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Advocacy: person in a wheelchair

West Virginia Youth Disability Caucus

Kelly Dowdy Simpson of MTSTCIL reporting.

The Caucus

The caucus began with a game called People Bingo. The delegates answered questions about disability issues. Then came dinner and a chance for everyone to get to know one another. After dinner Sarah Triano with Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago who is a disability rights activist and a writer spoke to us on disability pride. She proudly and openly identifies herself as a young woman with a non-apparent disability. She gave a very dynamic presentation to the delegates which ended in a rap. She was great! My son really enjoyed her presentation and had lots of nice things to say about her and he said he learned a lot from her presentation. After the evening speaker, Marissa Johnson discussed defining disabilities.

Governor Manchin

That evening the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, came by and said hello to everyone, shook hands with all the delegates and talked with them. Some of youth delegates had never met a state representative until that point - so they started at the top! The delegates were very impressed with Governor Manchin. The week following the caucus my son and I saw the governor on the news and he made of point of saying to everyone in the room, I shook hands with him last week and he was cool!

Saturday's Presentations

Saturday morning started bright and early at 8:00 a.m. Marissa Johnson and Jan and Mark Derry discussed disability pride and culture. Jan Derry is the director of the Northern West Virginia Center for Independent Living in Morgantown, WV. Her husband, Mark Derry, is the owner of Eastlake, Derry and Associates - Accessible Solutions, located in Morgantown, WV. They specialize in accessibility surveys.

During the day we had heard presentations by local speakers including Susan Edwards, Director of the West Virginia Advocates and David Stewart from Eastlake, Derry and Associates and Fair Shake Network. That evening there was a dance for the delegates and everyone had a terrific time listening to the music and dancing.

Defining Power

Sunday we had a session on "Defining power and What it looks like", with Rebecca Hare. Other speakers included Corey Rowley, Marissa Johnson, and Sarah Trino. There was a session on Assistive Technology by Jamie Hayhurst the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS). The delegates participated in a game of learning how to work together, called the "Maze of Change." Everyone enjoyed it and did fantastic job working together! We learned about leadership styles and how to identify your own style from Jan and Mark Derry.

The delegates learned chants from Mark Derry like, "WHAT DO WE WANT?" "ACTION!" "WHEN DO WE WANT IT?" "NOW!" and "OUR HOMES NOT NURSING HOMES!" The delegates chanted from then on! With the help of Mark Derry, we made a call to the "ADAPT ACTION" group in Tennessee and talked with them about their "sit in" at the governors office there. That was a big eye opener to everyone and was very inspirational. To learn more about Tennessee's ADAPT action, visit the Memphis Center for Independent Living Web site.

How a Bill Becomes Law

After dinner that evening, we learned how a bill becomes law from our speakers, Jan Lilly-Stewart and Rob Casto. Jan is an Advocacy Specialist with the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council (WVDDC). Jan is also the coordinator for the Partners in Policy Making Program in West Virginia sponsored by the WVDDC. Rob is an assistant to Bob Kiss, Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates. You can read more on the subject on this Web site at A Bill Becomes Law.

Mock Legislative Session

On Monday we loaded the bus at 9:00 a.m. and headed to the West Virginia Capitol to hold a mock legislative session in the House chambers. Speaker Kiss served as our guide during the session. Speaker Kiss presented a proclamation to each youth delegate and took the time to take a picture with each of them. Speaker Kiss was elected to the house in 1988 and has held the positions of Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Committee on Finance and was elected Speaker in January 1997. The delegates presented their bill to Speaker Kiss. The delegates drafted a bill they presented during the House session declaring March 15th of every year, Justin Dart Day and Disability History Day.

After returning to the Marriott we had a mentor luncheon where the delegates were able to meet with a variety of volunteer mentors. Following the luncheon, our speaker was Ed Rabel an award winning broadcast journalist. He recently returned to his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia to promote his alma mater, the University of Charleston. He joins the faculty and staff as a Special Assistant for Advancement. He gave a very inspiring speech to the delegates.

Delegates as Leaders

During the four days of the caucus I watched the how the delegate's personalities came out, from being shy to speaking out for what they believe. The delegates also developed a sense of self-confidence and pride in themselves and their disabilities.

My son, Erick, was also a delegate at the caucus and he was very impressed with the speakers and he said the experience was great for him and he made some new friends. I could see a sense of pride in Erick when he completed the training.

It was an hectic four days and I enjoyed meeting such a wonderful and impressive group of young adults. I am looking forward to the next Youth Disability Caucus. And with youth like the ones I met during the caucus, our state has some phenomenal leaders for it's future!

Mountain State Centers for Independent Living