Every year, there is a national conference of State Independent Living Councils (SILCs), allowing representatives of every state to attend trainings and share best practices. This year, the conference was held in San Diego, California, and three representatives from the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC) attended.
As one of those representatives, I was interested to hear how other states dealt with the issues facing their councils and people with disabilities. Issues vary from state to state, and region to region. Each council is responsible for the state plan in their state. In addition, center networks range in size. Some states have as few as two centers, and some states have as many as forty. Councils and centers are grouped according to the ten federal regions. New York shares a region with New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As you might imagine, the issues facing New York differ greatly from the issues in Puerto Rico.
Councils are set up to jointly develop, monitor, and evaluate a State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) and, in doing so, illuminate areas that are in need of attention. In New York, the council has a needs assessment committee set up to identify the populations and areas in the state that are underserved. An outreach subcommitte monitors capacity building grants that serve the identified underserved populations.
The conference gives us an opportunity to share with one another our specific challenges, and to receive trainings on how to better implement best practices. The beauty of the councils is that the appointed members are made up of at least 51 percent of individuals with disabilities. This promotes the “nothing about us without us” concept, allowing for frontline advocacy by the people experiencing different types of disabilities from across the state. Members are reflective of other diversities as well.
Aside from the trainings, one of the best parts of the conference is the networking that we do – meeting and sharing with people doing the same work we are, but from other states. It is difficult to come away from a four day of conference without a nugget of wisdom. One of the best things I heard was a woman stating, “We – people with disabilities – are living in a world that wasn’t designed for us.” It just puts into perspective why we need to do the work that we do.
While many of the trainings were practical in nature, such as “state plan formulation,” “building a better board” and “grant writing 101,” it was the ability to share and hear about what other states were doing to make these issues easier that was most valuable. One of the best practices New York implemented was to hire a state plan consultant, who helped the council develop measurable outcomes for the next state plan. Alan Krieger, the consultant, broke our process down for us, getting to the crux of our state plan: the objectives. Alan made them practical to us by asking us, “So what? So what, that you offer a capacity building grant targeting veterans. What outcome does that have in advancing New York’s Independent Living philosophy?” In other words, beginning at the end of the process allows us to know what outcome we desire, and how it will impact and hopefully advance our cause.
The national conference allowed us to check in with other states and perform a self-check of our processes. It enabled us to measure ourselves in what we are doing, and why we are doing it, and to come away with a clearer picture of our state council’s performance. Meeting and talking with other state council members proved to be a great opportunity.
If you would like to learn more about the New York State Independent Living Council, visit www.nysilc.org, and see what we’re up to.