The Power of Advocacy


Disability Day on the Hill (DDH) occurs once a year during legislative sessions, often occurring in multiple states. During Tennessee’s DDH, community members are able to meet with their legislators to talk about upcoming bills that would affect them. 

Seeing advocacy at work can be a very impactful experience, especially when it happens at DDH. For two of our staff, Beth and Hannah, their first Disability Day on the Hill experiences sparked awareness and ignited action. 

Why are you passionate about advocacy?
Beth: From a very young age I can remember my mom always doing the right thing, even if it was the hard thing (and it usually was). She has always been outspoken about her beliefs and her passions, even if it meant being uncomfortable or ridiculed. That has stuck with me throughout my life. She single-handedly changed the dress code at her school in the 1960s - girls were supposed to wear skirts or dresses, but no pants. She wore pants every day until they finally gave up. If you are able to use your voice and actions to improve the life of others, why would you NOT do that? 

Hannah: Before joining the Coalition, I was very passionate about supporting and speaking up on behalf of justice and civil rights issues. I was naïve in thinking that all we needed to do to promote positive transformation was spread awareness through social media, word of mouth, or getting into good discussions with friends. Through my work with the Disability Community, I’ve learned how important it is to advocate not only for yourself, but also others. Speaking with legislators and policymakers is the best way to encourage systemic and cultural change. Advocacy is the most practical tool we have in reaching for societal improvement or fighting to keep certain policies in place that benefit the wellbeing of people. 

Why does student advocacy matter to you?
Beth: I absolutely adore kids, but especially teens! They get such a bum rap from so many people. Every generation seems to discount or dismiss the younger folks, as though they don't have the ability to make this world better. They do, and they will! I firmly believe that the more we get teenagers involved in the process of advocating, the more compassionate and beautiful this world will be. I am so excited to see what these kids will do in the next decade. It gives me hope. 

Hannah: Call me weird, but I can’t express how much I enjoy mentoring, working with, and hanging with teenagers. When I was a teenager, I began to develop my passion in walking alongside others and serving others in whatever capacity was needed. That desire has carried through to today. Because of this, I know how important it is to introduce teenagers to different justice issues. Empowering and encouraging students to advocate for the issues that matter to them is such an incredible and necessary thing. By advocating for someone other than yourself, you’re not only learning compassion and empathy, but you’re also discovering the many diverse issues that face us today and that will face us in the future. Being a millennial myself and looking at the generation younger than me, I’m so excited to see where our voices can take our communities. 

How did the work you did for DDH (scheduling meetings, serving as the main point of contact for the Coalition, etc.) impact your experience with DDH?
Beth: This was my first time doing anything like this, so at first it was a tad intimidating. I'm used to working with lawyers - not lawmakers! It was a bit stressful making appointments for so many people, but that was mostly because of wanting to ensure that the constituents had enough time to travel through the offices and make it to each scheduled appointment. I felt a kind of protectiveness over them and wanted to make this process as smooth as possible. We had quite a few people who had never met with their representatives, much less been to the legislative offices, so at the end of the day the most important thing was their comfort and satisfaction. The goal was for them to leave DDH feeling proud of themselves and empowered. I want them to feel comfortable advocating for themselves in the future.

Hannah: I’m on the communications team, so all the social media posts, email invites, poster designs and leave behinds you saw? Yea, that was all me and Sarah (Sampson). It’s really hard when you’re working on administrative or communications tasks to see the value in what you’re doing. I get so caught up in making sure design pieces look perfect that I can easily forget the purpose behind why I’m making them. I had to constantly remind myself that all the materials I was creating and publishing was so, so important to getting the word out about DDH. Without good communications, a brilliant idea, event, or movement can turn out to be nothing. Without all of the work Sarah, myself and the public policy team put into DDH planning, how many self-advocates would have never heard of DDH or been encouraged to meet with their legislators?

What is one moment from DDH that made the greatest impact on you?
Beth:  It's not really DDH related, but Senator Thelma Harper had on the most beautiful blue velvet hat that I've ever seen in my life. I want that hat. Kidding! But seriously, the best part about it was seeing the school groups. We had school groups that came from different parts of the state and it was awesome to see them in action. I hope to see even more next year. 

Hannah: Like I said earlier, I had never been exposed to the world of advocacy before working with the Coalition. I knew of it, but had never seen it in action. DDH was great because I saw so many people and voices coming together on one day to advocate for the issues that impacted them and their communities. I loved seeing such a collective force move towards policy change that would benefit not just themselves, but also others. 

What was it like to see so many advocates coming together at once to speak on behalf of themselves and others?
Beth: With social media so prevalent these days, it's easy to see a lot of people talking online about what they think and what they do and how they want things to change. It's an entirely different ballgame to see people backing that talk up with good old-fashioned, in-person advocacy. The legislative offices were full of people who were there making sure their voices were being heard. It's the American spirit in action and it is beautiful.

Hannah: It was empowering and motivating for me to see so many advocates at DDH. Without these voices, where would legislation be? Where would the Disability Rights movement be? DDH reminded me of what Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As someone who does not identify as having a disability, I loved getting to be a part of this day and documenting / advocating for people who do have disabilities.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals who have joined to promote the full and equal participation of men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. We work together to advocate for public policy that ensures self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition
955 Woodland Street
Nashville, TN 37206

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