On September 17, IEL celebrated the fifth graduation of the DC Advocacy Partners program. DC Advocacy Partners (DCAP) is a nine-month leadership and advocacy training program designed for self-advocates and family members of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and professionals working with people with disabilities. DCAP’s goal is to empower a core group of District residents to work with policymakers to improve policies, programs, and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia. IEL has ran this program for the past five years through a generous grant from the D.C. Developmental Disabilities Council. Seventy-nine D.C. residents have graduated from DCAP, including 17 this month.
Through DCAP, Partners gain leadership skills and techniques to help develop positive partnerships with elected officials, school personnel, and other community leaders. Partners receive opportunities to engage in interactive learning experiences and gain valuable information about current issues, services, and strategies, as well as policymaking and legislative processes at local and national levels. Each month, the program focuses on a different topic, including disability history, integrated employment, inclusive education, and community organizing. Partners hear from speakers who are local and national subject matter experts on each topic. Partners are introduced to and become members of a D.C. network of community advocates working together to improve opportunities for Washingtonians with disabilities.
DCAP graduates develop into strong systems advocates. They testify each year about disability issues before DC City Council at budget, oversight, and bill hearings. They also meet with city council staffers to advocate for issues they care about. Partners also join boards, commissions, and campaigns. These include the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, the Police Reform and Accountability Task Force, D.C. State Independent Living Council, D.C. Developmental Disabilities Council, D.C. Developmental Disabilities Fatality Review Committee, D.C. Commission on Persons with Disabilities, and numerous local and national nonprofits.
At the graduation ceremony, Partners and close to 100 guests heard from keynote speaker Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, as well as local community leaders. Partners presented projects they worked on throughout the course of the program. These projects are designed to improve, change, or evaluate the local community and benefit people with disabilities. Long-term projects this year included making disability services available to homeless and displaced youth, the mental health community engaging with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and several projects designed to help schools improve their inclusive education for students with disabilities.
This year's graduates had many positive things to say about there experiences.
“It has been powerful to listen to fellow advocacy partner experiences and recommendations to share. Also hearing from the subject matter experts has brought more understanding and knowledge on disability issues. The program has also sharpened my advocacy skills to be a more effective advocate,” said DCAP graduate Vivian Guerra.
"I can't describe the value of the DCAP program," said DCAP graduate Grace Odrick. "There are no words—this program was greater than perfect!! It's needed in the disability community.”
“DCAP Program was awesome. It's been life changing, rewarding and given me so much over these last few months," said DCAP graduate Tiffany Thompson. "I'm truly blessed, thankful and grateful for this amazing experience.”