Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD, IDDRC, LEND) Affecting Public Policy

March 25, 2016

Since January, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD, IDDRC, LEND) has provided preparatory mock legislative visits for trainees and students, facilitated the sharing of personal stories with legislators and policymakers through Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability, created helpful tools for attending Disability Day on the Hill, and educated state legislators during in-person meetings. These activities were undertaken in collaboration with members of the Public Policy Team of the UCEDD.

Countdown to Disability Day on the Hill (DDH)
The communications staff of the Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network members developed a "Countdown to DDH" social media campaign to highlight public policy as a major focus for the Network. A calendar, with suggested topics for social media postings in public policy for each day leading up to DDH, was shared with disability organizations across the state. The goals of the campaign were to:

  • Educate our audiences about why getting involved in public policy advocacy is important and has real impact.
  • Inform our audiences about public policy advocacy skills and strategies.
  • Highlight how people can stay informed about disability public policy issues year-round.
  • Promote awareness of the ways our agencies engage in public policy advocacy.
  • Increase attendance at 2016 Disability Day on the Hill; prepare people with disabilities and families to share their stories with legislators at DDH and in the future.
  • Increase reach and engagement of participating agencies' social media accounts throughout the campaign and beyond.

The Network plans to collaborate on similar campaigns over the course of the next year on the topics of multicultural and diversity issues, transition and postsecondary education, and employment.

The Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network is made up of the VKC UCEDD, University of Tennessee Boling Center UCEDD, Disability Rights Tennessee, and the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Catch up on DDH social media posts by searching the hashtag #DDH2016.

Educate to Advocate
Whatever our perspective-trainees and students, researchers, health care professionals, service providers, educators, individuals with disabilities or family members, or simply concerned citizens-we see ways that the disability service system can be improved. One dimension of changing service systems is educating legislators and other public policy makers.

Each year, the VKC UCEDD Public Policy Team hosts the Educate to Advocate training event. The 2016 event, which was held on January 13, focused on why and how to share stories with legislators and policymakers. In addition to a panel of experienced public servants, disability professionals, and parents of individuals with disabilities and an outline of key issues, attendees were given an opportunity to participate in mock visits with legislators.

"It was our hope that, by providing this opportunity for people to practice sharing on legislative issues, we would eradicate the fears and intimidation that often prevents people from meeting with their representatives and senators about what matters to them," said Elise McMillan, J.D., VKC UCEDD co-director, VKC director of Community Engagement and Public Policy, and senior associate in Psychiatry.

TennesseeWorks Educational Tools
A series of tools to make attending Disability Day on the Hill more convenient was developed by TennesseeWorks, a partnership of agencies working to strengthen state policies and systems to promote the employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tennessee.

First, a video with helpful tips on what to expect, where to park, and with whom to meet was produced by Kyle Jonas, VKC UCEDD media specialist. Second, a new blog series by Janet Shouse, TNWorks employment specialist, offered great advice on how to prepare for the day and what to expect when meeting with legislators.

Watch the video here
Read the blog here

Kindred Stories of Disability: How Potential Cuts to Federal Programs Would Impact Tennessee Families
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 challenges that individuals with disabilities and their families face as they navigate service systems and supports. Booklets are shared with Tennessee legislators during Disability Day on the Hill and the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C., to educate them with first-hand accounts from constituents in their districts.

The 2016 edition included personal stories on the topic of potential cuts to federal programs, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The collection highlights the critical importance of these programs to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Kindred Stories will continue to conduct interviews on this topic throughout Spring 2016.

To view an electronic version of the booklet, click here.

Disability Day on the Hill
On January 27, self-advocates, family members, and disability professionals from a variety of organizations attended Disability Day on the Hill at Legislative Plaza.

Vanderbilt students and graduates meeting with legistatorsDuring the morning, attendees gathered in the Senate Chamber to hear a variety of speakers provide updates on critical issues facing the disability community, to celebrate successes, and to share personal stories. The program was hosted by the Tennessee Disability Policy Alliance and facilitated by Erik Carter, Ph.D., Vanderbilt professor of Special Education and principal investigator leading TennesseeWorks. Speakers included the Governor's Chief of Staff Jim Henry, along with leaders in the Department of Education (Special Populations), Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Department of the Treasury, Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and TennCare. John Shouse, parent of an adult son with autism and chair of the VKC UCEDD Community Advisory Council, and Brittany Carter, a young self-advocate, spoke passionately about the importance of legislative advocacy and their personal experiences.

In his welcome, Carter raised a key theme woven throughout many of the morning's remarks: "All really does mean all." Agency representatives emphasized their commitment to expanding opportunities in employment, education, independent living, and community participation for all Tennesseans with disabilities. Many speakers also highlighted the importance of sharing personal stories with legislators to help them understand the impact of disability on the lives of Tennesseans.

After the Disability Alliance program, self-advocates, families, and others, including Next Steps at Vanderbilt students and graduates, dispersed to meet with their legislators.

TennesseeWorks set up a filming station at their information table to capture participant experiences during the day. Steven Greiner, a Next Steps graduate and TennesseeWorks staff member, asked self-advocates, their family members, and legislators to share thoughts on legislative advocacy, their meetings with state representatives, and what people at home should know about Disability Day on the Hill. TennesseeWorks will release the video on their website and in their e-newsletter.

Subscribe for monthly updates at