My personal journey with the legislative process has been a battle at times. I find myself getting overwhelmed with issues that I care about and get myself into cycles of anxious thoughts whenever I have been focusing on them for too long. I have always known that the legislative process was important, but it never caught my interest until I was able to see the change that state government can make happen. It also helped to learn about how unique our legislative system really is. It is the second largest legislative body in the United States besides Congress and the fourth largest internationally. With such a wide range of people who represent us, it is not uncommon for people to know at least one legislator in the state. Those connections are important in making sure the disability community in New Hampshire has a voice in the legislation as a vulnerable population. The state legislature needs more people with lived experience with a multitude of disabilities as legislators and consultants on legislation to ensure that the needs of the community are met. Decisions about our care, environment, and rights should not be made without our participation and input. I knew that I needed to get more exposure to the legislative process if I wanted to be a strong self-advocate throughout my life.
My first interaction with the legislative process was when I started Leadership (https://iod.unh.edu/). I got the opportunity to work with other advocates on learning the roles that we could play in the legislative process. Former state representative, Wendy Chase was someone I really clicked with during Leadership. She has been integral in my advocacy journey and encouraging my participation as a self-advocate. I learned about the changes that parents and self-advocates made that led to the Laconia State School being shut down. They faced a lot of opposition and had to fight for their and their children’s right to live in the community.
During Leadership, I had the chance to meet legislators and go over bills that were being presented to them that were in the best interest of the disability committee. It was helpful when we were in an online format, but the experience changed for me when we were in person. It was amazing seeing legislators who were invited by Leadership participants come to discuss bills and issues that directly impact the disability community. I had the honor of seeing people share their stories with these legislators, give their experience, and get helpful feedback from people who are experts in the legislative process.
Leadership participants had to personally invite their legislators to the event so the connection and showing up for one another was an incredible feeling that everyone shared in that moment. Since I was then a Mentee (Leadership Mentor in training), I was able to look at the process from an outside perspective and see how the legislators make connections with the advocates and regard them as experts in their lived experience. I saw how building a connection to legislative representatives made the class stronger advocates who were not afraid to ask questions and work with the people who represent them.
This experience helped me understand the legislative process, it became more accessible, and I saw how those serving in the legislature really are just a group of people dedicated to figuring out how to tackle difficult issues.
When I joined ABLE NH about a year ago, I became part of an organization that brings the concerns of people with disabilities to the people making changes within our communities. I was invited to join ABLE NH by my friend Katie, who I met in Leadership after I showed some interest in what they were doing. This is where I saw direct interaction between advocates and the legislative process. My friend Alex, has been working with the town planning committee for the Dover Redesign Project. I met people who testified, people who follow the bills through the process, and people who worked to implement the new legislation that was made. The actions of ABLE NH advocates inspired me to interact with the legislative process in more direct ways. I owe a lot of my newly found confidence to Krysten Evans, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at ABLE NH. Krysten facilitates the Civic Engagement Task Force. Through this task force, I have learned how to reach out as an advocate. Krysten is fantastic at answering questions and guiding members of ABLE NH through the work and the legislative process. She is someone who I feel comfortable going to if I do not know how something works.
Since joining ABLE NH and participating in Leadership, I have been asking about bills and researching topics that pertain to the disability experience. I reached out to a legislator in Concord to ask about his planned bill. I got a lovely response back from him. I was impressed with how he worked hard to make the legislative language accessible and how he was more than willing to share what he was working on. I would like to continue to create a space where legislators can collaborate with the great people in the disability community, a space where all feel supported.