Today I had a wonderful experience in political advocacy, and I’m hoping what happened will show how easy it truly is to have an impact.
I invited our state senator to our home to chat about state programs our daughter uses. During the next legislative session, our state will be taking up a new budget and I wanted him to have a “real life” experience with a family who has a child with a disability when he goes to negotiate and vote.
We arranged a time for him to come to our home and it happened to be near the time of one of our Birth to 3 (early intervention) therapies. I let our occupational therapist know ahead of time, and she consented to running an OT session with the senator there.
My senator sat with me in my living room and we just talked. That’s it – just talked. I didn’t have a presentation prepared, I didn’t have a handout. I wanted him to sit in the home of a child with a disability, speak to that child’s mother, see what life looks like. And that’s what we did. We talked while my daughter scooted around the living room, playing with toys, chatting and smiling.
I had a few talking points I wanted to get in. I wanted to talk about the impact Birth to 3 has had on our family and how helpful the Katie Beckett waiver has been. I simply wove those into our conversation. I shared with him our diagnosis story and some of the medical obstacles we faced. He told me about his grandkids. We talked about how bright the future is for my child and some ideas for things that would make things even brighter. He shared with me his personal experience as a senator who was in office as Wisconsin closed institutions and helped people return to the community.
Our OT arrived, and the conversation transitioned to what Birth to 3 looks like for us, what our experience has been like, and what other families have experienced. He spoke with our OT, he asked questions about funding, he asked how it was run. He told me he had never been to a Birth to 3 session before and this was a great way to see what he votes for.
At the end, he thanked me for helping him put a face on the Katie Beckett waiver and said he would remember my daughter whenever issues regarding the waiver arise.
Mission accomplished, I’d say.
But really – it was easy. Senators and representatives want to know their constituents. They want to hear about what life is like for their constituents, they want to know how their vote affects a family, not just a vague demographic.
You don’t need to be deeply knowledgeable on a subject. You don’t need to hold the same political beliefs as your elected representative. You just need a topic of discussion and a willingness to share your personal story.
To set it up, it’s as easy as calling or emailing the official’s office and asking for an appointment. They might be willing to come to your home, or you could ask to meet in their district office or at a local coffeehouse. They have more flexibility when the legislature is not in session (Wisconsinites, that means you have until January!) and the time between sessions is specifically for the purpose of meeting with constituents.
Think about it. If we want our officials to understand disability, the only way for them to know is for them to see. Consider scheduling a visit with your elected officials as a way to help them understand what life is like for you as a parent, and for your child.