Advocacy and Action

It has been an action-packed month of advocacy with my presentation at the Capitol Grand Opening in August and being selected by Microsoft to participate in their Accessibility Video Series. I hope that what they filmed is selected for a two-minute film and case study about how I use technology for writing, studying, and connecting to the world. My favorite feature right now is Immersive Reader in Word Online. It highlights the word as it’s being read and I can control text size, spacing, and how many lines are visible. This helps me so much with my visual tracking difficulties and is helping me interact with and read my Psychology textbooks!

Justin reaching out to air-fist bump with Senator DurenbergerOn August 13, 2017, I gave this speech as part of the Hotdish Panel: Remembering the Past and Reimagining the Future – Living with a Disability with former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger and Dr. Colleen Wieck, Director of the MN Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Director.  What an honor to be able to share the stage with such amazing people. Thanks to the people who came to see our panel and to the MN Department of Administration for the invitation! Check out the great pictures from the event on the MN Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Facebook page.

Hotdish Panel Speech

Thank you for being here today. I can’t believe that I’m here presenting with one of the authors of the ADA. Or the woman who has done so much to improve the lives of people with disabilities from closing institutions to starting Partners in Policymaking.

Thanks to assistive technologies like CART captioning which make it easier to hear, communication device that helps me speak, and power wheelchair that helps me move, I can accomplish so much more and be so much more independent than if I had been born in an earlier time. Let me tell you some stories about my experiences living with a disability and my dreams for the future.

Imagine a small group of high school students, sitting around a computer in my bedroom. There is laughter, sharing ideas and a lot of cookies. A young woman is writing up the plan for our history class presentation. I have my section about Civil rights, disability rights and sports in the 1960s ready to be added to the PowerPoint.

Another student was creating a jeopardy game and 2 guys were figuring out what we would wear. For me this was an experience I will always remember, because we all contributed to the project in meaningful ways to get that “A.”

I believe that we all learned a lot more about teamwork, respecting differences, helping others and knowing that each of us has so much to offer when working together towards a goal. This was inclusion at its best. Unfortunately, that rich group experience did not happen very often for me. Except for my church youth group where I was included like any other teenager.

I have had positive examples of accessibility and inclusion in the real world since graduating high school. My 1st was with my US History course at Century College. My professor was outstanding. Course materials, presentations and quizzes were online and accessible. He emailed me class discussion questions, so that I had time to program responses on my communication device.

For one of the first times in my life, I could fully contribute my thoughts and ideas in class. I learned so much, not just about history, but how one professor can make a positive impact and difference by just taking some extra time to be organized and think ahead of time about what I needed to be successful in his class.

As we move on carving out the future, I hope that educators from preschool through college or other post-secondary options, can keep finding the opportunities for meaningful inclusion to happen. The teacher in my 10th grade class and professor in my college history course both thought about how to make learning work for all students, even those of us with disabilities.

We need more teachers and professors to embrace inclusion and think ahead of how to make it work for all of their students.

These have been some of my experiences in the educational system. What’s next though and what do I imagine for my future?

I imagine a future for myself as one where I choose where I want to live, who I want to hang out with, what I will do each day, and how I will contribute to making the world a better place. The decisions that many of you in this room may take for granted. As I move through the halls of our capitol today, I know that I will be spending a lot of time here as a disability rights advocate.

I need help from government services to live the life I imagine. I need 24 hour care to help me with all my basic personal cares. Imagine that you have to depend on another person to give you a drink of water if you’re thirsty, feed you if you’re hungry, and help you go to the bathroom when you need to go.

It is important for people to realize that I can do what I do because I have special equipment and support staff to help me do these things. I know that these issues have become very political lately, which makes it more important than ever for me to make my voice heard and for you to make your voices heard in our political process.

Legislation that advocates have fought for, like the ADA, Idea for education, Medicaid, and the Olmstead plan all help me live an independent life in my community.

When I met and interviewed Dr. Wieck for one of my high school writing assignments. I remember her telling me what it was like for people with disabilities living in institutions. Her words made a lasting impact on me. She said, when you treat people differently, when you treat someone like an animal, you will get an animal.

To imagine what my future could have been like had I been born at an earlier time is heartbreaking. I am so thankful for all of the advocates who have made it possible for me to have more options now. I graduated from Partners in Policymaking this spring and have learned so much about becoming an effective advocate to continue creating positive change for people with disabilities.

John Green writes in the book Paper Towns, it is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently mis-imagined. We all want to be imagined complexly as the individuals we are, not held back because we look, move, or speak differently. I have the same hopes and dreams for my future that many of you aspire to.

All of us are unique and face difficulties. There are many times when I feel like an outsider because I do not think people imagine me complexly, or know what to say to me, or how to talk to someone who uses a communication device. I expect that there are many of you here, who have felt the same.

I think we still have a long way to go with inclusion in school, work and life. I want to have a longer list of examples to choose from for my positive inclusion experiences. It really should be more than a handful of positive examples in 19 years.

So, what can we all do? Think and plan ahead to make sure people are included in meaningful ways.

Go beyond a simple Minnesota nice “hi, how are you?” and realize that I and others with disabilities have a lot to say and need people to take the time to listen. Also, what I learned from Partners in Policymaking is the importance of showing up. Show up here and talk to your legislators. Show up to volunteer on citizen work groups, like I’m doing with the Olmstead Community Engagement Work Group. Show up to vote. This capitol belongs to all of us.

Open your minds to new ideas, new people, and new experiences. It takes every one of us here today, to choose the infinite possibilities to create a more inclusive society, where we see value and dignity in all people.

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