Taking Advocacy a Step Further: Easterseals Participants Make an Impact at the Capitol

This spring, several Easterseals Southern California participants put their advocacy skills into action by heading to Sacramento, CA to meet face-to-face with legislators. During several organized advocacy events, they joined hundreds of other disabled Californians and activists to reject the Governor’s delay of funding for critical disability services.

These three individuals – Betty, Preeti, and Andy – are members of ‘Our Voices Matter,’ a participant-run advocacy and advisory committee with Easterseals Adult Day Services (ADS). Members of the group gather virtually from across Southern California’s ADS sites to discuss matters that impact them, both as Easterseals participants and as members of the disability community. When they were given the opportunity to make their voices heard in front of lawmakers, several of them jumped at the chance.

“At first I was nervous,” said Our Voices Matter member Betty, “but then I thought, if my voice is not heard, how in the world are people going to know what we need? So, I said to myself ‘let’s do this.’” 

Our Voices Matter member Betty in front of the office of Senator Catherine Blakespear, 38th district.

During the Legislative Affairs Conference in March, Betty and Preeti had one-on-one conversations with California state assembly members and senators to share their personal stories, current challenges, and their fears for the future if support services are cut. Kathleen Kolenda, VP Easterseals Adult Day Services, said that many legislators leaned into these conversations and demonstrated immediate support for the cause.

“There is no substitute for hearing from the people impacted,” said Kathleen. “Theirs are the most important voices for legislators to hear from directly about the impact of budget decisions to delay or cut funding.”

Our Voices Matter President Andy with two Easterseals employees at the ARC DisCo event in April.

At the California Disability Community Advocacy event in April, Our Voices Matter President Andy had a similar experience. At his first advocacy event, he was excited to represent Easterseals staff and his peers and hopes to participate in more advocacy efforts in the future saying, “It’s important to advocate because it defends equal rights and accessibility in the community.” 

“I think it is essential for Andy to use his voice because it has a greater impact,” said Lendy, Director of Person-Centered Services at Easterseals. “I have witnessed him, like the rest of the Our Voices Matter members, develop advocacy skills, and I have watched how empowered they’ve all become as they start to learn more about their rights and the responsibilities that come with them.”

Preeti, who has been an outspoken member of Our Voices Matter since its inception in 2022, shared how candid she became when she met with legislators. Not only did she provide personal details about her disability, but she also asked direct questions about the funding delay.

“When I spoke to the legislators, I told them that I am a quadriplegic, which means I can’t use all four of my limbs,” said Preeti. “I asked them why there is a delay and told them we cannot wait for another year for funding. I just wanted to put my face out there and let them know, we are people also. We need services.”

Our Voices Matter members Betty and Preeti at the Legislative Affairs Conference.

All three participants used their voices and stories to show lawmakers the impact that funding cuts will have on their own lives. This gave legislators insight into the stark and potentially devastating reality of these budget delays. It also empowered the participants to speak up for themselves and know that they really can and do make a difference.

While the Governor’s revised budget proposal in May indicates the rate implementation delay still stands due to deeper California budget cuts, advocacy efforts will continue.

To make your voice heard and to stand alongside Easterseals and our participants, urge legislators to reject the delay of funding for disability services and supports by sending an email to lawmakers.

Watch this video to get a peak into Betty and Preeti’s trip to Sacramento for the Legislative Affairs Conference:  

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