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Partners Activities and Highlights

Thousands of Partners graduates around the world have applied what they learned in Partners in Policymaking to make their communities a better place to live, work and learn. Here are some recent examples:

Awareness of Disability-Related Issues

  • Maggie attends regular schools and classrooms, has strong friendships, enjoys Girl Guides (similar to Girl Scouts), and goes on play dates and sleepovers.  She also has autism and significant related disabilities.  Her mom struggled with trying to learn how to best meet Maggie’s needs while doctors said she wasn’t going to learn much.  Everything changed when mom participated in Partners in Policymaking®, heard about “presuming competence,”  and, through a special education teacher, became acquainted with AssistiveWare, a leading innovator in technology based in The Netherlands.  Maggie and her mom’s story appeared in AssistiveWare News, the company’s online newsletter: (12/15/17)
  • Beate Sass is a Georgia Partners in Policymaking® graduate. She realized, going through the Partners program, that her daughter's life – Christine is now 23 – would be very different had it not been for the array of services and supports available to individuals and families, and the help of family and friends to navigate systems. Beate wants to share these stories in a publication entitled "Real Stories, Real People," a photo essay about individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, and their everyday life experiences, and to Georgia legislators for the 2016 legislation session as well as the general public. (3/11/15)
  • Alison Canty, Minnesota Partners in Policymaking graduate, was interviewed on the August 29, 2014 segment of Almanac about Governor Mark Dayton's Executive Order to increase the recruitment and employment of individuals with disabilities in state government. Almanac is a Twin Cities public television weekly news and public affairs program. This segment can be viewed at (9/1/14)
  • Geraldo Gonzalez is a 2009 graduate of Delaware's Junior Partners in Policymaking program. Geraldo is an artist and the focus of his artwork is public transit buses – more than 1,000 drawings over the past nine years. He's taken his artwork to a new level – bus wraps. Learn more about his latest project and campaign at (8/13/13)
  • In this talk radio show interview, Dan Habib speaks about the impact that Partners in Policymaking had on his life. Dan is the director and producer of the documentary, Including Samuel. (2/17/12)
  • Michelle Reynolds, Ph.D., UMKC – Institute for Human Development, Kansas City, Missouri, wrote her dissertation on the impact of the Partners in Policymaking program on parents of children with developmental disabilities in Missouri. Partners has changed lives and changed futures, and is a proven vehicle for bringing about positive systemic change.
    Issue Brief   Full Dissertation   (7/15/11)
  • Joe Steffy is an entrepreneur in the kettle corn business. His parents, Janet and Ray Steffy, graduated from the Iowa Partners in Policymaking program. Together, they created Poppin' Joes. In 2005, the business became a sole proprietorship. Joe has always been, and always will be in charge. Since 2008, he reached an income level where he stopped collecting Supplemental Security Income. (4/01/11)
  • Partners graduate, Amanda Vojak, is already applying her knowledge and communication skills to working with the media to share her story about life in northwestern Minnesota with a high concentration of poverty, the added impact on families with a child with developmental disabilities, and a pilot program designed to help individuals and families work their way out of poverty. (7/21/11)
  • This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Herald-Review (Grand Rapids, Minnesota) in April 2010. Alexis and Zachary’s mom, Melissa Morand, is a recent graduate of Minnesota’s Partners in Policymaking program. (4/21/10)

Advocacy and Systems Change

Graduate Activities and Programs

  • Deborah Davis is a 2012 West Virginia Partners in Policymaking graduate. Her testimonial not only captures the many benefits she received from her Partners learning experience but sets out a Plan of Action that conveys both challenges and an inspirational message.
  • Oklahoma has offered the Partners in Policymaking leadership training program since 1995. In the past 15 years, many Oklahoma Partners graduates have used their personal leadership skills in myriad ways, serving on Boards, Councils and Commissions; promoting and advancing public policies that reflect best practices in the field of developmental disabilities; and working first hand with people with developmental disabilities and their families, and service providers in the areas of education, employment, and health care. Their contributions are highlighted in this newsletter published in February 2010.
  • The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (PDF) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2006 with a reception at the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery.
  • A North Dakota Partners in Policymaking graduate (PDF) shares reflections about the program and her class (May, 2006).

