By Rebecca Hill and Aaron Owusu, Spring 2020 MCDD Trainees
Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Day (DD Day) is a day for self-advocates, family members, professionals, students and community members to celebrate the disability community’s accomplishments and address concerns regarding budgeting and proposed bills to members of Maryland’s General Assembly. This year’s event took place in Annapolis on February 12. The experience was sponsored by the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD) and the Center for Diversity in Public Health Leadership Training at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
As MCDD trainees, we can say that DD Day was an experience like no other. We felt extremely empowered as the day’s activities began and we heard the thoughts and feelings of elected officials and organizational leaders regarding the rights of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). State agency and organizational leaders and self-advocates shared other helpful information regarding budget changes and bills that needed to be passed for the benefit of the IDD community.
The most impactful experience of the day for us was meeting with members of the Maryland General Assembly alongside self-advocates voicing their concerns. Seeing hundreds of self-advocates traveling through the Senate and House of Delegates, and in and out of offices, was powerful. Unfortunately, due to the volume of meetings, the scheduled meetings were brief, limiting vital conversation between advocates and elected officials. Another component was the willingness of each elected official to listen and act on the issues being addressed to them. Fortunately, every single self-advocate was passionate and expressive, fighting for their equal rights as a human being.
We ended the day’s events at Mission BBQ, where we had a lunch-and-learn debriefing. We enjoyed delicious food while hearing from Christian Miele, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Disabilities, talking to state representatives and self-advocates on the many issues that face the IDD community as a whole. We heard from community members with experience in the fields of IDD and IDD law. Liz Weintraub, AUCD senior advocacy specialist; Denise Rozell, JD, AUCD director of policy innovation; and advocate Philip Weintraub shared personal and relatable stories about their lives, giving us knowledge of how we as individuals can be better advocates for people with IDD. Some of this advice included the do’s and don’ts of getting messages to legislators and how to fundamentally support the cause for inclusive and meaningful lives for individuals with IDD.
All in all, participating in DD Day was a motivating experience. We learned a multitude of tools that we can use to make a difference in our community and the communities around us. The biggest lesson from the day was that the IDD community isn’t afraid to fight for the equal rights that they deserve.
Authors Rebecca Hill and Aaron Owusu were seniors at Towson University during their internships at the MCDD. They completed their internships amid school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic and graduated in May. Both Hill and Owusu majored in health education and promotion. Hill minored in applied adult disabilities studies, and Owusu minored in healthcare management.