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How to Advocate? Jump in Head First

In her second blog contribution, Michelle Todd, President of the University of Minnesota Autism Speaks U chapter, explains how she learned to advocate for government change with no prior experience. She shows how the autism community can now join her in advocating for a very important bill that can make a difference for those who "age out" of services as they become adults. YOU can take action here

Before my internship this summer with the Advocacy Department at Autism Speaks, I had never actively reached out to any government institution. Not because I don’t believe there needs to be change taking place in the government. I do. I just wasn’t sure what steps to take.

Nothing like jumping in head first though, after Shelley Hendrix gave me a shove! As director of grassroots advocacy, she gave me a project to recruit co-sponsors for a piece of federal legislation called the Achieving a Better Life Act (ABLE).

This bill allows families with children with disabilities, including autism, to save money for their future much the same way that parents would save for their children without disabilities in 529 College Savings accounts. Money saved would be used for future education expenses if their kids are able to attend college, or life expenses if they aren’t -- expenses like transportation, transition services, housing, etc.

Job #1? Call the Members of Congress who had cosponsored the legislation last session and get them back on board so that we could get enough cosponsors to hit a majority in the House before the end of July!  I was a little nervous at first, but Shelley gave me a quick script to follow when I made my calls to help me feel more comfortable.  She usually includes these in the action alerts she sends out by email to help first-time callers feel more comfortable, too!

Every morning when I woke up, I would check THOMAS - the Library of Congress site - to see the status of the ABLE bill and look for new cosponsors. I am proud to say as of today there are more cosponsors in the House than there were last session -- a total of 255 U.S. Representatives!

This is thanks to all of the hard work people have put in contacting their Members of Congress and getting the word out about the importance of the ABLE Act. There is still a bit of work to do on the Senate side. We have 44 Senators on board, but we want to obtain a majority there as well so we can make this bill a law!

Have you contacted your Senator to either thank them for co-sponsoring ABLE or to ask them to do so?  The Autism Votes program makes it so easy to participate. You can get started today with a simple email by taking action here.  Everyone can help!  You don’t have to have a child, or a child with a disability, to do so.

If you’re like me and have never reached out to government offices before, now is the time! It’s simple and wonderful to watch the political leaders you have reached out to sign on to cosponsor bills you are passionate about. If calling and emailing people isn’t your thing, then look to advocate in other ways, such as signing on to the Light it Up Blue Petition.

Any way that you can help and make a difference is appreciated. We need to remember how important it is to continually advocate for people who may have difficulty advocating for themselves. 1 in 88 really can’t wait.


The more voices and advocates we have, the better the life we can create for those affected by autism.  You can register here to sign up to participate in the Autism Votes program and get started today!


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.