#AdvocacyMatters: Community and the Power of Disabled Voices

March 4, 2022 / #AdvocacyMatters

Jordan Ballinger, Policy Director at DRO, knew his team needed a down-to-earth communication line into the disabled community free from jargon and legal formalities. For too long, though, this DRO Community Engagement Coordinator position sat untouched and unfilled. DRO’s outreach programs were largely limited to formal communication—media, legislation, and court cases. DRO desperately needed a space where people with disabilities could speak and advocate, not with a team of lawyers at their side, but with other disabled community members.

When Alexia Kemerling joined DRO, everything seemed to fall into place. Alexia’s own disability led her into advocacy work. As a student at Hiram College, she experienced the lack of accessibility services for disabled students. She collaborated with peers on several projects ranging from developing free live-captioning at campus theatre productions to a “Speak Up for Accessibility” campaign that raised funds for accommodations at extracurricular events.

Alexia’s passion for advocacy only grew after joining DRO. She strives to uplift disabled voices in Ohio communities. While other areas of DRO offer legal support, Alexia empowers clients with communal support. She resonates with community members in ways that traditional outreach programs aren’t able to do.

Since Alexia’s role is solely focused on advocacy, she is also proud to get to be a part of several disability-led advocacy groups that are leading the way for change in Ohio. Since beginning her role she has taken part in the Breaking Silences Advocacy Committee, hosted by Maria Matzik at the Access Center for Independent Living in Dayton; The Ohio Advocacy Task Force, chaired by James Harley; and the Ohio Olmstead Task Force, co-chaired by Katie Shelley and Renee Wood; as well as collaborations with Centers for Independent Living around the state. Through these collaborations, Jordan and Alexia are hoping to DRO grow as a partner and resource for people working on systemic issues, often through grassroots methods.

Alexia plans to organize outreach programs to connect disabled community members with DRO’s resources. One of her projects is a letter-writing workshop that teaches participants how to communicate with policy makers. Another project is an Ohio General Assembly advocacy guide. This guide will help advocates navigate the rules and culture of the Ohio General Assembly so they can engage in policy advocacy because disabled voices belong wherever decisions are being made.

Her methods and style allow every participant to feel welcome and comfortable. Because Alexia’s communication line isn’t constrained to fit into legal bindings, she can connect with community members on a personal level. This connection enhances the support that DRO offers and humanizes the legal process, which can be mechanical, impersonal, and isolating for some clients.

The role of the Community Outreach Director bridges the gap between legal advocacy and social advocacy. We believe that people with disabilities need to be included in decision-making positions, and that organizations need to make space for disabled voices. DRO encourages all organizations to listen to members of the disabled community, understand their needs, and be proactive in accommodating accessibility measures. With Alexia’s help, DRO will continue their #AdvocacyMatters mission to protect and advocate for all people with disabilities.

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