By Ed Holen, Executive Director
Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council
I have just returned from a very remarkable and inspiring conference, the EPIC Western State DD Network Partner Summit. EPIC, which stands for Equal Partners Interstate Congress (EPIC), represents the collaboration of disability civil rights organizations in Idaho, Alaska, Wyoming and Nevada to strengthen self advocacy/civil rights in our states. 11 states were invited to participate in the conference, building on the success of the EPIC grant. Ten states participated, including folks from our state.
The conference was organized by self advocates, the speakers, for the most part, were self advocates, the panel moderators and MCs were self advocates, and the major number of the participates were self advocates.
We had the opportunity to hear from the new Commissioner on the Administration of Disability, Melissa Ortiz. Several of her staff also attended. We also heard about federal issues and future directions from staff from the national organizations that support DD Councils, the Protection & Advocacy agencies and the University Centers.
All that being said, the most inspiring part of the of the conference was listening to self- advocates talk about their journeys, how they expect their voices to be heard, and how they are ready now to step into leadership roles in the disability movement—truly, to become equal partners at the table.
One of the best conversations we had was how self-advocates can become an equal partner with the Councils, Protection & Advocacy agencies and the UCEDDs, under the network collaboration required by the DD Act, to be the fourth partner. This does not have to wait until the DD Act is reauthorized. It can happen how. We are doing it in Washington State, learning as we go, and making it a true co-equal partnership collaboration.
With any such endeavor, a lot of work went into the planning and implementation of the conference. Our staff worked very hard to make this a great event. We should all be proud of the great work that Brian, Linda, Emily, and Kathy did in planning the conference and the hard work they did during the conference, on site, to make sure everything ran very smoothly.
As Allison Cruz from the federal Administration on Community Living told me “you team and the self-advocates were indeed very inspiring. The work you do is making a difference on the personal, local, state and national level.”
Again, thanks Brian, Linda, Emily and Kathy for a great job well done.