ButtonOn April 23-24th, I was given the opportunity to attend the 2012 Disability Policy Seminar in Washington DC. The Seminar was hosted by The Arc, United Cerebral Palsy, the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, and Self Advocates Becoming Empowered. Almost 700 people attended the seminar from 46 states and other geographical locations including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. From self-advocates to their family members and caregivers to people working for organizations serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I became part of a large group of advocates wanting to educate and change how our government views and interacts with people with disabilities. The in-depth forums of the two day seminar included topics relating to the current congressional dynamics; the Budget Control Act (BCA), federal funding issues, Medicaid , Medicaid Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS), managed care, education, employment, community living, Social Security & SSI, Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE), and the Affordable Care Act & CLASS Program. I was provided the latest and most detailed information about the issues, concerns, and positive progress being made at the federal level of government. With many members of congress being new, bipartisanship becoming more difficult, continued budget cuts to Medicaid and other disability related services AND this being an election year, the need to advocate and protect those with disabilities is becoming increasingly urgent. On my third day in Washington, I headed for the Hill to meet with my legislators at both the Senate and House Office buildings. I was proud to represent Prader-Willi Homes of Oconomowoc, as well as the State of Wisconsin, in advocating for those who cannot always advocate for themselves. The main phrase of the conference “Don’t Cut Our Lifeline” was heard and seen all over the Hill that day and there was no doubt that it made a powerful impact on our elected officials. However, we still have a long way to go. I learned that all it takes to be an advocate is to have a passion and a voice. I am truly honored that I was given the opportunity to use mine to make a difference in the lives of those I care about. –Melanie Ignatowski

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