May 2023
Tina Smith, U.S. Senator Tina Smith from Minnesota, is pictured at left.

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (left), who was represented at the event by a health policy staffer, spoke about the importance of disability advocates.

The Institute and partners from The Arc Minnesota recently met with staff members supporting Minnesota’s Congressional delegation as part of the annual Disability Policy Seminar, a virtual forum for advocating for high-priority issues that affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Participants included several fellows from the Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders (MNLEND) program, Institute staff members, and several self-advocates.

“The people closest to the problem know it best and understand how to find solutions, so I’m grateful whenever my staff and I have the opportunity to speak with disability advocates and talk about ways we can make life better for those living with disabilities,” said U.S. Senator Tina Smith, who was represented at the event by a health policy staffer. “I look forward to continuing our work together and appreciate all their important advocacy.”

Macdonald Metzger, ICI’s director of outreach, said the annual event is a reminder to policymakers that the Institute is an important resource for them in understanding and advocating for issues important to people with disabilities.

“I highly appreciated having the opportunity to speak at the event as a constituent of U.S. Representative Dean Phillips,” said Milena Bates (MNLEND 2021-22), co-founder of the Minnesota Autistic Alliance. “I talked about the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, which is a bipartisan bill that would create grants for states to aid in transitioning from subminimum wage to competitive employment by creating technical assistance centers and establishing reporting requirements. Minnesota is among the states with the highest number of employees working for subminimum wage, so inclusive employment and workplace training are extremely important here.”

The sessions were also an opportunity for legislative staff members “to hear directly from people with disabilities, their families, and other supporters about how policies affect their day-to-day lives,” said Barbara Kleist, program director for entrepreneurial and development programs at the Institute.

Kleist, the sibling of a person with disabilities, shared details about the current workforce crisis in Minnesota, as well as how the crisis is affecting her own ability to balance work while filling in gaps in staffing support her sibling receives.

“The visit was a great event and useful for anyone, but especially those engaging in academic or theoretical work because it encourages us to think through the pragmatic applications to people’s lives these issues have,” said Akeem Anderson (MNLEND 2022-23), a University of Minnesota J.D./Ph.D. student who is also enrolled in the Institute’s Disability Policy and Services Certificate program. “I was able to discuss disability funding and the economic disenfranchisement of people with disabilities. Our representatives are often very responsive and supportive of these issues, so I tried to think through the arguments and give them tools to advocate on our behalf.”