Self Advocates in Leadership (SAIL) is a coalition of over 200 people with developmental disabilities interested in shaping public policy in Washington State. SAIL is unique because the members of the coalition have developmental disabilities as well as the support staff. People with disabilities can have a powerful voice in the legislature. We have been gathering together to learn about how the legislative process works and then putting those skills to work on at least one bill each session since 2004.
Each year SAIL looks closely at each step in the legislative process so that by the time session begins people with developmental disabilities are involved in every step in the process. During each summer the legislative agenda is created to reflect the most important issues chosen by SAIL members.
People with disabilities are involved in everything from meetings with legislators who will sponsor new legislation, testifying at hearings, phone calls, letters, as well as delivering personal messages. Over time the relationships that people have formed with their legislators have proved to be invaluable during those very critical moments where the bill would have died without being given assistance by a key legislator. During moments of quick decision making SAIL members are also there ready to lend their voices to the direction the group should take. SAIL members are also there when the day of victory comes and they can stand for a picture with the Governor.
SAIL is a very inclusive organization that helps anyone with a developmental disability get involved in legislative advocacy. There are people from all of the Self-Advocacy organizations in Washington State represented as well as interested individuals. Everyone is encouraged to come to the monthly meetings and make their voices heard. SAIL began in the late 1990’s with only 6-8 committed people with disabilities. We were interested in learning about the state legislature and what we could do to impact the decisions made in Olympia. Over time the enthusiasm and excitement has continued to lure more people with disabilities into the ranks of the educated.
The leadership of the group is entirely made up of people with disabilities who are elected by the SAIL members themselves. For the past several years SAIL has given out an annual award called the Chris Purnell Advocacy award in honor and memory of Chris Purnell a member of SAIL who passed away. He was a person who was very involved in advocacy efforts, was not afraid to get into the middle of things and didn’t have trouble speaking out. Each year the award honors someone with those same qualities. Sharon Jodock-King was last year's Chris Purnell Recipiant. Prior winners are Jason Self, Heather Harper, Ken Larson, and George Adams.
Self Advocates in Leadership will continue through good years and bad to let the Washington State Legislature know what is important to them. It is only through consistent and persistent education of those people in power that they will begin to understand the perspective of people with disabilities. Hopefully, the stories they have heard and the knowledge they have gained, will help them to make choices that will positively impact the lives of people with developmental disabilities.