Public Policy Advocacy: Your Efforts Count
By Jennifer Maham, Director of Government Relations
The Autism Society of North Carolina has dedicated its time and resources to advocating individually for families and people on the spectrum one-on-one across the state, but we know that individual support through our Resource Specialists is not enough alone to push for the changes we need in our world. We must take our collective voices to the North Carolina General Assembly and to Congress and our federal government to push for our rights, for equal access, for services and supports to live full lives in our communities. Advocacy has brought our community the things we now take as givens: access to special education in schools, Medicaid services for people with disabilities in their homes and communities, gains in insurance coverage, education options, the expansion of community services, and new programs such as the ABLE Act to save for the future. These policy initiatives have been hard-fought – one letter, one call, one visit at a time. ASNC works continuously to represent the needs of people and families through our public policy advocacy but it is YOUR voices that remain with elected officials when we leave their offices. Your voices describe the triumphs and challenges, the incredible strides as well as the lack of help – all the realities of life with autism. Advocacy is not always easy, but the important things take time and effort. So many gaps in services and supports still exist: 12,000 people on waiting lists for community waivers and other services, a lack of special-education services in schools, educators who need to better understand autism, and people without health care or supports waiting in emergency care for community support. Our public policy agenda for the next two years reflects the needs for a fair and equitable system. We cannot do this advocacy alone. We need all of the families and individuals touched by ASD – whether as a parent, a self-advocate, a friend, a neighbor, or a service provider – to get involved in autism advocacy to create much-needed public policy changes. 2017 marks the start of the long legislative session, which will run from mid-January through June, as well as the start of a new federal administration and congressional session. NC General Assembly legislators will introduce new bills as well as a two-year state budget. We urge everyone in the autism advocacy community to begin working with your legislators now, as they will be determining their priorities very quickly. Let’s make sure our priories are theirs. ASNC, and everyone we represent, need your help more than ever: 1. I dentify the people who represent you in Washington DC and in the NC General Assembly and brush up on civics lessons. The US Congress will have tremendous influence on health care, funding, and services for people with disabilities including Medicaid and Medicare. Your NC General Assembly members will decide on funding for special education, services offered for people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs, and how our services system will be managed. Most elected officials know little about autism; YOU can teach them. ASNC has an Advocacy 101 Toolkit at www.autismsocietync.org/advocacy101. It includes tips, examples, and a brief overview of how government works. The NC General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net can tell you who represents you at the state level as well as in the US Congress. 2. M ake a commitment to calling and writing your elected officials about autism. Sharing our stories with those in public office is one of the most powerful ways to educate them on the need for supports for people with autism and their families. The start of the new legislative session and the new administration following an election is a good time to introduce yourself and let your elected officials know who you are. Review our tips for advocating with your legislator at www.autismsociety-nc. org/advocacy101. 14 • The Spectrum, Winter 2017
3. L earn more about public policy that affects people with autism and stay informed about current issues. ASNC has created a periodic e-update focused on public policy and advocacy to keep you aware of what is happening across the state that may affect you or your family; sign up at www.autismsociety-nc.org/ policypulse. We encourage you to stay informed by also visiting the ASNC website at www.autismsociety-nc.org/stayinformed to sign up for other email newsletters and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Visit the ASNC blog regularly at https:// autismsocietyofnc.wordpress.com/ for the latest in issues affecting people with autism and their families.
ASNC Public Policy Targets What follows are our state public policy targets for 2017-2019. ASNC’s two-year policy targets match up with the two-year legislative and budget cycle. ASNC seeks input on policy targets from community members, studies the legislative outlook, and decides which issues it will work on to create policy changes. ASNC will be working with local chapters and community partners to keep you informed on these issues and provide opportunities to advocate with your elected and appointed officials.