This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

23 June, 2010

Why Policy is Important

Policy, for better or for worse, is a reflection of our society’s values. In its creation, it is shaped by public opinion, and in its implementation, it has the power to change public opinion. This phenomenon is evident in a piece of legislation called Rosa’s Law, which is moving through Congress this year. Rosa’s Law (S.2781) is a bill that aims to replace the antiquated and stigmatizing term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in certain federal laws. This bill is important because words have meaning - we think too seldom about how the language we use to describe people reflects how we perceive them. When laws and court decisions describe people with disabilities as “suffering” from impairments or “mentally retarded”, it indicates that society views them as having a lower quality of life and incapable of leading independent, productive lives. In the disability field, we know those stereotypes aren’t true, and changing the terminology we use can help redefine how society perceives people with disabilities. Rosa’s law is just one example; there are a number of key federal laws covering a range of issues that could be improved to serve people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, many of our lawmakers are not educated about disability issues. Here’s where you come in. Yes, YOU can influence public policy! Before I started work at AUCD, the thought of contacting my Senators’ or Representative’s offices was intimidating – after all, what do they care what I think? I’m just one person! Little did I know, it’s easy to do and even a handful of calls can make an overworked hill staffer stop and take notice. Here are a few tips for getting involved in policymaking:

  • Know who represents you on Capitol Hill. You can find them easily by using AUCD’s Action Center – just scroll down and enter your zip code in the “Find Your Elected Officials” Section. Underneath each official’s picture are links for more information – you can see how they voted on disability issues and see what committees they participate on.
  • Use the capitol switchboard – (202)224-3121– to call their offices about issues that are important to you. Calls are answered by staff, so ask to speak to the person who handles the issue about which you want to comment. Identify yourself as a constituent (sometimes they will ask for your name and address), and leave a brief message. For example: “Please tell Senator/Representative (name) that I support/oppose S.____/H.R. _____” and tell them why. Always be courteous.
  • If you have more to say about an issue, a letter may be a better choice. You can find the address for the member you wish to contact on AUCD’s Action Center by searching for your elected official. Try to emphasize why your stance on a bill would benefit your district or state.
  • Watch for action alerts from advocacy organizations. These will help you know the best time to contact Congress so that your message will have the greatest impact.
  • Check AUCD’s Action Center regularly to see the most current alerts and email your Senators and Representative directly. We have prepared sample messages for you to use when you call or write so you know exactly what to say.
  • Find valuable resources about current legislation on AUCD’s Public Policy page. Our weekly newsletter, Legislative News In Brief, is posted here each Monday.
  • Get involved with local advocacy groups and take every opportunity to be involved in local policymaking efforts. Remember that you have valuable knowledge to share, and don’t be afraid to share that knowledge with policymakers!
  • Finally, look for opportunities like AUCD’s Policy Fellowship to get involved. AUCD selects a new fellow every year to work with Legislative Affairs staff in Washington, DC. It’s an excellent way to dive into policy work! We are currently accepting applications for 2010-2011.

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