On November 6th Ashley Helsing and I traveled to North Dakota to attend a Legislative Training Institute Conference. The first day we registered for the conference and met up with our team. When we checked in, we were given name tags that had different birthstones, putting us into different teams to work in groups. They had us go into chambers, either the House or the Senate, according to our nametags. Within the training, we learned how to write bills and how the voting process worked. In the house, you need to be nominated to be the speaker of the house and three of us nominated ourselves. We had to leave the room so they could put it to a vote. When we came back in the room, they voted me in as Speaker of the house where I got to command the room. From there I had to pick other people to be the bill clerk, journal clerk and sergeant of arms. The room then went into different committees like education, agriculture, human services and human resources. They started writing up the bills to bring up to the speaker to look at. It was interesting to learn what the bills were and what was brought to a vote. At the end we adjourned and went back into our birthstone groups to discuss how the day went.
The following day, we met up with our groups to discuss how the day would go. We listened to a speaker tell us about how the bills and voting worked in North Dakota. They asked me to speak on my role as the first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome. They wanted to hear my perspective and what I thought of the Institute. From there, we went back to the chambers and went to work within our committees to finish writing the bills to put into vote. That day, we needed to appoint leadership roles, we had to swear in a majority leader and a minority leader. After they spoke, it was open to floor discussions. It was then that we either passed the bill or killed it. We only had to kill one bill but when it was revised we passed it. We adjourned for the day and went back within our groups to wrap up and talk about what we learned from the day.
Thursday night, the staff had arranged a dinner and a dance for us. That was a lot of fun. They had a DJ and a guitar player playing quiet music where we got to sit and listen to him. He was absolutely wonderful to listen to. We danced pretty much the entire time. After the dance was over, we all retired to our rooms from the long day. Ashley and I were working and practicing for the following day. I was practicing my keynote speech, and Ashley was timing it. We worked on the PowerPoint presentation we were giving about the all self-advocate network.
Friday was the last day of the training where we received certificates of completion. This was after being back in the chambers for the last time. Judy, the Manager of the institute, gave me a very warm welcome and introduction as the closing keynote speaker. I spoke about my education, job and how I learned best. We then opened it up for questions where I was asked about equal pay for equal rights and how they could help end #lawsyndrome.
That afternoon, Ashley and I presented at the self-advocate network group on guardianship and self-determination (In North Dakota it is called Supported Decision Making). We spoke then Judy came up and talked more about supported decision making. Ashley and I came back after a short break and we then talked about how to be a self-advocate and how we should tell our personal stories on Capitol Hill. We showed videos on the difference between a bad meeting and a good meeting. We then role played and they drafted their personal stories. I was the representative and they came to me with their stories and what they wanted to see pass. Someone was out of their comfort zone speaking to me and I was able to help her feel more at home just talking to me. She felt much better after hearing that. It was a great day being able to speak to self-advocates and sharing our stories.
On Saturday Ashley and I went to a local coffee shop owned by an individual with Down syndrome called The Gifted Bean for a meet and greet. I didn’t get a chance to meet him but I did meet his parents the co-owners of the coffee shop. It was super to meet them and be able to talk with them about life in general. All together it was a great conference and learning experience and I was honored to be a part of it and visit a fellow entrepreneur with Down syndrome’s local coffee shop.