Policy Shift: Get Involved!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hello blogosphere! I look forward to using this platform in the ensuing months to exchange ideas on transitioning and share a bit about my own experiences. I have to admit, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the word ‘transitioning’ is changing regimes; I think of campaigning, voting, and inaugurations. Although these images are undoubtedly steeped in my love for politics, I think the concept of changing regimes is equally applicable here. Transitioning from childhood to adulthood means that instead of relying on parents and other authorities to make decisions, it’s time to take responsibility and lead the direction of your life.

Fortunately for us Bob Schieffer junkies, one of the ways to exercise the power of adulthood is to get involved in the political process. It’s not always easy. For example, most people register to vote at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Because I don’t have a driver’s license, I had to seek out alternative registration sites. But the effort was minimal – in some states you can even register online – and well worth it! For additional ease, you might want to consider voting via absentee ballot. I used this option while interning in Washington, D.C., and wished I had used it the year the wheelchair-accessible entrance to my polling place was locked.

As much as I hate to invoke my inner Civics lecturer, voting is a right as well as a privilege. Educating yourself about the issues is a serious endeavor because the issues themselves are serious. Debate continues over universal healthcare, in terms of both possible implementation and potential congressional or judicial repeal. These developments have a direct effect on individuals with disabilities. More abstract policies, such as those dealing with economic wellbeing, are of importance to the disability community, too. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, only 21% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force. I’d like to see this number increase dramatically, and believe it’s possible with an improved economic outlook.

Although such issues have been featured on the news as of late, it’s important to focus on what matters to you even after the campaign ads have stopped and the hype dies down. During its last session, the Indiana Legislature was discussing plans to cut dental, podiatry, and other services under Medicaid. I went to the Statehouse with my friend Katrina (a fellow blogger on this site), and we tag-teamed our legislators such that Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage would be proud. Katrina focused on how the services benefited recipients and the State, and I explained that because the services were preventative, cutting them would only cost the State more in the long run. I like to think that our bipartisan collaboration that day helped prevent the cuts. I know we gave our legislators something to think about.

Part of transitioning to adulthood is about realizing you are the expert on yourself, with regard to your care, your desires, and your situation. Legislators and other policymakers do not have the expertise you do, though their position requires they take action on issues affecting all constituents. Do not hesitate to share what you know with policymakers!

When I wasn’t happy with Indiana’s preference for home health agencies to more self-directed caregiver selection, I testified before a House committee about my experiences. As my horror stories unfolded, legislators’ eyes widened. Several came to thank me later, and apologized for having no idea that dealing with home care agencies could be so difficult. I couldn’t blame them; the majority of prior testimony was from nursing institutions with financial stakes in the decision. Representatives had only heard one side of the story. The fact that the opposition is probably advocating on its behalf makes it doubly important that you champion your position.

Know that you don’t even have to wait for an issue to come onto the political radar before taking action. There are several policies I would like to see in my state, including a licensure program for CNAs. This would ensure that home health aides, like professional caregivers, would have a uniform knowledge baseline and could be held accountable for egregious errors and abuse. I plan to bring up this plan, among others, to the healthcare working group of my favorite gubernatorial candidate. As many candidates are beginning to draft their policy platforms for next year’s state and national elections, now is a good time to get involved in developing the future.

In short, while we come into our own, we also come into the world. Part of adulthood is accepting responsibilities to ourselves and our community, and one way to improve the condition of both is by becoming politically active. Whether you choose to run for office or simply cast a well-informed ballot, you make a difference. I know it sounds cliché, but what can I say? Democracy is an ancient concept. Perhaps we could change it up with a fresh face. Yours!

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