Collaboration leads to change

In a short time, the Self-Advocacy Leadership team has made its mark in NH

I was so excited when the director of the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities asked if I was interested in facilitating a new advocacy group that would serve as advisors to the council and other organizations.  

On Feb. 22, 2013, the Self-Advocacy Leadership team (SALT) began  working together.

SALT serves as consultants for the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities and other advocacy groups. Our members are talented citizens who want to effect positive change in New Hampshire. We are committed to supporting people who have disabilities by tackling the big issues that keep them from living quality lives in their communities.

We were all so energized at the first meeting, the team wrote a mission statement in 10 minutes. That’s when I knew that this group was going to be different than any of the other groups of advocates I had worked with. Everyone had leadership experience and we didn’t have to start from, “what does advocacy mean to you?”

But we did have to decide what we should work on. I advised the team to choose issues that would be important to the wider community and not just the disabled community. Collaboration is an important part of advocacy and change.

After brainstorming, we came up with four core issues to focus on: transportation, mentorship, employment/real careers, and abuse and neglect prevention.

For our first project, we decided to write a position paper outlining the issues related to transportation, especially for members of the community who cannot drive, called “Modernizing the Infrastructure of Our Cities and Towns including Public Transportation.” It was distributed to several organizations including the Department of Transportation and the Institute on Disability.

About two years ago, the then-director of the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities asked SALT to take on the issue of abuse and neglect prevention. This is a complicated issue, so the topic needed to be broken down into manageable activities.

The team chose to translate the adult protective services law, using words that are easier to read and understand. Rights are not truly ours unless we know how to use them. The process of going through the document paragraph by paragraph and rewriting it with user-friendly language proved to be very challenging.

For example, the word “incapacitated” that appeared over and over in the law was offensive and it didn’t accurately describe people who have disabilities. We thought the word “vulnerable” would be a better representation for most people. To make this vocabulary change we knew that the law would have to be amended.

Committee member John Fenley, also the president of People First of New Hampshire, and I were invited by the Coalition Against Later Life Abuse to do a presentation about SALT and our project to rewrite the adult protective services laws.

During the presentation, a group member, who is a police officer, said that in law enforcement, the term “incapacitated” refers to a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I asked the officer, “Do I seem incapacitated? Should I be taken off the street?” He answered, “No ma’am.”

A state representative and member of CALLA, Kathy Rogers, agreed to sponsor HB1165, “Changing Incapacitated to Vulnerable in the Adult Protective Services Law.” Then-Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law on May 5, 2016.

Collaboration has been extremely important as we near the completion of this project. SALT has worked with EngAging NH, the Alzheimer’s Association, New Hampshire Health and Human Services, Disability Rights Center, and CALLA. The team plans to launch a major marketing campaign by distributing educational materials. These materials will be distributed throughout the state to senior citizens and the agencies that serve people with disabilities. Our brochure and poster designs share the theme of a “lock and key” and features the slogan that the group created: “The key to staying safe is knowing your rights… Unlock your power!”

Kathy Bates’ background is in elementary education with an emphasis on special education. Kathy was a member of the NH Developmental Disabilities Council for nine years and an officer for five years. She has been a group leader at the Leadership Series presented by the Institute on Disability for seven years and has worked for People First NH as a group leader.

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