March 23, 2022

DD Awareness Month: How I Advocate at the State Level and How You Can Too

Written By Ivanova Smith

As a parent with a disability, my passion is advocacy, and I am passionate about protecting the rights of parents with IDD like myself and others! There is still lots of discrimination parents with IDD face. Here in Washington State, we still had lots of cases of parent with IDD having their children separated. Last Legislative session I advocate on a bill HB 1227, which would help take away the presumption that people with disabilities can’t care for their children. This bill would make it so that Child Protective Services (CPS) could not separate families based on assumptions, but only with actual evidence of harm. This makes it harder for nurses and doctors to use CPS to separate babies from their parents at the hospital. I was excited when the bill passed and was sign into law in 2021!

This year, in the current state legislative session, the focus is a little different in my advocacy. I want to make sure that people with disabilities represent themself on workgroups, taskforce and committees that directly affect disability services. To do this, last year I helped create the “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US” HB-1802 (read more about it HERE).  This bill will be helpful in making sure policy makers, legislators and bureaucrats hear from people with lived experienced on the policy they create and makes sure people with direct experience can be part of making policy better. I lead a coalition of self-advocates to create legislation with primary sponsors.  Sadly, we had lots of challenges and misinformation was spread about the bill that in the end killed the bill last year.  This means we must continue that quest this upcoming session.  We are hoping to do a media campaign to get more education on the bill out to families so misinformation doesn’t get spread.

During legislative sessions I meet with legislators over zoom and tell them about my bills or I testify at bill hearings. Anyone can testify at their Legislature bill hearing and remote virtual hearings make it even more accessible. You can check your state disability agency for more information (list of states HERE).  Lots my advocacy I do at my desk chair in my house with my kids running around.  I even had legislators’ comments on my cute little zoom bombers (my kids!).

Since COVID, advocacy looks very different, but the work is still very important and more needed than ever. If you have passion, if there is a new policy you want, or a policy in your state you want changed, it is good to connect with your legislators and tell them your passions.  They want to hear from you because they also want to count on your vote during elections, so it is important to make your needs known.  It is their job to hear it! There are many ways you can connect with them. Email, zoom, phone are main easy ways to connect these days, but some states have gone back to in person on so some places you can met with them in person. Just check with your local state gov website, or your local self-advocacy organization HERE, and start advocating!

About Ivanova Smith

Ivanova Smith is Self-Advocate leader in Washington State. They work as activist advocate for Atwork! and University of Washington LEND program Self Advocacy Faculty. They also are involved in several self-advocacy organizations, People First of Washington, SAIL and Allies in Advocacy. They are passionate in making sure all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are given access to all aspects of life: working, having friendships in community, marriage, and children. Ivanova is happily married and has a 4-year-old little girl, Alexandra, and 1-year-old daughter Hildegard. Ivanova is passionate about making sure all parents with I/DD have rights and get needed supports in parenting.