04/08/24 – When the Disability Policy Seminar officially began on Monday, it really began to sink in for me just how huge the Westin in downtown Washington really was. Going down the escalators to the meeting room / ballroom area was an eye-opener for me. I wanted to get a good feel for the kind of meeting space we had to work with and where everything was going to be for the first day before getting registered, so I started following some of the signs that were put up throughout the building. When I saw one sign showing the way to a “Quiet Room” where people could go if they were getting overstimulated at any point during their day, I was immediately very impressed at just how much thought and consideration The Arc of The United States puts into planning an event like the Disability Policy Seminar. I wish other organizations would have a designated Quiet Room or something similar when they put on events at other venues in other places they go to.

After getting registered and grabbing some breakfast, I mingled a little bit with some of the other attendees who were in town for the seminar and chatted it up a little bit with people working some of the vendor tables in the immediate vicinity as we all tried to figure out where everybody was going to sit for the event’s opening comments. I noticed a pair of attendees from Seattle sitting with some of our group, and I couldn’t help myself making a Frasier reference as I suggested that the hotel should serve tossed salads and scrambled eggs for breakfast the following day. There was another pair of attendees from Colorado sitting at another one of our tables, so Rose and I were able to talk with these people a little bit about what our group was doing and what we were planning on doing while we were in town for the seminar.

We were all welcomed to the Disability Policy Seminar with opening comments from Katy Neas, the current CEO of The Arc of The United States, as she led a rousing panel discussion around ensuring people with disabilities don’t have to jump through so many hoops to access the services that they are eligible for and qualify for, that they are getting the most out of the services that they need, and that the people they work with are getting the resources they need to be successful in the work they’re doing, that provider agencies can retain enough quality workers so they can continue to provide a quality service. It’s worth noting again that a lot of thought and consideration went into planning this event. There were a couple of projector screens showing the panel discussion as it was happening so people who didn’t have such a good view of the front of the room could still see everything, as well as ASL interpreters on hand and captions / subtitles capturing everyone’s dialogue as people were talking.

When we were dismissed for lunch, it sounded like some of us needed a break from burgers for a bit, so we ended up walking down to a Nando’s, which I guess is a popular chicken restaurant chain. (I hear these guys are pretty popular in the UK.) Next door to them was a Shake Shack for those few of us who weren’t quite tired of burgers just yet. Because our group was so big and it took a few of us longer to get our food once we figured out what we wanted, we ended up running a little behind getting back to the hotel from lunch for the afternoon breakout sessions.

The first session most of us sat in on discussed the importance of extending the Autism CARES Act. As the facilitators were talking to us about it, I looked at the big projector screen hoping to find some more detailed information. It had never occurred to me that the Autism CARES Act was initially a Bush 43 mandate from 2006. But my hope is that when Congress decides to extend it again, there are provisions in it to help address current staffing shortages and attract more quality workers to help provide a quality service so people with disabilities can get the most out of the services that they need.

The second session most of us sat in on was more focused on federal bills currently on the floor in Congress to address Social Security reform, more specifically increasing assets limits and eliminating the marriage penalty, so that if two people with a disability are both receiving SSI and they decide they want to get married someday, neither of them would have to worry about losing any of their benefits. This session was more up our alley and more in alignment with the purpose of our trip, because we knew we wanted to go into this trip with a plan to address Social Security reform with our Congressional delegation when the time came to visit them on Capitol Hill later on. We even had a presentation put together for this very purpose and we each had specific points that we knew we wanted to make. I was able to pull mine up from my email on my phone and take a screenshot of it so I could refer back to it if I needed to.

One big thing we heard from one of this session’s facilitators that really stood out to me was when they said meeting with the staffers of a Congressional delegate at the Capitol is just as important as meeting with the Congressional delegate themselves, if not more. I mean sure, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed when we find out they’re not available to meet with people at the Capitol for whatever reason. But it’s their staffers that take everyone’s messages from all the different groups that come by to see them and passes them along afterwards. It’s a lot of work for a Congressional delegate’s staffers to coordinate their entire day in Washington, making sure they all go into each day with a plan and that they’re able to keep track of everything that happens with so much foot traffic coming in and out along the way.

Key Takeaway

After Disability Policy Seminar Day 1

I must once again give thanks to my background in social and human services and the life experience that came with it. I don’t think I would have turned out the same way without it. Quite frankly, in an alternate universe, I would have gone absolute scorched earth on everyone who went out of their way to make things harder for me than they needed to be and not think twice about it. You would have to understand what a miserable [expletive] I was in my teen years to truly appreciate just how much I’ve mellowed out since then, especially as I’m pushing 40.

If you are self advocate and would like to share a blog post with us please email Laurie Coldwell at lcoldwell@sufumaine.org   

The Speaking Up For Us (SUFU) blog contains views and opinions of each individual writer. The views and opinions expressed through these channels are purely the bloggers’ own and does not reflect the opinion of SUFU as an organization or any SUFU staff member.

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