Advocacy in Action Flexibility, advance planning and a can-do attitude are key to a successful student advocacy day. Student's Say
Student's Say  |   September 01, 2014
Advocacy in Action
Author Notes
  • Taya Norlander is a master’s student in speech-language pathology at the University of South Dakota and student representative to the South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
    Taya Norlander is a master’s student in speech-language pathology at the University of South Dakota and student representative to the South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association.×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   September 01, 2014
Advocacy in Action
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19092014.42
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19092014.42
It was finally here—a day of lobbying for the professions that we had spent four months planning. I walked into the state capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota, with 40 communication sciences and disorders students and faculty, ready to feed and talk up the legislators. My heart quickly sank: The tiny room we had been assigned was not off a busy hallway, but instead off the Senate chamber, accessible to the senators but not to the members of the House.
And that’s when I realized we should have checked out the room before the day of the event.
The wisdom of a site visit to scope out accommodations was the first of several lessons we learned in planning our student advocacy day. When the South Dakota Speech-Language-Hearing Association received a 2014 ASHA Student Advocacy Grant to develop student participation in advocacy days, we were thrilled—not just because it would boost SDSLHA’s support for current legislation, but also because we could offer student members an activity other than presenting research at the association’s annual convention.
As student delegate to SDSLHA, I coordinated the event with Elizabeth Hanson, SDSLHA president, and Jessica Messersmith, immediate past president. The original plan was to offer hearing and cognition screening as a draw to legislators and their staffers. However, because of noise levels and a lack of privacy in the building, we shifted our focus, choosing to provide box lunches and a hands-on technology demonstration. We measured sound levels in personal audio devices and demonstrated otoscopy, audiometry, and augmentative and alternative communication devices.
Our goal was to bring CSD students from across the state to speak one-on-one with legislators about the impact—on the professions and the clients we serve—of proposed legislation: insurance coverage for audiologic services in children, adaptive telecommunication equipment, a nutrition and hydration dining assistance program in assisted living facilities, and insurance coverage for autism-related services. We invited students from the state’s three schools—University of South Dakota (graduate and undergraduates), Augustana College (undergraduates) and Mitchell Technical Institute (speech-language pathology assistant program).
Here’s what we learned.
Start planning early, four to six months before the event. The day will be here before you know it. It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared. We sent e-mails to all CSD students in the state, explaining the day and encouraging them to participate by stressing the importance of advocating for their future professions. We tried to make the e-mails catchy: One stated, “If you aren’t going to do it, who is? Join us at our capitol and let your voice be heard.”
Create a budget and stick to it. You will likely have a limited amount of money to work with. Check regularly to be sure you are on track.
Delegate tasks. One person can’t plan a successful event alone. Ask advisors and other students to make reservations, put together giveaways and prep students.
Prepare your participants. Even seasoned clinicians and faculty may be intimidated about lobbying, and students are no different. We held two sessions where students could ask questions and get clarification. We also used information from SDSLHA on current legislation related to the professions to create a handout of talking points. We included a description of each bill and an explanation of why SDSLHA supported or opposed it.
Check out your space before the event. We learned the hard way!
Be flexible. When we realized our original planned activity—hearing and cognition screenings—couldn’t work, we found an alternative. And when we realized no one would happen by our room, we changed up the plans and went looking for the people we wanted to engage.
Get excited. Advocacy days are a great opportunity for your fellow students—if you are excited, they will be, too!
Aside from the less-than-ideal room, the day could not have gone any better. The energy was high and everyone was really excited. To compensate for the hidden space, a group of students roamed the capitol building, finding legislators and inviting them to attend our event.
In all, we spoke with about 50 legislators throughout the course of the day. Even more exciting was learning that two of the bills that were the focus of our advocacy day—insurance coverage of audiology services and development of a fund for hearing aids and assistive equipment for children—were signed into law by the governor.
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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9