It’s Working

Leadership and advocacy program for people with disabilities funded through 2019
Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An ILR leadership program for individuals with developmental disabilities and their family members has received another round of funding from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to continue its training and advocacy network through 2019.

Starting in January, the ILR Employment and Disability Institute’s New York State Partners in Policymaking® program will receive $250,000 annually for the next five years to fund its web-based model of leadership training for people with disabilities, along with parents and family members.

Improved leadership and advocacy skills enable participants  to rally for the education, living and working rights of individuals with developmental disabilities, explained Nancy Hinkley, principal investigator and project director for the New York Partners project.

“The advantage of this unique blended-learning experience is that it is inclusive – participants can benefit from the full training experience, even if they are physically unable to travel or have other factors in their lives that prohibit travel.”

The program strives to graduate at least 70 diverse and advocacy-engaged Partners per year. Their ranks now include advocates from almost all of New York’s 62 counties.

The Partners program, based on the original model begun in 1987 by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, was offered in New York state as a face-to-face training program through 2009 under the direction of The Advocacy Center of Rochester.

In 2010, a pilot program was conceived by Thomas Golden, assistant director of the Employment and Disability Institute, to expand the program’s reach and reduce costs per individual trained through a blended online model.

Retaining The Advocacy Center as a content facilitator, the program’s new version benefited from Cornell’s disability policy, program, evaluation and technological leadership, Hinkley said. The five-year pilot grant ended in December.

The pilot demonstrated that persons with developmental disabilities could complete and benefit from such an online program. The 2011-2013 graduates included 31 self-advocates with disabilities and 36 individuals from racial or ethnic minorities.

All of the 2011-2013 graduates rated the course as “good”, “very good” or “excellent.” At least 97 percent rated their leadership and advocacy abilities to be “good”, “very good” or “excellent,” with most rating their skills as “excellent.”

Advocacy and leadership activities of 2011-2013 graduates include:

  • Serving on advocacy groups, task forces, advisory councils, city councils
  • Organizing and participating in meetings with policymakers
  • Providing input in development of a report for policymakers
  • Starting advocacy groups and a mentoring program
  • Creating a disability awareness and empowerment day
  • Establishing a residential development committee to talk to the state and help educate parents
  • Creating an inclusive reading enrichment program and working to get grants to support programming
  • Leading efforts to bring experts on education for individuals with Down Syndrome to present at schools
  • Election to the Citywide Council on Special Education in New York City
  • Developing workshops for families and siblings
  • Participating in letter-writing campaigns and organizing petitions
  • Presenting testimony at town hall meetings
  • Working with existing youth organizations to improve inclusion practices

Partners report developing life-long skills through the program that are often utilized in work and family life. These skills include:

  • Better advocacy through contacting officials, educating others and becoming more knowledgeable about the disability field
  • Writing, public speaking and organizational skills
  • Navigating state and local resources
  • Look toward root causes and misconceptions in the workplace in order to work toward change.
  • Using web-based platforms to aid in personal and professional life.

More information on the Partners in Policymaking program can be found at, at and on Twitter @NYSPartners. Partners is currently accepting applications for its second 2015 cohort class, to begin in August.