Emma Shouse is the SLN’s TN Chapter representative and TABS Executive Committee member. She is also sister to Evan, a fantastic 18-year- old brother with autism.
The Sibling Leadership Network is a member of the Advisory Committee for “Our Community Standing Strong — The Southern Collaborative: Regional Self Advocacy Technical Assistance Center” (OCSS). This collaborative of Southern states was formed through a federal grant from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. States participating in this group, led by Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.
I had the opportunity to represent the SLN at the first in-person advisory committee meeting for OCSS held in Nashville, TN on January 11-12. I met great advocates including folks with all types of disabilities from all across the region, their support staff, spouses and family members, and other “allies” from disability organizations. Everyone was dedicated to sharing creative ideas, being open about challenges their groups had faced, and respecting the opinions of everyone there.
Being a sibling to a brother with a disability and a professional in the “disability field” for a few years now, I have always heard about the importance of self-advocacy groups. But for the first time, I actually had the opportunity to see a meeting put on and led entirely by people with ALL types of disabilities who were all working for a common goal: to promote equal rights and true community inclusion for people with disabilities. Different people needed different levels of support to play a part in the meeting, but everyone worked together to make the meaningful participation of each and every member possible. This meeting helped me to understand how self-advocacy groups are accomplishing real, positive change in their communities, and the importance for us as siblings to support those efforts for our own brothers and sisters with disabilities, as well as all of our fellow citizens with disabilities.
You as a sibling can help support your own brothers and sisters to get involved in a self-advocacy group in your local area. Talk to your sib about self-advocacy and search together to find a group nearby. Help your brother or sister contact the self-advocacy group to learn more about it and get involved.
Also, sibling groups can meet with self-advocacy group to learn ways you might be able to work together to advance self-advocacy. Could you co-host an event or fundraiser for your two groups together? Disseminate information to each other’s networks? There is a lot that siblings and self-advocates can learn from each other. We are stronger together!