By Beth Swedeen, Executive Director
Public policy efforts, both at the state and federal levels, have been a primary focus for BPDD during the past two months. Education, transportation, employment, long-term support across the lifespan, and access to health insurance are all issues that can significantly impact people with disabilities and their families in Wisconsin.
In April, BPDD worked to make sure people with disabilities had a voice at the four state budget public hearings the Joint Committee on Finance held throughout the state. We coordinated with self-advocates and family members in each region of the state so all of the hearings featured testimony from people with disabilities talking about critical issues and how public policy decisions affect their lives. BPDD also testified at the hearings and distributed the 2013 Priorities for People with Disabilities in Wisconsin policy papers to the full Legislature. We also met directly with key Joint Finance members to ask for specific changes to the state budget that would improve the lives of people with disabilities.
In addition to the policy papers, BPDD also worked with our DD Network partners to develop and distribute “memes” on our Facebook page and other social media sites about state budget issues that have been identified as priorities for people with disabilities in Wisconsin. A meme is an image that is designed to raise awareness about a particular issue via sharing on social media platforms. We created memes about expanding Family Care, waitlists for Children’s Long-Term Supports, health care, special education funding, Family Care cost savings, and Integrated Employment. The memes had a total of over 17,000 views and contributed to an upswing in people following our Facebook page.
In April, long-time national transition and employment policy leader and advocate Madeleine Will visited Wisconsin to promote Employment First practices. Will is the Vice President of Public Policy for the National Down Syndrome Society and has nearly 40 years of experience as both an advocate and a policymaker. She discussed the national movement to prioritize Integrated Employment supports within public services and shared her unique perspective on why Employment First is good public policy with the Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson, Department of Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades, and at a legislative breakfast well-attended by policymakers and their staff.
Also in April, Wisconsin’s DD partnership sent a team to the 2013 Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, DC. The 15-member team included BPDD Board and staff members, Partners in Policymaking participants, staff from Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Waisman Center, and graduate students from the Waisman Center’s MCH-LEND program. The first two days of the seminar featured presentations about federal disability issues and tips for advocating effectively with U.S. Congressional representatives. On the third day, the group used what they learned during Capitol Hill visits. Our team met with the entire Wisconsin Congressional delegation – 10 visits in all – and discussed issues like the ABLE Act, Medicaid funding, employment, transportation, and education.
BPDD is using the seminar as a launch pad to develop and foster direct relationships between Wisconsin self-advocates and families and their members of Congress.