Advocating for Systems Change

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An important result of advocacy for public policy is to change the systems that cause problems in our society for people with disabilities.  The disability public policy team, along with numerous other organizations, plays a key role in making that happen in Tennessee, we asked them how they advocate for individuals with disabilities on an individual and systemic level.  You will notice by their responses collaboration is crucial to the success of systems change.

Tennessee Disability Coalition’s dedicated public policy team surveys self-advocates and member organizations in the fall of every year to identify their policy priorities. They then engage in significant research into these issues, build grassroots support, and look to engage policymakers to carry rulemaking or new legislation on their behalf. Their large network of disability advocacy organizations, families, and self-advocates is fundamental to their approach to systemic change. In recent years, they have successfully passed legislation that enacted the state’s new Katie Beckett program, establishing the Council on Autism Spectrum disorders, self-direction of HCBS, telehealth legislation, and a ban on corporal punishment for students with disabilities. They also operate a number of direct-service initiatives, including the Southeast ADA network, Family Voices, Benefits to Work, Brain Links, and a small grants program. These programs provide important support for individuals with disabilities, families of children with disabilities, and disability-advocacy organizations so that they can support systemic change.

Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities enlists the help of many partners to change systems, including people with disabilities and their families, policymakers, university staff, nonprofit providers, and state government and community leaders. Examples of systems include housing, transportation, healthcare, education, employment, and individual supports at home and in the community. Systems change is an ongoing process, because change is part of everyday life, and we can always discover ways to make our systems better.

Advocacy is at the heart of Disability Rights Tennessee and central to every action they take to fulfill their mission of protecting the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. Whether working one-on-one with an individual to resolve an issue, educating legislators about the impact of proposed legislation, working with self-advocates and service providers to address issues through collaboration, or filing litigation, they always use advocacy as their central tool. Their work greatly benefits from having advocates and attorneys on staff with unique expertise in their field, from education, to juvenile justice, to Medicare, and more. Working together, their teams find solutions that most benefit individuals as well as the community as a whole.

The Arc of Tennessee participates in several committees and stakeholder groups to ensure that the voices of our members are heard ​on a wide variety of issues. In addition, they collaborate with other organizations to ensure that our collective voices can be heard on issues important to the disability community.   If you have an interest in joining The Arc of Tennessee Public Policy Committee calls, please email Heidi Haines at