Personal Perspective: How I Improved Access to 911

By Molly Anderson, 2022 Partners in Policymaking® graduate

Six woman stand together and smile at the camera. They are wearing event badges and professional clothing.
Molly’s Partners experience was virtual during COVID, but a group of Partners grads met up in person at a recent TN Disability Coalition policy retreat. Molly is second from the left, in the red dress. Also pictured L-R: Omegbhai Uriri, Michelle Gross, Chrissy Hood, Council Executive Director Lauren Pearcy, and Carrie Carlson

Molly Anderson is a Partners graduate and a Governor-appointed member of our Council. She has a nonverbal disability and uses assistive technology and American Sign Language to communicate. In this written interview, Molly shares about her advocacy for increased access to 911 emergency services.

Tell readers a bit about yourself and your experience in Partners in Policymaking®.

I was in the 2021 class of Partners. It was a great experience getting to understand what services are in Tennessee and how I could be a better advocate for people with disabilities! I would highly recommend applying to be in a Partners in Policymaking class. It changed my world and will change others’, too!

You have done significant advocacy to establish texting 911 as an option in TN. Why was this important to you?

When I was a senior in high school, I got into a wreck and could not call 911 for help. This was my first experience where I realized that texting 911 was so important. On student government day my senior year, we watched a city council hearing in my hometown of Florence, Alabama. I got to speak to the city council about texting 911, and then visited the 911 center and was featured in the local newspaper. Fast forward to 6 years later: I crashed again - this time into a funeral van. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Although the dead guy was okay and only the casket got dented, I still could not call 911. When I FaceTimed my husband, he could not understand me because I was crying, and my signs were everywhere. A bystander, who was so sweet, stopped to help and called 911. It is so scary when I cannot get help.

What was the first step in starting your work on the issue?

Building a relationship with a legislator is the first step to starting any policy work. Since I had developed a relationship with Becky Massey already, I just met with her and told my story. She then worked on the bill.

Where does this effort stand now?

About 80% of the state’s population has access to texting 911. I am working with the Tennessee Emergency Board. I am told texting 911 should be statewide by July 2024.

What lessons did you learn during this process?

There are many lessons learned during this process. One lesson was finding solutions that all parties could agree on. With this particular bill, it was stopped in the budget process in the legislature, which means it was passed but didn’t go through the budget process. When I realized that the bill had been stopped in the budget process, I decided to work with the Tennessee Emergency Board to find a solution that we all could agree on. Sometimes, working with individual departments can get more accomplished than working with the legislature.

How did going through Partners strengthen your skills to work on issues like this?

I was in the middle of Partners while working on texting 911. It really helped me as an advocate to see the many possibilities and to understand when something is not working, there’s usually some kind of compromise that can work.

Molly Anderson is Director of Peer Supports for Family Voices and is a Governor-appointed member of our Council, representing the Southeast TN development district. Molly lives in Chattanooga with her husband, Josh, and their daughter, Lucy – with a second daughter on the way. In her spare time, Molly loves to run and kayak.