Educating for public policy advocacy

Next Steps at Vanderbilt students and graduates at Disability Day on the Hill.

Since January, the VKC has provided training on legislative advocacy, facilitated the sharing of personal stories with Tennessee legislators and policymakers, and used social media to broaden access to Disability Day on the Hill.

Many of these activities have been done in collaboration with members of the Public Policy Team of the VKC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD), the Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network, and other community partners.

“Educate to Advocate” training

The VKC UCEDD Public Policy Team hosts an annual “Educate to Advocate” training event to encourage and to prepare trainees, professionals, self-advocates, and family members to meet with their legislative representatives and to share their life experiences with disabilities. The 2017 event on January 25 was the most well-attended session to date.

A panel discussion kicked off the event. Attendees received advice on how and why to share personal stories from:

  • Representative Jason Powell (District 53)
  • Rochelle Frazier-Beard, legislative staff for Representative Bob Ramsey (District 20)
  • Jonathan Chapman, former Health Policy Fellow with Congressman Jim Cooper
  • Linda Brown, parent and president of The Arc Rutherford County
  • Carolyn Meyer, self-advocate and VKC Community Advisory Council member
Carolyn Meyer, VKC Community Advisory Council member with Mark Gorman, Brentwood City Commissioner. Photo by Kyle Jonas.

Carolyn Meyer, VKC Community Advisory Council member with Mark Gorman, Brentwood City Commissioner. Photo by Kyle Jonas.

In addition to the panel, Carol Westlake, Tennessee Disability Coalition executive director, provided updates on key federal and state issues that may affect individuals with disabilities. Kelsey Loschke from Disability Rights Tennessee led attendees in an exercise to help them refine their messages for sharing with legislators. The entire event was recorded; to view, link here.

Disability Day on the Hill

On February 8, self-advocates, family members, and disability professionals from a variety of organizations attended Disability Day on the Hill at Legislative Plaza. This annual event is an opportunity for advocates to meet with their legislators at the State Capitol to discuss issues important to individuals with disabilities and their families.

The VKC UCEDD, Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, and TennesseeWorks had exhibits alongside many Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network members and community partners.

At the top of the day, attendees gathered in the Old Supreme Court Room to hear a variety of speakers provide updates on critical issues facing the disability community, to celebrate successes, and to share personal stories. Hosted by the Tennessee Disability Policy Alliance, the program was facilitated by Jeremy Norden-Paul, director of Employment and Day Services, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center communications staff were on hand to stream many of the speakers live on social media. Videos available on the VKC’s Facebook page include talks from Rep. David Hawk, Tommy Lee Kidd parent), Michelle Morse Jernigan (TennCare), and Carolyn Meyer (self-advocate).

In addition to live streaming from the Alliance program, TennesseeWorks staff interviewed and streamed videos from self-advocates, families, and disability professionals from around the state.

To view these videos, visit the VKC’s Facebook page at

Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

Each year, the VKC UCEDD collaborates with The Arc Tennessee, self-advocates and families, and students at Vanderbilt University to produce a collection of stories that highlight the experiences that individuals with disabilities and their families have as they navigate service systems and supports. Booklets are shared with Tennessee legislators at Disability Day on the Hill and with Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation at the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C., to educate representatives with first-hand accounts from their constituents.

The 2017 edition uncovers common barriers that prevent many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from receiving quality health care. The stories illustrate:

Photo of cover of Kindred Stories Booklet 2017

Kindred Stories Booklet 2017

  • difficulties finding health care providers who are knowledgeable, willing, and trained to care for people with disabilities,
  • difficulties finding health care providers who accept TennCare,
  • difficulties affording health care, if the individual is not able to receive TennCare,
  • extreme difficulties finding mental health providers willing to provide medication management or trained to offer counseling to people with disabilities,
  • transportation barriers, particularly in rural areas of Tennessee, and
  • communication barriers.

The project will continue to collect stories on the topic of access to health care throughout the Spring 2017 semester. To read the current booklet, link here.

Courtney Taylor is VKC associate director of Communications and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page: Next Steps at Vanderbilt students and graduates at Disability Day on the Hill. Photo by Kyle Jonas.

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