By: Scott Burlingame, Executive Director
“Advocacy will never work in this town.”
Those words greeted me a little over 8 years ago when I accepted this job and moved my family to Minot. When you are a person who has built a career around disability related advocacy, these are not the most inviting words when moving into a new community.
The unfortunate truth is, at that time, Independence, Inc. and our local disability community had not put in enough work to make advocacy work in this town. Over the past few years, we have worked very hard to build the brand of Independence, Inc. and to develop relationships with our local disability community.
In 2018, we have taken a giant leap forward.
Our year started with us developing our “We Believe” video with the help of our friends from Indak media. The video helped us to lay out the core values and beliefs that define our movement. Our hope is by showing the community why we do what we do, they will see greater value in what we do.
In March, in collaboration with the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, we held an ADA Seminar with over 80 people in attendance. Those in attendance included people we serve, our allies, community leaders, and local decision makers. Having this diverse group of attendees helped us address issues of accessibility in our community.
In May, I had the chance to present to the North Dakota Association of Community Providers annual conference about the harms of using Inspiration Porn when talking about the lives of people with disabilities. Inspiration porn is the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational for doing ordinary activities that are expected of all people. This presentation is a step in rebranding disability as a natural part of the human experience.
Over the past year, we have again set a record for the number of students with disabilities we have served. We have served youth in schools as far west as Crosby, and as far east as Dunseith. For the first time ever, over 50% of the people we served are people under the age of 19. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with youth and provide them with the advocacy, independent living skills, and vocational skills they need to become successful adults.
We also had the opportunity to provide disability awareness presentations to 165 students without disabilities, helping them understand the lives of their classmates, friends and family members with disabilities.
Over the summer, we rolled out our new “We Do Disability Right” motto. We Do Disability Right, because more than other organizations, we believe that disability is a natural part of being human, and nothing to be ashamed of. We believe that people with disabilities are the experts on their own lives, and we work to empower them to make decisions for themselves. Finally, we believe when our communities are fully accessible to people with disabilities, it is a better community for everyone.
We were also able to participate in several disability awareness campaigns over the summer. We were part of the North Dakota State Fair parade, Family Day at the fair, National Night Out, and many more events. At each one of the events, we worked diligently to continue to change the way people in our community think about people with disabilities.
The information I was provided when I got to town was wrong. Because of the dedication of the staff and board at Independence, Inc., and our dedicated disability rights advocates, advocacy is working and change is happening in this town.
I am so lucky to be part of this. At the end of the year, I offer all of you my sincere thanks for a job well done. I cannot wait to see what 2019 brings.