Iowa DD Network Partners and Local Grassroots Organization Hosted a Successful Self-Advocacy Event

June 26, 2013

On June 13 and 14, Peer Action Disability Support (P.A.D.S.) hosted Iowa's first-ever self-advocacy summit. Nearly 60 self-advocates representing seven organizations attended.

P.A.D.S. was one of three organizations selected from among 17 applicants to receive an AIDD self-advocacy organizational development grant to provide peer to peer technical assistance to other self-advocacy groups in 2013. Grant funds are being used to assist "mentee organizations" to grow and become stronger while working toward obtaining 501(c)3 status. In addition to the summit, P.A.D.S. plans to support mentee organizations by providing distance learning opportunities, funding mini-grants to support community change, and creating an advocacy toolkit.

Summit participants took advantage of the kickoff pizza party on Thursday evening to network and prepare themselves for Friday's activities. Cherie Clark, a long-time disability rights advocate and 2013 P.A.D.S. president, set the tone for the summit on Friday morning by delivering an inspiring opening keynote address. Clark praised self-advocacy organizations for including individuals with diverse disabilities and their commitment to becoming stronger.

Over the course of the day, participants attended two of three breakout sessions. Staff from Disability Rights Iowa (Iowa's Protection and Advocacy System) and the Iowa DD Council presented a session entitled "Self-Advocacy and Disability Rights," sharing personal and professional perspectives on the importance of disability history, individual rights, and citizen advocacy. A session entitled "Making Organizations Stronger" featured a panel of P.A.D.S. members who described experiences employing successful advocacy techniques to create community change, and concluded with a discussion of considerations for becoming a nonprofit organization facilitated by the director of Iowa's Statewide Independent Living Council. Representatives of P.A.D.S., Iowa's UCEDD, and the local Area Agency on Aging facilitated the session entitled "Leadership," utilizing skits to illustrate effective meeting behavior and a planning activity to help organizations to consider next steps.

Chuck Graham, director of the Great Plains ADA Center in Columbia, MO, delivered the luncheon keynote address. Graham's message of encouragement, conveyed through a series of personal examples which included becoming the first wheelchair user to serve in the Missouri legislature, resonated with summit attendees. P.A.D.S. Vice-Chair Robin Brunner commented, "I liked his emphasis on positive action and activism. His message of unity in advocacy is just what we needed to hear."

At the closing session, conference organizers invited participants to share knowledge gained and to describe potential next steps. Many expressed excitement over connecting with peers and learning new leadership skills. An Eastern Iowa group hopeful of rejuvenating a People First chapter plans to travel three hours to visit an established chapter, thanks to networking during the summit. Nearly all organizations requested ongoing technical assistance from P.A.D.S. and the grant management team.

P.A.D.S. subcontracts with the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD-Iowa's UCEDD) to provide technical assistance throughout the project period. To learn more about Iowa's self-advocacy organizational development grant, contact CDD's Mike Hoenig at 319-353-6448 or michael-hoenig@uiowa.edu. For more information about AIDD's self-advocacy initiatives, visit http://alliesinselfadvocacy.org.