Community Inclusion and Self-Advocacy

  • Ellen Coulston, a Delaware Partners graduate, is helping to make sure that students with disabilities are equipped with the self advocacy skills and positive attitudes to achieve their personal life goals.
  • Toni Franklin, Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy in West Alabama and a Partners graduate, was instrumental in assuring that the design of a new park and playground that will be built in Northport, Alabama incorporates accessible features.
  • In 2006, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development conducted a survey of the siblings of adults with disabilities. A total of 1,300 individuals from all 50 states and Washington DC responded to the survey. A report on the preliminary findings (pdf) is available for review. Introduction (pdf). Preliminary Findings (PDF).
  • From Partners in Policymaking of Alabama, on behalf of Terry Family – A Halloween Treat (PDF)
  • More than 15 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, physical and functional barriers to full accessibility still exist in schools for students with disabilities. This article (PDF) includes suggestions for removing those barriers and more effectively providing services to students with disabilities.
  • This Handbook (PDF), created in 2005, provides guidelines to help assure that self advocates can participate in meeting discussions and contribute in meaningful ways by expressing their own points of view.
  • The Highland Friendship Club was created in May 2002 to provide a meaningful way for high school students and young adults with and without disabilities to develop friendships while fully participating in community programs and activities. In just eight years, the Club has become well-established, gained broad community support and funding, and has its own web site []. Click here for an article on the Highland Friendship Club (PDF).
  • Self Determined Lives – Susan Platkin is a New York Partners graduate who, along with a group of parents, supports the concept of self directed services and promotes this option for everyone, beginning with transition students. This parent group has produced a film, Self Determined Lives, that follows three young adults and shares their stories about how they who use self directed supports tin order to have the services and supports they need to achieve their personal life goals and self determined lives.

Personal Stories

  • Shelby Nurse and her dad, Florida residents, were keynote co-presenters at the Assistive Technology Employment Summit in Bethesda, Maryland on May 8, 2013. Shelby's story is another example of the value and benefits of the Partners in Policymaking program, and how assistive technology is changing lives and making so many personal life goals a reality for individuals with disabilities. A snapshot of Shelby's college life is available at
  • Summer Sage, a new Partners graduate from Virginia, shares her experience and perspectives on this leadership training program: "Ok my bags are almost all packed. My wonderful Rebekah Colwell is coming with me and Nicholas to my Partners in Policymaking graduation tomorrow! Somehow or other I have always has some kind of family emergency and I didn't get to walk at my undergrad or Master's graduation. However the things I have learned in this program I am prouder of than my academic career and I am so glad my little guy will be there to see all the friends I have made that have helped me learn how to better navigate the world of autism. Praise praise praise God for this opportunity."
  • Joe Waddell was community organizing and sharing his gifts with his neighborhood, as John McKnight would say, long before he participated in Louisiana's Partners in Policymaking program. A magazine article inspired and motivated him to raise money to help children with cancer.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation® Honors Delaware Partners Graduate Deb Jastrebski With a 2011 Community Health Leaders Award: Determined to help her son work through his fear of seeing doctors, Delaware Partners graduate Deb Jastrebski's approach led to Practice Without Pressure, which she founded to help people with special needs learn skills to handle routine dental exams, blood draws, women's health exams, and nail and hair care. Today the organization works with hundreds of individuals, families, and providers.
  • Lena Winslow, a 2011 Virginia Partners graduate, wanted to share not only her Partners experience and the benefits she received from the program, but how important it is for parents to have this information as early as possible when they first come to know of their child's disability, what a difference it can make in everyone's life.
  • Lisa is a Minnesota Partners graduate. She attributes the significant changes in her personal life, and her educational and career goals to the Partners in Policymaking program. Lisa will graduate from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in June 2011. Read "Borucki Vukelich Selected as 2010-2011 Policy Fellow".
  • Partners in Policymaking graduates often remain connected and establish strong networks, long-term partnerships and friendships. This “Motley Crew of Alabama Partners” graduates recently made a trip to Graceland. Jayne Chase, the Alabama Partners coordinator, shared a bit of their Graceland experience.
  • Podcast: In the summer of 2007 Patrick Connally, president of DREES (Disability Rights, Enforcement, Education, Services), a nonprofit organization in San Rafael, California, conducted interviews with four individuals influenced by Partners.
  • Nearly 200 individuals have graduated from the Partners in Policymaking program in Delaware. This article, from DelAware, the newsletter of the Delaware Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Center for Disabilities Studies, includes a brief overview of the Partners program and testimonials from recent graduates.
  • The power of personal stories is conveyed in the poems written by participants in the 2005 Kansas Partners in Policymaking program. Dan Wilkins, The Nth Degree, presented a session on advocacy skills, and how stories can change perceptions and transform the way people think about others.

International Activities and Recognition