Breaking Ground 108 - The Next Frontier: What will the Council work on for the next five years?

by Jolene Sharp, Chief Public Information Officer, TN Council on Developmental Disabilities

The Council officially began working under a new five-year state plan on October 1. Why does that matter?

Every state council like ours is required to write a new state plan every five years. The state plan is our map for how we will do the work we’ve been given by the federal Developmental Disabilities Act:

  • Supporting advocacy (making sure the voices of people with disabilities and their families are heard)
  • Building capacity (growing the disability supports that are available)
  • Systems change (making services better for people with disabilities)

The new plan is based on your input!

Hundreds of you responded to our public input survey last year. That survey is a key part of creating our state plan. Your responses helped us know what is important to Tennessee’s disability community. For example, you told us that the most important areas for services are:

  • health and wellness
  • money and finance
  • employment

You also told us that it is hard to learn about services in the areas that are important to you. That feedback is guiding an important new area of the Council’s work – more on that in a minute.

The Council also gets ready for a new state plan by doing a “comprehensive review and analysis” of Tennessee disability services. This helps us understand all the services that already exist. We learned that Tennessee has 154 disability services across 23 different state agencies. This shows how complex the system is – and why it can be so overwhelming for people with disabilities and their families.

What we did with your input: the Council’s new five-year state plan!

Our plan has three broad goals. Under the goals, objectives tell the concrete ways we will meet the goal. We’ll also share some examples of current projects under each goal.

Tennessee Council Five-Year State Plan 2021-2026

Goal 1: Developing Engaged Leaders

  • Objective 1.1: Provide leadership learning and development programs to Tennesseans with disabilities and their family members to increase advocacy skills and engagement.
  • Objective 2.1: Support grassroots self-advocacy in Tennessee through three training and program development activities to increase advocacy skills and engagement.

Example projects: Partners in Policymaking®, Council scholarship fund, youth trainings, supporting self-advocacy groups

Goal 2: Improving Policy and Practice

  • Objective 2.1: Track, summarize in plain language, and share information with Tennesseans about policies that impact people with disabilities. Position the Council as a top resource for Tennesseans to learn about policy affecting people with disabilities.
  • Objective 2.2: Ask for and study the perspectives of people with disabilities to identify system barriers and make sure those perspective influence policy changes.
  • Objective 2.3: Measure progress toward inclusion, self-determination, and independence.

Example projects: Tracking opportunities to impact policymaking, weekly public policy e-newsletter, offering input and recommendations on policy changes, trainings on best practices

Goal 3: Informing the Public

  • Objective 3.1: Use a wide range of communication tools/platforms and partnerships to:
    • Increase accessible disability information and resources for people with disabilities and their families.
    • Build understanding and engagement on disability issues relevant to Tennesseans.
    • Increase engagement with historically underrepresented groups – including Black, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, and rural communities.
  • Objective 3.2: In fiscal year 2022, work together with the Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network communications team to increase access to healthcare information for LGBTQ+ Tennesseans with disabilities.

Example projects: All Council communication platforms (like social media or this magazine), community events, partnerships to share information with other agencies or groups

What’s really new in this plan?

The plan’s structure is similar to the last five-year state plan. It leaves room for our specific work to grow and change. But there are a few important themes we want to point out. These areas are the new frontier of the Council’s work.

  1. Leading on “plain language.” Plain language is information our audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Our unique role allows us to serve as an information bridge. We can help sister state agencies share important information with our statewide disability community. And we can make sure the disability community gets clear, easy-to-understand information about the issues and services that matter to them.
  2. Connecting with underrepresented and marginalized communities. People with disabilities who are also marginalized in other ways face many extra barriers. The Council is expanding who we are hearing from, and who we are reaching with information and resources. This means building new relationships. It means hearing and sharing stories of people from widely diverse experiences and backgrounds. It means sharing information in new ways to reach people who are not already well-connected.
  3. Increasing engagement. We don’t just want to push information out. We want to have more conversations. We want to bring more people into our work. We want YOU to be at the table where important decisions are made.

The Tennessee Council is pushing forward the work of the Developmental Disabilities Act. We count on you to help us. Your feedback tells us when we’re getting it right – and when we’re not. Your stories and perspectives are the real force for change. Come along with us. There is great work to be done!