Participants Create ‘Our Voices Matter’ Advocacy Group

Participants Create ‘Our Voices Matter’ Advocacy Group

Over the last several months, six Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) participants have created a monumental advocacy group called Our Voices Matter (OVM).

Preeti, Betty, Alfred, Priscilla, Jeff, and Valerieall ESSC Adult Day Services (ADS) participants — came together to create the OVM committee to advocate for their rights and the rights of their peers.

Creating this group is personal for the six of them as they say they spent much of their lives bullied and silenced.

“What we mostly do is we voice our opinion on many issues,” Priscilla, the House Speaker for the group, said. “Most importantly, we are known as Our Voices Matter because our voices have been silent for years. And finally, in this area of time and space, we are not being silent!”

The Our Voices Matter advisory committee, which officially began in early 2022, promotes and advocates for their individual rights, and the rights of all participants who utilize ESSC services. They also support and encourage Person-Centered Culture and Practices (PCCP) within Easterseals Adult Day Services culture with monthly Boot Camp training sessions.

To do this work, the advocacy group collaborates with ESSC’s PCCP team, led by Director Amber Carey-Navarrete. The PCCP team works to empower ESSC participants, like those in OVM, to actively direct their own days, goals, planning, and services.

“I went on tour to different programs, educating (participants) about their rights. They need to know their rights, so they know they have a say in what they want, and they don’t have to follow everyone’s footsteps,” Valeriethe Vice President of OVM, said. “I wanted to become a leader and to help others become one too.”

ADS Area Coordinator and PCCP team member Lendy Ruano of ESSC’s took on the planning, presenting, and developing of the OVM advisory committee. Her role, which she says will diminish over time, is to support the entire group and be their number one ally.

“Now that we have this amazing group of people, that’s who we go to, and each member joins different Boot Camp training sessions, where they share their lived experiences and ideas about how we can be better support staff and we listen to them,” Lendy said.

“We reach out to the people that use ESSC’s services to find out what they need and how we can support them. And they’ve been a great asset for all that input in our training.”

OVM also wants to impact the younger generation.

“What I always say, if not now, then never,” OVM advocate Preeti said. “With the little kids, you have to start young and encourage them to be the voice they want to be, not the voice their parents want them to be.”

“And with the Easterseals PCCP boot camps, they are taking information from us as leaders. That’s good.”

A long-term goal for OVM is to impact people outside of ESSC. They have already started to do just that. In fact, some members wrote speeches that will be shared with the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) in October. Ruth Donnelson and Asia Donnelson, both PCCP managers, are presenting at NADSA about disabled women of color and their experiences of discrimination, negligence, or abuse. Betty, Priscilla, Preeti, and Valerie will be sharing their experiences ‘’during that presentation through letters they wrote or video.

About the Author:

Allison Norlian is a three-time Emmy-nominated journalist, writer, and co-founder of BirdMine, a production company focused on amplifying the voices and stories of people with disabilities and other groups underrepresented within society. With BirdMine, Allison films, edits, reports, and produces, creating short and long-form documentaries. Allison became a journalist and filmmaker to speak for those who are often voiceless, like her severely disabled sister. She won a Catalyst for Change award from the ARC of Virginia for the impact of her reporting and an Emmy nomination for an investigation exposing neglect and abuse at an assisted living facility. 

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