Your Role in Creating Change in the Service System for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
By Carrie Guiden, Executive Director
The Arc of Tennessee
One message many voices. I first heard this statement from another disability advocate at a meeting I attended shortly after moving to Tennessee. Those four little words have stayed with me and entered my consciousness many times over the past few months. To me, this statement bears many similarities to The Arc of Tennessee's governmental affairs process. The Arc of Tennessee's Governmental Affairs Committee spends a great deal of time analyzing the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; gathering input from families, self-advocates and professionals in the field; collaborating with other disability advocacy agencies, researching the legislative climate in Tennessee; and ultimately deciding which pieces of legislation to introduce in the legislative session that may positively impact individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Those pieces of legislation are part of the message. When pieces of legislation start to move through the process, The Arc of Tennessee often calls upon family members and self-advocates to become involved in the process by speaking, calling, or writing to their legislator; testifying in legislative hearings; and other activities. You all are the many voices. Without you, it is much more difficult to succeed in passing legislation.
It should be no surprise to anyone that one of the key pieces of legislation that The Arc of Tennessee will support this coming session is saving the Family Support Program. This important program that serves nearly 4,000 individuals with significant disabilities is scheduled to be eliminated from next fiscal year 's budget. This is not a rumor. This is a fact. The ONLY way we have a chance to save it is through a united effort within the disability community and an active grass roots campaign to inform legislators of the importance of this program.
In this upcoming legislative session, the one message must be Save Family Support and the many voices must be you “family members, self-advocates, friends and professionals in the field. While legislators place some value in what I or our lobbyist has to say with regard to various issues, it is really the visits, calls, and letters from those directly affected by the loss of Family Support that will convince them to vote one way versus another. Your legislator needs to hear your story “how the loss of the Family Support Program will affect you or your family. They need to hear what Family Support does to help your family. All of your voices count “and the more voices sending the same message, the better chance we have at saving this important program.
Even if you have never been involved in governmental affairs in the past, even if you are intimidated by the idea of speaking to or writing to your legislator, please do not let that stop you. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard and there are places you can turn to for help and information.
If you have access to a computer, go to www.tnfamilysupport.org and become a member of save family support. You can search for your legislator by typing in some basic information. You will find sample letters and post cards to send to your legislators with space to add your own personal story. You will also find fact sheets about the Family Support program that are specific to each county in Tennessee that you may share with your legislator. If you are interested in meeting with or calling your legislator but you would like some support, contact The Arc of Tennessee office. We will be happy to accompany you and to provide you with guidance.
Now more than ever, The Arc of Tennessee needs your support and assistance. We cannot save the Family Support Program without you. If the program is eliminated, another 4,000 individuals with significant disabilities will be without service, adding more un-served individuals to an already long waiting list.
The time for action is NOW! Remember
One message Save Family Support!
Many voices|Your stories
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