States Model Student Advocacy Participants in Idaho’s “Day at the Capitol,” including organizer Beth Anderson (back row, fourth from left), gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Boise. The youngest advocate is the daughter of one of the students. In Boise, Idaho, members of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association ... ASHA News
ASHA News  |   November 01, 2010
States Model Student Advocacy
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  • Carol Polovoy, editorial production manager of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at
    Carol Polovoy, editorial production manager of The ASHA Leader , can be reached at×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   November 01, 2010
States Model Student Advocacy
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.AN2.15142010.26
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.AN2.15142010.26
Participants in Idaho’s “Day at the Capitol,” including organizer Beth Anderson (back row, fourth from left), gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Boise. The youngest advocate is the daughter of one of the students.
In Boise, Idaho, members of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) performed hearing screenings on state legislators and their staffers. In Hartford, Conn., NSSLHA members paired with audiologists and speech-language pathologists to talk with state legislators—sometimes even pulling the lawmakers from the session floor.
The efforts in Idaho and Connecticut were part of a pilot program to increase participation of communication sciences and disorders (CSD) students in state advocacy. ASHA, recognizing that students who become involved in grassroots advocacy are more likely to participate in similar activities throughout their professional careers, awarded grants to the Connecticut Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CSHA) and the Idaho Speech and Hearing Association (ISHA) to help the states implement programs similar to previous successful efforts (see The ASHA Leader, Sept. 22, 2009).
ASHA prepared an advocacy day toolbox with timelines, CEU information, letters, flyers, briefing plans, scripts for role-playing, tips, sample talking points, and other how-tos. Based on the success of the pilot program, ASHA is awarding grants to five other state associations for advocacy days in 2011: Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Tennesee.
When ISHA received a grant to fund an advocacy day, President Sondra McMindes had just finished running the state’s annual conference and needed help launching another event. She turned to Elisabeth (Beth) Anderson, a second-year master’s student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Education of the Deaf at Idaho State University (ISU) and student representative to the ISHA Executive Board.
In a largely rural state with fewer than 400 CSD professionals, “students are given more opportunities to participate in professional activities,” said Anderson, who took on the project with gusto. In December 2009, however, when she received all the information, there wasn’t enough time to plan a lobbying event while the state legislature was in session (January through March). Instead, Anderson chose to link the advocacy effort with Better Hearing and Speech Month in May.
To begin planning the May 14 “Day at the Capitol,” Anderson contacted the two NSSLHA chapters at ISU (at the Pocatello and Meridian campuses) to recruit participants. “The NSSLHA officers were a great help,” she said. “All of the students generously gave their time and energy to make this a success!”
With help from the local Lions Club, which has a mobile hearing screening unit, Anderson staged free hearing screenings in front of the state capitol building in Boise. Invitations to the screenings had been sent to all lawmakers and their staff members. The 18 students and five ISHA members also handed out earplugs and information on communication disorders.
Although few lawmakers visited the trailer, Anderson said, many of their staffers did. Teams of two or three participants then visited these staffers in their offices, where they left additional information and scheduled follow-up meetings with aides of both state lawmakers and Idaho’s U.S. congressional representatives.
“We met so many people!” Anderson said. “The most helpful were the representatives’ schedulers and other behind-the-scenes aides. They directed us to key people, like members of the Appropriations and Health and Welfare committees. And anyone who was anywhere near the Capitol couldn’t help but know that we had been there.”
“Day at the Capitol” participants spoke to staffers about equitable reimbursement rates for providers of speech-language and hearing services; recruitment and retention of qualified school-based providers to reduce waiting lists for services; student loan forgiveness for clinicians working in rural areas or disadvantaged schools; and adequate funding for university CSD programs.
Because of the success of the day, Anderson approached the ISHA Executive Board about making the day an annual event. The Executive Board agreed to support student advocacy activities by providing funding for the 2011 event.
“This event was incredibly enlightening and definitely changed me,” Anderson said. “Before, I was afraid to talk with politicians. Now I realize it’s not scary at all. Legislators want to know the bottom line: what’s the cost of this bill, what’s the benefit, why should they buy into it. And we saw firsthand how these laws will affect us when we get out of school.”
When Mallory Buckingham, CSHA vice president for legislative affairs, received word of the student advocacy grant, she knew how important advocacy is (CSHA had recently helped thwart an effort by otolaryngologists to remove “diagnose” from speech-language pathologists’ scope of practice), but she didn’t necessarily realize that organizing an advocacy day was “like planning a wedding.”
All she could do, Buckingham said, was to put the pieces in place and “hope for the best.” And in this case, “the best” was a reality.
Face-to-face lobbying was new to CSHA, Buckingham said. “We have testified, written letters, and sent e-mails, but we’ve never stormed the joint,” she laughed, referring to the April 22 Lobby Day at the state capitol.
Buckingham called the NSSLHA chapters at Southern Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut to elicit students’ interest, and worked with CSHA’s lobbyist to work out logistics. She e-mailed invitations to CSHA members (the free ASHA CEUs available to participants were definitely a draw); those who responded contacted their individual representatives to set up day-of appointments.
The day began with an information and education session. CSHA’s lobbyist outlined the lawmaking process to the five students and 14 audiologists and SLPs (Buckingham had brought the Schoolhouse Rock video “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” but didn’t have time to show it), and a member of the legislature explained what he looks for from lobbyists and some effective lobbying techniques. CSHA officials detailed the association’s previous legislative efforts.
Over lunch, the students and professionals reviewed the issues and pending legislation of concern (e.g., insurance coverage for hearing aids; training and education for sports coaches on concussion; procedures in changes to scope-of-practice determinations).
Following lunch, the participants—armed with CSHA-prepared fact sheets on communication disorders—formed student/professional teams to meet with lawmakers and staffers. “It was Earth Day, and several other organized groups were lobbying for their causes,” Buckingham said. “The House was in session and the Senate was in conference. The hallway outside the House was teeming with citizens and lobbyists. Many of our participants called their representatives out from the House by sending in a note with a page to request a short visit out in the hallway. We found senators in their offices or had them pulled from their conference room by aides.”
Lobby Day participants met with 11 representatives and three senators about pending legislative issues, and spoke with staffers and left educational fact sheets in several other offices. They reconvened to report back on their face-to-face meetings.
“Everyone loved it,” Buckingham said. “The students and professionals thought it was fantastic. They had no idea there were so many issues that concerned our profession and our clients. They said they never felt so empowered. We’re definitely going to try to pull it off again this year.”
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November 2010
Volume 15, Issue 14