Amy Smith is a graduate student in Disability Studies, a proud graduate of both Partners in Policymaking and the OK Policy Summer Policy Institute, and is currently a research intern at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.  She lives in Ada with her husband and two of her four children who haven’t flown the coop yet.

2015 Partners in Policymaking class

In one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating Legislative session, advocates for any number of organizations and causes were increasingly visible at the Capitol and statewide. Teams including Together Oklahoma and Let’s Fix This have mobilized advocates through grassroots coalitions and informational resources while groups such as the Oklahoma Education Association and Oklahoma Public Employees Association make noise at the Capitol. Similarly, disability advocates have become more visible through rallies and helping to pass legislation such as the ABLE Act and the Autism Insurance Reform Act.

Many of those disability advocates, myself included, came to the Capitol via Partners in Policymaking, an international program that teaches adults with disabilities, their family members, and the professionals who work with them the skills to become advocates who promote systems change. In Oklahoma, this nine-month program is operated by the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council. Partners students meet one weekend a month to complete a slate of classes on topics including advocacy and grassroots organizing, special education law, sexuality and relationships, guardianship and alternatives, the state and federal legislative process, serving on boards, leadership development, employment, assistive technology, and navigating state and federal service systems.

“Partners in Policymaking gave me the tools necessary to go beyond being a mother who wants to protect her son to becoming a passionate disability rights advocate who wants to make real and lasting societal changes for everyone.”

In addition, Partners students have homework assignments intended to teach advocacy skills and pull them out of their comfort zones. These assignments range from interviewing one of their state legislators to attending a local board meeting to studying model legislation and presenting group testimony to a mock legislative committee. Each year, state legislators who recognize the importance of Partners in Policymaking and its role in training advocates volunteer their time on a spring Sunday to be a part of this mock committee. Even during this year’s hectic session, there were nine legislators present for legislative testimony!

Since 1994, over 350 Oklahoma Partners graduates have become true agents for change through activities such as advocating at the state and federal levels, leading national self-advocacy organizations, teaching disability awareness classes to law enforcement, volunteering as foster parents and guardians, and much more.

That’s all dry information, though. On a personal level, I can tell you that being a Partners graduate is probably the title I’m the proudest of, second only to being a mother. I have four children and my second eldest son has intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s always been important to me that he enjoys the same human and civil rights as his siblings, and Partners put me as a parent in touch with a group of people who understand this importance. It then gave me the tools necessary to go beyond being a mother who wants to protect her son to becoming a passionate disability rights advocate who wants to make real and lasting societal changes for everyone. I’ve created friendships and alliances through Partners that have changed my life in so many ways, and I’m only getting started. My only regret is that I took the class when my son was seventeen years old and not when he was seven!

I strongly encourage anyone interested to apply. You can learn more about Partners in Policymaking here, and contact Erin Taylor at erin.taylor@okddc.ok.gov or at (405) 521-4967 to apply. Applications are due the last week of June.