About 40 public affairs students were introduced to The Independence Center at a community discussion hosted by UCCS School of Public Affairs on October 29, 2015. Attendees were given theoretical and practical perspectives along with real life stories about policy barriers for people with disabilities.
The Community Discussion focused on Advocacy and Policy Development Supporting Independent Living for People with Disabilities. Panelists were: The Independence Center’s Carrie Baatz (Community Organizer), Billy Allen (Board Member), People’s Access to Homes’ (PATH) Michael Hazard, Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Andrew Winders, Amblicab’s Gail Nehls and Rocky Mountain ADA Center’s Maggie Simms.
Billy presented on the history of education and policies affecting people with disabilities in the United States. Carrie presented on the issue of accessible and affordable housing and how community organizing can affect this issue in Colorado Springs. Michael spoke about his background in law and education and affecting change at grassroots level, especially now with PATH, a community group formed out of the community organizing efforts of The IC.
“Nonprofits sometimes don’t take their responsibility for advocacy seriously,” Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC, said after the forum. “Nonprofits can be so service focused that advocacy is neglected.”
Michael Hazard (PATH) talked about encountering people who were surprised that The Independence Center has effectively broadened the spectrum and included people with disabilities on all areas of the spectrum. He spoke of going out to talk with people to encourage them to become civically engaged regarding the sit-lie ordinance.
“When I first started to tell people ‘hey, we’re working with the homeless, we’re working with sit/lie [proposed ordinance], we’re working with [people with] disabilities, we’re working with affordable housing, people started to say ‘but it’s The Independence Center’ [in a questioning/confused way].”
He starts to smile.
“We went ‘yeah’.” Michael draws out the word emphatically and nods vigorously, to “knowing” chuckles from the audience. “That’s the interesting thing about what The Independence Center has done here.”
Patricia Yeager is one of the “knowing”. She says, “The Independence Center is different. Similar to the starfish story is the metaphor of the beach. We can sweep the beach or we can remodel the beach and make it better. We can’t do this for people with disabilities. They have to do it themselves. We can help. We’re committed to giving them a voice.”
Several questions from the audience were directed to representatives from The Independence Center, including questions about funding, starting grassroots movements, and how to obtain and utilize data in community organizing. The entirety of the discussion can be viewed here online.
Download the press release: 10.29.15 THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER TEACHES UCCS PUBLIC AFFAIRS STUDENTS HOW TO AFFECT CHANGE THROUGH ADVOCACY