Growing Self-Advocacy in the Heartland

December 13, 2021

Since 2014, the Center Disabilities and Development (Iowa’s UCEDD) has actively participated in a collaborative known as the Heartland Self-Advocacy Resource Network (HSRN). Iowa teamed up with UCEDDs from three other midwestern states—Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri—to grow self-advocacy movements in the region.

To help accomplish this, the HSRN Steering Committee agreed to host a regional advocacy conference every two years, with leadership responsibilities for each conference shared alternately among the four states. HSRN hosted the first conference, “Seeking Opportunities for an Advocacy Revolution,” or SOAR, in 2019 with the Missouri UCEDD taking the lead. In 2021, it was Iowa’s turn. With support from the other states, Iowa led the 2021 SOAR Conference virtually via Zoom.

The free conference took place Friday, September 17, through Sunday, September 19. During the opening session on Friday evening, UCEDD directors from each of the four sponsoring states welcomed participants. The conference featured three fantastic keynote speakers: retired U.S. Senator from Iowa, Tom Harkin; comedian Michael Beers; and YouTube sensation, Squirmy and Grubs. The program included six breakout sessions for participants to choose from, all featuring leadership experiences and insights from presenters with disabilities.

The Friday evening session also included a welcome from Jana Peterson-Besse, sister of the late Mia Peterson, a native Iowan and long-time advocate in the disability community, who passed away earlier this year. Both Mia and Jana are well-known in the AUCD community. Jana recently began working at the Oregon Health & Science University UCEDD, Oregon Office on Disability and Health.

In all, 157 participants logged in to the virtual SOAR conference. Many of those who did engaged in spirited discussions, demonstrating the importance of peer support, and affirming the mantra, Nothing About Us Without Us!

To find out more about HSRN or the SOAR conference, get in touch with program coordinator at Iowa’s UCEDD, Mike Hoenig, at [email protected]