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Partners in Policymaking: Forging a Path for Systems Change

Every year, through its Partners in Policymaking initiative, The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) brings individuals experiencing developmental disability and/or parents of children with DD together with experienced national leaders in the fight for systems change. Based upon a national model, the Partners program spans one weekend per month for a period of 6 months beginning each September and ending in February. Applications for the next class are due July 1.

The mission of Partners in Policymaking is “to develop productive partnerships between people who need and use services and those in a position to create policies and laws.” This is accomplished on several fronts, mainly through instruction from leading advocacy experts, collaboration with other Partners participants, and opportunities to bring issues of importance to the disability community directly to the attention of legislators.

The program is based upon “10 values of Policymaking,” which it strives to promote in all situations and advocacy efforts:

  • Value #1 Using People First Language is a must – no labels

  • Value #2: People with disabilities need real friendships, not just relationships with paid staff.

  • Value #3: People with disabilities are entitled to the full meaning of The First Amendment right to free speech. The ability to communicate, in whatever form, must be available to every person with a disability.

  • Value #4: People with disabilities must be able to enjoy full mobility and accessibility that allows active participation in community life.

  • Value #5: People with disabilities must be assured continuity in their lives through families and neighborhood connections.

  • Value #6: People with disabilities must be treated with respect and dignity.

  • Value #7: People with disabilities need to be in positions to negotiate to have their wants and needs met.

  • Value #8: People with disabilities must be able to exercise choice in all areas of their lives.

  • Value #9: People with disabilities must be able to live in the homes of their choices with the supports they need.

  • Value #10: People with disabilities must be able to enjoy the benefits of true productivity through employment and/or contributions as members of their communities.

Partners participants should expect to gain valuable knowledge and experience in many areas, including but not limited to legislative processes, disability history, independent living, and education. Participation is free of charge to accepted applicants. Expenses are reimbursed, including necessary PCA care at a pre-arranged rate and lodging for those living more than 30 miles from weekend sites. Participants should be prepared to fully immerse themselves in learning for the entirety of the 2-day a month session, complete numerous assignments outside of class, and develop a larger project around an issue that is important to them. Attendance at all 6 weekend sessions is mandatory.

It's hoped that graduates will not only continue to use the skills they gain, but also assist with future programs when needed. For many, including the most seasoned advocates, the impact of their participation in Partners is immense.

Partners graduate Shannon LaRue shared that though she enrolled in the program with some previous advocacy knowledge, she “gained so much more than expected.” Similarly, Rebecca Crosby describes her experiences by saying: “Partners enhanced what I already knew about legislation and advocacy. It gave me the confidence to speak effectively with legislators, feeling emboldened by the urgency of the message.” Tricia Riccardi recounted that “Partners is a wonderful life changing experience. It helped me learn more about myself and advocacy as a whole.” More information on Partners can be found on the FDDC website here. Applications for this year’s class can be found here and are open through July 1. For more information, contact: Stacey Hoaglund at

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