It’s been a great year for Heart! I have seen many clients succeed in so many ways, have had several opportunities to raise awareness around sexual and domestic violence in the disability community, and even opened a new office space. As 2018 is coming to an end, I have been thinking about the next steps for Heart.
One of Heart's goals for 2019 is to take our advocacy to a larger scale. It's a word we are all familiar with: advocacy. But it means different things to different people. To most, it means standing up for yourselves and others. But how do we do that effectively?
We love advocating for our individual clients, and helping them to advocate for themselves. But to see real change, we need to see policy changes and attitude changes. We can suggest that someone who is meeting people in unsafe places have more structured time and more social opportunities to meet people safely. But if there is no funding for staff to take someone, no transportation (especially in rural areas), or no free or low-cost social programs, that suggestion doesn't get us anywhere. We can teach about safe sex practices, consent, and teen dating violence. But wouldn't it be better if there were a standard curriculum, in all schools in Wisconsin, that required inclusive, evidenced-based comprehensive sex and relationship education before teens become sexually active, for ALL students?
When I founded Heart, I knew that providing education and support services to people with disabilities around safe relationships was not going to be enough to see real change. To achieve our mission of reducing gendered violence against people with disabilities, we need to see system changes. I am participating in the Wisconsin Women's Network Policy Training Institute, in which I will be trained on the legislative and budget process to be a better advocate for important policies that affect the people we work with. I am also part of several committees, including the Governor's Council on access to domestic violence resources, Dane County Sexual and Reproductive Health Committee, and the Dane County I/DD Violence Coordinated Community Response team.
And this is where YOU come in! We will be sharing any important bills, policies, budget amendments, etc and will encourage you to contact your elected officials to voice your opinions. We also want to hear from you...self-advocates, family members, and caregivers. What is most important to you? What do you want to see changed? Have any thoughts on policy ideas to try to push through? Let us know! Email us, call us, Facebook message us....make sure your voice is being heard. Because, as I learned at our first policy institute training, "if you aren't in the kitchen, you're on the menu".
Thanks for reading, we look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Ellen Merker, Founding Director