Metro students with disabilities have asked state lawmakers to focus on helping them access college, employment and transportation.
Students in Metro’s Community Based Transition Program, ages 18-22, joined hundreds of participants who attended Tennessee Disability Day on The Hill on Feb. 8.
In the weeks leading up to the annual advocacy event, Metro teacher Tyler Lisowski helped his students prepare presentations so that they could comfortably and confidently speak for themselves when addressing lawmakers.
“This is my favorite day of the school year. The students have a chance to advocate for themselves and speak to representatives and senators – the folks that represent their districts,” Lisowski said. "My students are voting constituents, so it’s very important that their voices are heard."
Many of the students had the opportunity to read their essays – which included snapshots of their lives and goals for the future – to House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Nashville Democrats Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons. One student shared his hope to attend Vanderbilt in the coming school year; another spoke about her wish to work at Walgreens.
Sen. Dickerson, who gathered the students in his office, said he always looks forward to Disability Day on The Hill. "Their hopes and dreams are motivating, and help bring perspective to how valuable these students and teachers are to Tennessee,” he said.
A few students requested continued funding for Next Steps program, a two-year non-degree program at Vanderbilt that provides academic, social and career opportunities to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sen. Harwell, who took time to hear from each of the students, told the group that she would look into continued funding for the program.
According to the Tennessee Disability Coalition, there are 1 million Tennesseans living with disabilities.
Sarah Sampson, director of communications for the Tennessee Disability Coalition, explained that Disability Day – which brings together dozens of disability service providers and advocates – is necessary because policy is so closely connected with quality of life for those with disabilities.
"Everything from equal access to education, housing, transportation, health care and everything in between. Disability can impact every area of your life, so all policy areas are relevant to us,” Sampson said.