Iowa LEND Educates Legislators on the Hill

May 2, 2018

The Iowa Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainees traveled from Iowa City, Iowa to attended the 2018 Disability Policy Seminar (DPS) in Washington, D.C from April 23rd-25th, 2018.  Earlier in the year, the trainees spoke with Iowa's State legislators (Representative Ashley Hinson, Representative Bobby Kaufmann, Senator Liz Mathis, and Senator Joe Bolkcom) in Des Moines, Iowa to discuss the importance of LEND and state-level disability issues.  The trip to the U.S. Capitol served as the culmination of the Iowa LEND experience, allowing trainees to use the tools they had learned in the past year to advocate and educate on disability rights at the federal level.

During the conference, the trainees participated in the AUCD Trainee Policy Summit along with 250 other trainees and mentors to learn about ways in which they could build relationships with and educate Congress on important disability-related issues.  They heard from important disability rights supporters from Capitol Hill such as keynote speaker Catherine Lhamon, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. There were various networking opportunities that allowed trainees to interact with individuals around the country with the same commitment and passion for disability issues. Furthermore, they attended plenary sessions on topics such as employment policy, education policy, Medicaid and Social Security, and a variety of other important issues affecting the disability community.

The first Hill visit the trainees had was with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.  The trainees provided information about concerns regarding H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, and similar bills affecting civil rights and community living for individuals with disabilities.  In addition, the audiologist trainees shared their perspective regarding the potential positive impact of H.R. 2276, the Audiology Patient Choice Act, a bipartisan bill ensuring access to hearing aids and audiology services for seniors and individuals with disabilities on Medicare.

The next Hill visit was with Legislative Assistant, Kirby Richard, in the Office of Congressman Rod Blum. While Congressman Blum was not personally present, the trainees applied the tips they had learned for meeting with staffers and policymakers by keeping their message brief, clear, simple, and personal.  They shared how over 630 Iowans with disabilities have transitioned out of institutions back into the community through Money Follows the Person (MFP), and provided updates on the status of the EMPOWER Care Act in 2019 which would continue funding for MFP.

On the final day on the Hill, the trainees met with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst for coffee.  Senator Ernst shared with the trainees her own personal connection to developmental disabilities. The trainees then invited Senator Ernst to join the conversation surrounding autism by introducing her to the Autism Caucus, the first-ever Congressional Membership Organization dedicated to autism advocacy on Capitol Hill.  While over 180 Members of Congress from over 40 states participate in this bipartisan, bicameral organization, there is currently no Iowa representation.

Finally, the trainees spoke with U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack who has been an ally in protecting the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As a training program that hails from the state of former Senator Tom Harkin, the Congressman responsible for introducing the ADA into the Senate, the trainees discussed the importance of Congress ensuring that the protections afforded to people with disabilities under the ADA be maintained.  Discussion was also had regarding the importance of LEND, as well as the need for more federal guidance regarding educational services and improved accessibility, especially for individuals with disabilities requiring the highest needs for support.

Overall, the Iowa LEND trainees had a week of successful Hill visits by bringing to the attention of the Iowa Federal legislators the current matters of importance in the disability community.  The trainees felt this year of LEND training has prepared them how to be better educators, advocates, and self-advocates. They are now more comfortable speaking with policymakers and they understand the importance of long-term relationship building with all individuals involved in the legislative process (e.g. legislators and their staff).  The actions and voices of emerging leaders such as the Iowa LEND trainees is important, needed, and required for our administration to continue advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities.