Self-Advocacy at the Legislature

Posted on May 31, 2019

This month has been a busy one for Maine’s legislature! Legislative committees have been holding public hearings and work sessions to discuss hundreds of proposed bills, including many that specifically impact people with developmental disabilities. In response, self-advocates from across the state have showed up in force to testify.

During this legislative session, self-advocates have shared both written and oral testimony about several different bills. This testimony has advocated for – among other goals – recognizing supported decision-making in Maine’s updated probate code, respecting the privacy of service recipients’ personal information, and including self-advocates in groups that make decisions about services. During public hearings, self-advocates have highlighted their critical role in shaping policy: “nothing about us without us.”

Self-advocates have described their ideas about proposed legislation and shared some of their lived experiences with legislators. For example, Kile Pelletier of Fort Kent described his own use of supported decision-making:

“When I wanted to buy a car, I asked people about their opinions. I had questions about types of cars, the purchasing process, and my finances. I spoke to my mom, dad, and friends. They feel comfortable helping me to make decisions, and they back me up. I’m my own person, so it is important that I can make my own decision. I didn’t want someone to make the choice for me.”

Many of those who have testified encourage the involvement of self-advocates in all processes that impact the lives of people with developmental disabilities. Sarah Trites of Sabattus shared the following with the Health and Human Services committee:

“I believe that it is important to have a voice in this process, because just like you, we all should have a say about the choices that affect our lives. It is wrong to have other people, in this case mostly providers of services, to dictate what the lives of people with developmental disabilities should look like.”

Many of the self-advocates who testified are involved with DD Partners for Positive Change (DDPPC) and Speaking Up for Us (SUFU), two formal self-advocacy groups in Maine. Disability Rights Maine (DRM) supported some self-advocates who expressed interest in sharing their ideas. Additionally, the Portland Press Herald featured self-advocate Joshua Weidemann in a recent article about proposed legislation.

Self-advocacy is a powerful civil rights movement, and Maine has a strong community of folks speaking up for themselves. By sharing their perspectives and experiences with legislators, self-advocates are shaping policies that impact their daily lives. We at DRM are so happy to help support them in their work!

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