TASH Board Visits Federal Agencies and Congress on August 6

TASH has become much more influential at the federal level in recent years through a concerted effort by the Board of Directors to get to know the leaders of agencies that have responsibility for programs impacting people with disabilities. TASH’s influence has also increased steadily on Capitol Hill. These relationships have paid off in important ways. For example, TASH has been able to increase federal focus on inclusive education, customized employment, Discovery, personalized supports, and the elimination of aversive practices resulting in the introduction of new legislation, influencing legislation that is introduced, stopping bad legislation from moving forward, contributing to the creation of guidance to states, and the creation of federal grant programs.

The TASH Board of Directors held its annual retreat in Washington, DC on August 6th, and spent the day meeting with Congressional representatives and several federal agencies. A meeting with the Office of Disability Employment Policy, led by Mike Callahan, Chair of TASH’s Employment Committee, featured TASH’s work to advance Customized Employment and Discovery. In a second meeting, Mike was accompanied by David Westling, TASH’s Board President, and Becky Garland and David Maence, TASH members from North Carolina, to discuss the importance of postsecondary education, Customized Employment and Discovery with staff from the Rehabilitative Services Administration, led by Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. This meeting highlighted David Maence’s employment outcome as a result of his postsecondary program, which represents a $100,000 annual savings of public funds, as calculated by his mother, Becky, a Certified Public Accountant. Assistant Secretary Yudin shared a desire to tie the need for work experiences during high school to the President’s initiative for Career Readiness. Opportunities were discussed to advance the use of Customized Employment and Discovery throughout the VR system, and follow-up action is anticipated.

Several board members, led by Lisa Mills, TASH’s Public Policy Chair and Merrill Friedman, Community Living Chair, headed to Baltimore to meet with Barbara Edwards, Director, Disabled and Health Programs Group at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. Several members of the CMS Team joined the meeting, which highlighted HCBS Waiver flexibility states can implement to finance and emphasize integrated employment as a priority outcome. TASH representatives thanked CMS for their strong leadership role advancing employment outcomes through the 2011 Informational Bulletin and other actions. CMS expressed an interest in working with TASH to reduce the numbers of people served in facilities for work, day and residential supports, and recognized TASH for its strong leadership in promoting personalized and individualized supports. Mary Morningstar, Chair of TASH’s Inclusive Education Committee led the final meeting of the day, a joint conversation with Charlie Lakin, Director of the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research, and Rebecca Cokley, Director of the National Council on Disability. Mary shared TASH’s interest in developing a research agenda on Inclusive Education, and a request to work together toward effective research to practice activities.

A total of 29 advocates visited 62 Congressional offices in both the House and the Senate. TASH’s top Congressional requests were:

• Prevent restraint and seclusion use in public schools by supporting the Keeping all Students Safe Act (House Resolution 1893) and seek introduction of a similar bill in the Senate

• Remove section 511 of the Workforce Investment Act (Senate) which allows for an outcome of subminimum wage placement

• Any reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act must emphasize education equity through standards for accountability and teacher quality (House and Senate, and

• Vote YES to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Senate)

Joining the Board on Hill visits were advocates from Iowa, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, DC. Thanks to all the advocates and board members who participated in TASH’s annual Capitol Hill Day – and a special shout out to Virginia TASH and DC TASH (still forming!) for informed and effective advocacy!