Sunday, December 21, 2008

History Says: Advocacy Starts with You


Do you think you can't make a difference as a disability advocate, especially if you're busy helping a person (or people) with disabilities in your own family? Think again.

Read "Private Action and Public Policy over 41 Years" and find out why Rud Turnbull, a special education expert at the Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas, says his most effective work has been not as a professor, but as a parent. Turnbull, whose 41-year-old son has intellectual disability, autism, and bipolar disorder, says he and his wife Ann have been community organizers for all of those 41 years. "Like other parents," he writes, "we had no choice but to organize our communities, to advocate and build capacity at the local and state levels....Had we not joined with others to create special education services, alternatives to institutions, places of gainful employment, and opportunities for recreation and leisure he (Turnbull's son) would have faced either permanent insitutional placement or a life in our home, isolated and idle."

Turnbull says he's optimistic about the future because of three lessons from history:
1. "Private action -- call it community organizing if you will, has been directly responsible for the policies, practices, and the positive public attitudes that make it possible for today's parents to look confidently toward the future."
2. "Bipartisanship has been the hallmark of progressive disability policy. No political party has any special claim to the past or the future."
3. "Whenever and wherever people not personally affected by disability have organized their communities, especially for underserved residents, they have benefited families and individuals who are affected by disability. That is so because there is a powerful correlation between disability on the one hand and poverty, single-parent status, and ethnicity on the other."

If you're the parent of a child with a disability, remember this. "When we acted for our son," Turnbull writes, "we acted on behalf of others with disabilities and their families....Private action for progressive policy has been a mutual responsibility."

I'll put that another way. When you fight for your own family's rights and needs, know that your advocacy can benefit many other families.
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