What Can You Do in Just Four Days?

What can you do in just four days? Can wrongs be righted? Can perceptions be changed? Can you rethink systems, practices and policies that have been in places for generations? Sometimes the path ahead seems so daunting that it’s difficult to imagine what difference can be made or where to start. That didn’t stop the roughly 800 advocates, educators, self-advocates and other professionals from coming together during the TASH Conference in Denver. These people saw an opportunity to learn, share and grow … to build upon the work and efforts of one another and to plant seeds for the future.

If you were part of the 2010 TASH Conference, you saw first-hand how we can work together, learn from and inspire each other to make a difference. You saw old friends, made new ones and built relationships that strengthen this community and elevate our capacity to create change. If you participated in this conference, you offered your ideas, insights, expertise and point of view … you became part of a growing movement to promote equity, opportunity and inclusion for people with disabilities.

TASH chapter leaders from across the U.S. work tirelessly to carryout the mission of TASH through grassroots advocacy in their home states and regions, but we tested their limits with a nearly five-hour workshop during the conference. This workshop is the only time throughout the year when these individuals meet and plan face-to-face. The workshop included a discussion of the history of TASH and visioning for how TASH can impact the disability community in the future. It was an opportunity to share best practices between chapters and discuss new ways to grow.

The conference was also a place where policy wonks and laypersons alike could discuss legislation impacting the lives and livelihood of people with disabilities. This was perhaps most evident during a special presentation of What’s Happening in Washington?, a look at TASH’s involvement in government affairs throughout 2010 and a discussion of what’s ahead in 2011. Those attending this session participated in a robust discussion on legislation affecting protection from abuse, seclusion and restraint in schools; inclusive education; integrated employment; and community living.

Self-advocates planned the annual Self-Advocate Forum, an opportunity for persons with disabilities to discuss the issues affecting their lives. This forum included notable advocates, such as Bob Williams, Nancy Ward, Julie Petty, Barbara Coppens, Betty Williams and many others. The forum included a discussion on the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program and sought input from participants on how to make information more accessible and readily available. This conversation evolved into one about identifying what a true working life means. In the end, the forum made one thing especially clear – that there are advocates among us who are not having their voices heard. Participants left the forum with a renewed sense of urgency to determine new ways to reach others and make their voices head.

Just scroll through the TASH blog to get an idea of some of the other events and sessions that took place, like TASH Night Out, truly a social for social justice, or a meeting on education reform. And how can we not mention the fantastic, inspiring keynote speakers? Doug Fisher, a professor at San Diego State University, shared his thoughts on common sense education and what he’s learned over the years working with students with disabilities in the classroom. Speaker Julie Petty, a mother, wife and passionate self-advocate, shared her story and challenged conference attendees to create change in their communities. Kathie Snow shared her personal story as a mother, and now consultant and author. And Sue Swenson, deputy assistant secretary for the Office on Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, discussed the present challenges and future opportunities facing people with disabilities.

The theme of the 2010 TASH Conference was Embracing Difference … It’s Time! It speaks in part to TASH’s Diversity and Cultural Competency Initiative – part of our National Agenda – and the workshops and sessions that highlighted issues impacting people of diverse backgrounds with disabilities. This initiative includes TASH’s effort to be culturally competent in all that we do, and to share that value with all individuals, communities and organizations with which we work. But it also speaks to the wide-range of people and perspectives that were present at the conference. If you were there, you know the feeling of collective energy we were a part of. If you couldn’t make it … it’s not too late to join the fray. The conference was a launching point for a lot of conversations we’ll continue to have throughout the year. We want you to be a part of that.

So what can you do in just four days? After spending four days at the 2010 TASH Conference in Denver, the answer is easy – anything.