The AZ Partners in Leadership program is designed to provide information, training, resources and skill building to self-advocates and the parents of children with disabilities. The goal of the training is to develop productive partnerships between people who need and use services with those who are in a position to make policy and law.
The new 2018-19 training session begins on October 26 and will be held in Phoenix. Topics include:
- History of the disability movement
- Inclusion and quality education
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) participation
- Community supports
- People First Language
- Person centered planning
- Assistive technology
- State and Federal policy
- Legislative process
- Organizing for change
- Planning for transition
Read the AZ Partners in Leadership flyer.
Advocacy is defined as speaking up for oneself or drawing attention to an issue, and providing information and guidance to those who are in a position to affect change. This is an especially useful ability for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
But speaking up for oneself can be extremely difficult especially since rules, laws, regulations, policies and public opinion can be perceived as impenetrable barriers which can seem impossible to navigate. But these are only hurdles that self-advocates take on as challenges to be overcome.
Meet Greggory Ohannessian. A high achiever, Greggory is also autistic. “For me, I prefer to identify myself as an autistic person,” said Greggory. “I say that because autism has been part of my identity since I was first diagnosed at [age] six.”
Though highly educated, Greggory needs assistance with life skills. Through the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), Greggory works with a habilitation professional on goals such as cooking, meal planning, budgeting, and housekeeping. He also works on planning, organizing and scheduling.
With a bachelor’s degree in educational studies and two master’s degrees under his belt, Greggory learned to advocate for himself while still in college. Knowing that he needed a little extra help with life skills, he requested a one-on-one aide. His request was initially denied. But with determination and drive, Greggory became one of the first students at Arizona State University to ever be allowed a one-on-one aide.
Greggory takes advocacy seriously. His first master’s degree is in Communication and Advocacy. His second is in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on disabilities studies. He is particularly interested in how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media, including the news, movies and television.
In addition to his formal training, Greggory recently graduated from the Arizona Partners in Leadership program, which is facilitated by Pilot Parents of Southern Arizona, a contractor of DDD. According to Lynn Kallis, Executive Director of Pilot Parents of Southern Arizona, Partners in Leadership graduates have effectively influenced policymakers and legislators by serving on boards and committees or by taking paid positions within state or local agencies.
“Together with continued collaboration with the Division of Developmental Disabilities, we reflect our commitment to the development of dynamic new leaders prepared to take on the challenges facing the state in the next few years,” said Kallis.
Looking for other ways to get involved with advocacy projects, Greggory has his eye on obtaining first-hand experience with policymaking. “One of these projects is to be a mentee to a policymaker. I’m not involved yet, but I hope to be.”
Greggory offers the following advice to those who are interested in advocating for themselves or for a family member who has a disability:
“Build your community. Meet with a lot of different people – people with and without disabilities, different race. Be confident and brave. Be sure to ask a lot of questions. Have things in writing. Learn from your mistakes. Have SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound) goals. Find the people who really support you, your goals and hopes.”
“It’s important to take risks,” said Greggory. “Don’t let anybody discourage you. Get involved politically. Commit but don’t over-commit – don’t stretch yourself too thin. But make sure you’re actually committed and make sure everything is scheduled out.”
As best-selling author Maya Angelou said, “I learned a long time ago, the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
By Lyn Riley