Let Me Show You Even More : My Month as a Rallying, Testifying Direct Care Worker Advocate

This is a re-blog of a post that I wrote for the Direct Care Alliance: 

(Click here for a link to my bio on the Direct Care Alliance website and other articles I have submitted. I have another one coming out soon. Link: blog.directcarealliance.org/author/bsiljander)

Bridget Siljander (right) at rally with DSPAM V-P Lindsay Short and Bridget's daughter, Imani (in red scarves).

From a fresh, wide-eyed neophyte to a rallying, testifying advocate – this is the magic of the Direct Care Alliance touch in the direct care worker advocacy movement.

When I blogged about the beginning of my journey as an advocate I told you: “Now, let me show what I can do!” Well, let me show you even more! Even I can hardly believe what I’ve been up to for the last month or so: testifying, meetings with legislators, and attending a huge rally.

On February 17, I testified before the Minnesota Senate Committee Health and Human Services Budget Division about budget cuts to disability and personal care attendant services recommended by the Governor. I signed up because it was a great advocacy opportunity: with PCA wages as low as they already are, we can’t afford further cuts.

After getting confirmation from the committee page that I was on the agenda to testify, I began my research. I consulted with numerous allies and more experienced advocates. I read the pieces in the Governor’s proposal that addressed Personal Care Assistance Services. Some members of the board of my association (I’m the president of the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota, or DSPAM) sent me documents to read in preparation, such as responses to the proposal from people with disabilities.

After a few days, my testimony was crafted. I delivered it with great pride.

As I testified, I wondered if the committee had yet seen the legislative letter that DSPAM had just sent to all Minnesota legislators. DSPAM would soon follow up on the letter with visits to the state capitol.

DSPAM’s Day at the Capitol was co-sponsored by several powerful organizations: the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, the Minnesota Association of Centers for Independent Living, and the Minnesota State Council on Disability. It was a successful, exciting event with a healthy turnout.

Shortly thereafter, DSPAM joined the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a large public policy coalition. At my first meeting, I heard about another opportunity to testify. This time, I requested a language modification in the Department of Human Services and state statutes to refer to all direct care workers as “Direct Support Professionals.” A professional title provides some level of professional recognition and an umbrella category to encompass the many different job titles, which are one indication of the fragmentation of the workforce.

Two days later, I testified at a Town Hall Forum on the Governor’s proposed budget. The following week, I met with a House Representative who was authoring a bill around personal care assistance services (it came out last Friday). He told me that he wants to talk to me more about these issues, and that I would be invited back for a stakeholders meeting.

Last weekend, I was at a large summit of many key stakeholders in the disability and aging fields. Saturday was a huge rally at our state capitol for disability issues. My daughter came with me; she has cerebral palsy and enjoys doing advocacy activities with me. That’s us in the picture in the red scarves, along with DSPAM vice-president Lindsay Short. (The scarves were to indicate who was with Advocating Change Together, a self-advocacy group.)

A major catalyst for me as an advocate was visiting Washington D.C. last December with Roy Gedat, the Direct Care Alliance’s National Advocacy Director. Roy and I went to the U.S. Senate building and visited the offices of my congress people. I met with Ryan Crowley of Senator Klobuchar’s office and connected with the staff of Senator Coleman. That experience, combined with the legislative letter drafted by two DSPAM board members, was enough to catapult me into more public policy activities.

As I go forward, I am collaborating with others and recruiting potential advocates to join me. This is what a grassroots movement is all about. The Direct Care Alliance has it right!

Bridget Siljander
Direct Care Worker Specialist
Direct Care Alliance

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