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Our History

Partners is an innovative, competency-based leadership training program for adults with disabilities and parents of children with developmental disabilities. The purpose of the program is two-fold: to teach best practices and the competencies needed to influence public policy.

The Birth of Partners in Policymaking®

The origins of the Partners in Policymaking leadership training program emerged in 1986 and were rooted in the many and complex problems faced by people with developmental disabilities and their families who, at that time:

  • Had no centralized, organized, systematic education and training to provide them with cutting edge experiences and information.
  • Needed systemic training to develop competencies involved in effectively influencing public officials to make grassroots advocacy really work.
  • Had few training programs to prepare them for positions of leadership in local, state, or national organizations.
  • Needed a shared vision of motivated, well-informed, active, energetic volunteers, parents and self-advocates.
  • Had no mechanism for state and national leaders in the disability field to meet and discuss issues with people with disabilities who are traditionally unserved and underserved.
  • Had no systemic educational program available that was designed to improve competencies and increase their empowerment.
  • Were at risk of losing an aging leadership and weren’t grooming young leaders.
  • Didn’t have opportunities to connect with others. Few parents could meet adults with disabilities who could help them dream for their children. Few adults with disabilities knew parents of children with disabilities who could give them a perspective on the experiences of their parents.

In response, Partners in Policymaking was developed to train participants in best practices over a wide range of issues and teach the skills necessary to change systems. Partners participants become competent to change their own lives, and to then work on changes that affect others with disabilities at local, state, and national levels. They learn there are no “quick fixes.” Thus, Partners graduates are trained to be agents of long-term change, in order to achieve long-term success, and to create a shared vision, enlarging the power base of disability rights advocates.

The goal of Partners in Policymaking is to educate participants on how to develop positive relationships with those who make policy—to become partners in policymaking. In today’s political climate of radical change, Partners graduates must work harder than ever to prevent the loss of basic rights for people with disabilities. Partners graduates can change the future by influencing public policy today. For more information, see Partners in Policymaking® Changing Lives. Changing Policies at

Partnerships with Policymakers

Policymakers are the people in government, including politicians and civil servants, who are elected or appointed to make decisions about rules and regulations, who control funding sources, and who legislate. There are thousands of policymakers at the federal level, and thousands more at the state, county, and local levels of government. Policymakers and policymaking bodies include school principals, school boards, city councils, mayors, county and state officials, state senators and representatives, state agency boards, and federal legislators and agencies. Graduates of quality Partners programs are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to become partners with policymakers at any level: local, state, and federal. As the number of Partners graduates increases, a network of highly-motivated, powerful individuals is positively influencing the thousands of policymakers who shape disability issues at all levels of government. Some Partners graduates have become elected and appointed public officials—they’ve become the policymakers.

Cutting Edge Best Practices

What are cutting edge best practices in terms of disability issues, the most up-to-date and best ways of doing things, from a national perspective? These are always evolving. What is best practice today may not be in six months or a year from now.  Partners in Policymaking is not about teaching participants how to access services. Most Partners participants, through their life experiences, already know what services are or aren’t available, and how to access this cutting edge information gives Partners participants the big picture, allows them to dream big, and provides strategies to turn dreams into reality. The collective impact of Partners participants dreaming the big dream and working to achieve it will affect people far beyond the graduates and their families—the face of disability issues will change! Partners is about today’s best practices presented by national speakers who provide cutting edge information. Look at how quickly best practices changed between the mid-1980s and the 21st century.

A look at how quickly best practices changed between the mid-1980s and the 21st century:

Life Area 1985 1990 2016
Education Integration for some children, for part of the day—physical education or arts. Inclusion for children with disabilities. Full inclusion for all children with disabilities; post-secondary inclusive education in “regular” college/university classes.
Employment Demonstration projects in a few states for entry level positions. Supported work with agency job coaches. People with disabilities are hired directly by employers, receive competitive wages, and have career paths.
Living Small group homes. Some supported living. A home of your own with the natural and/or paid supports of your choice.
Assistive Technology Wheelchairs and homemade communication devices. Computers, wheelchairs, adaptive daily living equipment. Anything that enables a person with a disability to have a better, more self-reliant life, from high-tech to low-tech, voice activated technology, web access, digitized imagery, smartphones, social and other electronic media.