. Congrats.

Partners Class 37 Graduates: Photo Gallery

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National Public Radio Recognizes the Partners in Policymaking® Program

Joe Shapiro, Investigative Reporter for National Public Radio, visited with Class 35 Partners in Policymaking participants during their graduation weekend May 18-19, 2018. He interviewed participants about their Partners experience, the policy issues concerning them, and how to work most effectively with their elected officials to create positive public policies for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, Teaching Parents of Kids with Disabilities to Fight Back

Partners in Policymaking® Program


Partners in Policymaking® Coordinator's Handbook

In celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, we are pleased to announce the release of the newly revised and updated Partners in Policymaking® Coordinator's Handbook.

This is the eighth edition of the Handbook, designed to help Coordinators who are starting or restarting a Partners program as well as serve as a resource for Coordinators to maintain the quality of existing programs. The online learning courses have been incorporated into the curriculum, offering participants another avenue to strengthen and enrich their classroom experience.

This version is fully accessible and incorporates all current accessibility features. (8/23/16)

Changing Lives, Changing Policies

Download and Read the Handbook >>

Partners Evaluation Reports >>

Forms Related to Replication of the Partners Classroom Program:
Partners Profile Form
Time Match Form
Respite Care/Child Care Reimbursement Form
Participant Reimbursement Request Form
Sample Partners Application
Session Evaluation
Sample Participation Agreement

Partners in Policymaking®
Changing Lives. Changing Policies.

Since the Partners program was created in Minnesota in 1987, more than 27,000 self advocates and parents of children with developmental disabilities have graduated nationally and internationally. They comprise a network of trained advocates and leaders, working in partnership with their elected officials to positively change the way people with disabilities live, work, and are educated; and enjoy the benefits of being actively involved in their communities.

On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this book traces the history of the Partners program. Through a collection of stories and testimonials, Partners graduates share the impact of the program on their lives as well as the many ways that the ADA has resulted in their greater inclusion and integration into the community and society at large. (7/28/15)

Download and read the book (accessible PDF)

Changing Lives, Changing Policies

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