DRS On the Air Podcast - Advocacy

DRS On the Air Podcast

Welcome to DRS on the air. This is a Podcast of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. We would like to thank bensound.com for our music.

Today’s guest is Jody Harlan who serves as the Communications Director for DRS. She has spent decades telling the stories of DRS Clients who are pursuing lives of independence and she works with them to share their stories with lawmakers.

Jones: Welcome Jody.

Harlan: Hi Brett. It’s great to be here.

Jones: Why do you think DRS clients need to connect with their lawmakers?

Harlan: There is competition in the current budget situation for dollars that are going to be allocated, and we feel like People with Disabilities Awareness Day gives DRS clients and other people with disabilities, advocates, family, friends an opportunity to share their stories with legislators who are going to have tough decisions to make. And other groups are going to be advocating for the same dollars. The difference with DRS’s employment dollars for every state dollar we receive, federal government gives us four more federal dollars – match dollars that expands the number of people we can help and the number of taxpayers that are create. We want clients and former clients to go to the capitol so that legislators see the benefits of programs that they’ve used.

Jones: For many of these people there’s a hurdle in just getting past the fear of dealing with the lawmakers or someone in authority. How should they handle rejection?

Harlan: There are all different kinds of approaches. If they go in and the legislator is not there, I don’t really see that as rejection. The legislator may be in session or an important meeting. We still have an opportunity to talk to the legislative liaison. You can leave something behind and ask for a time to come back for an appointment when they’re likely to be available. I’ve not found the legislators to reject the voters who come to the Capitol. We may not get everything we ask for, but, in general, they are receptive, they’re interested and its part of their job. So for those who haven’t gone to the capitol before, my suggestion is to get with one of our legislative liaisons. These are people who are very experienced. We divide up all the legislators among about twelve of these legislative leaders who drop off items and make sure every legislator gets a visit from somebody. It’s a great time for a new person to tag along and let one of these experienced advocates do most of the talking. And then the next year the person will be ready to go on their own and possibly show someone else. So that creates a chain reaction where we can use some of the tips and techniques that others have found and then give it our own flavor, our own spin.

Jones: You know we ask them to cal. We ask them to write. We ask them to show up and engage. Do you there is a particular way that’s most effective in dealing with lawmakers and leaving that impression behind?

Harlan: I always go for a personal connection because they talk to so many people who have gotten their information from an organization or they are forwarding an online petition. And while these are somewhat effective, it’s more effective to try to establish a relationship even before you need something. It may be that you are from the same town or that you know someone they know or both your kids play soccer, but to me the first step is to try and establish a connection with that person so when the budget numbers come around they look at your program and they remember you or your family member. It’s a lot harder to cut someone when you feel a connection to them. And for extra credit, you can call up later and thank them when they do something right, when they vote your way or a simple thing as it’s their birthday and you know because they’re from your district, from your neighborhood. Try to stay in touch with them all year; show up at their town halls; see them at church, the barbershop. Don’t just wait until you need something to get to know them. Call them up on the first day of the session to say, “Hey, we’re glad you are here.” That way when you call back with a concern or request they’re one of the people that contacts their office that legislator really knows.

Jones: This year People with Disabilities Awareness Day is March 28th at the state Capitol. Jody, why is this event important to Oklahomans with disabilities?

Harlan: The People with Disabilities Awareness Day is on its 22nd year and it’s the largest consecutive event held at the capitol for any reason. Now there have been bigger events, but they are a one-time thing. People with Disabilities Awareness Day is known as a platform. We have lots of old friends and allies who maybe don’t turn up every year but they come as often as they can. So when you join this event, and many groups do, they contact us and want to participate. You’re a part of something bigger; yet you have the freedom to advocate for the bill you want or the program you don’t want without being told what to say. So it’s a platform that provides you an opportunity. It’s the one day that legislators see all of our friends, family, advocates, clients and students ideally all wearing green to show that we are together to show our unity and we have a kind of synergy as a group that we just don’t have as an individual.

Jones: Again, People with Disabilities Awareness Day is March 28th from noon until 4:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Thank you Jody for sitting down with us today answering a few questions and we look forward to seeing everyone out there.

Harlan: And Brett let’s just say for those who want to look us up, its www.okdrs.gov/pwdad. We hope you pre-register if you can and show up at the event.
Jones: Thank you for taking the time to listen to our Podcast. Please share it with your friends. This has been a production of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.