The Utah Legislature is now in full swing at the State Capitol. Last week, many people with disabilities and their families went there with the mission of learning how to tell lawmakers the ways policies affect their lives.
They then put what they learned into practice during a reception with Utah legislators.
“People with disabilities are having a harder time finding jobs because employers don’t know how to hire people who need a little help at work. I think they’re afraid to hire us,” said Eric Stoker, a seasoned advocate for people with disabilities.
“I want you to help businesses hire more people with disabilities, so we can spend our money like everyone else,” said Stoker in a role-playing a visit with a legislator to show families and other self-advocates with disabilities how to talk to their lawmakers.
It was all part of Disability Advocacy Day, at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday.
Over and over, presenters spoke on the power of telling stories.
“Advocacy is educating others about someone’s needs, and if they’re not getting those needs met, what you can do to get those needs met. My son currently has a part-time job, and he has a lot of significant barriers to employment,” said Lisa Wad.
Wade credited her son’s success to the power of having the courage to speak up.
She works with two organizations that support people with disabilities.
Josh Tuttle from West Valley City is just beginning his self-advocacy journey, but he’s been working since he was sixteen. Right now, he’s at Ream’s Food Store.
“And I’m training new people how to do the job,” said Tuttle.
Reporter: “If you went to talk to your legislator, what would you talk to them about?”
Tuttle: “To have more jobs for people with disabilities.”
Reporter: “When you’re working, when you’re paid, how does that feel?”
Lance Robertson, the US Assistant Secretary for Aging and Community Living, joined 16 other presenters to talk about the way laws affect people with disabilities.
“In DC, what we want to see every day, is how can we help you be successful as a state and in your local communities,” Robertson said.
The event ended with a reception that brought together legislators, people with disabilities and their families. Brenna Mantz of Logan spoke to three Utah lawmakers that night. It was the first time she’d ever done it.
“It was really good, to talk to legislators about how they can support us to help people to help other people with disabilities,” Mantz said. “I want them to know we have so much talent, we have high IQs and we are smart and we are gifted and make a difference in people’s lives, and we want to be part of the community and be supportive.”
Around 20 Utah legislators came to the event, sponsored by four Utah agencies.
Additional resources for disaibility rights advocacy:
The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University: The CPD is Utah’s federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). Its mission is to create inclusive communities and improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families through sustainable innovation, collaborative research, responsive service, and interdisciplinary training and education.
The Utah Developmental Disabilities Council: This organization will advocate, build capacity and encourage systems change to support people with disabilities and their families to fully and independently participate in their communities.
The Disability Law Center: Their mission is to enforce and strengthen the laws that protect the opportunities, choices and legal rights of people with disabilities in Utah.
The Utah Parent Center: This is the Utah Parent Training and Information Center, funded by the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.
Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities: The reception with legislators was held by this organization, which advocates for public policy affecting all people with disabilities in Utah.
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Persons with Disabilities.