Leadership helped me find my voice. Advanced Leadership helped me recognize its importance.

Ansley Womble, class of 2019

The New Hampshire Leadership Series was one of the first times I disclosed my disability in a professional setting. I had spent years trying to hide my disability and compartmentalizing myself because I thought that’s what I had to do. Leadership helped me unlearn so much of this thinking. It helped me see my experience as an asset. The Advanced Leadership Series took this spark of awareness and grew it even more.  

Session 1: Equity-Based Inclusive Education - Michael McSheehan 

In this advanced series I began to think more about ableism. I appreciate the kind of questions Michael asked us to reflect on “What are the qualities of an anti-ableist ally?” “What does Equity-Based Inclusive Education mean to me?” Michael encouraged us to think about the importance of systemic change. While daunting, it improves outcomes for all learners and even a little bit of progress has effects downstream. I also deeply enjoyed getting to know other amazing parents and self-advocates in our Pre-Action Group (PAG). Together we created a presentation to help raise awareness about ableism. Something we all agreed was a necessary starting point. 

Session 2: Transition to College and Career - Katherine Vroman and Micah Fialka-Feldman  

I love the resources Katherine curated for this series and appreciated the focus of the first session; “Telling New Stories”. This helped shift the awareness of what’s possible through conversations around self-direction and changing narratives. This awareness grew in our session with Micah Fialka-Feldman and his Independent Broker, Andrea Hayes. It was wonderful to see the full, rich, life Micah lived and the autonomy he had, supported by a system that provided a robust framework for self-directed services in NY. Through a PAG we discovered that self-directed services are present in NH, but it is still patchwork compared to the framework in NY. We also found out Area Agencies are working to streamline self-direction services.  

Session 3: Exploring Intersectionality - Lydia X. Z. Brown 

Lydia is amazing. If you ever have a chance to learn from them, do so! They carry an amazing mix of advocacy, knowledge, empathy, and humor. This session sometimes made me uncomfortable, but in a necessary, good way – stretching awareness. This session involved so much self-reflection of unconscious bias and examining the impact of ableism. I appreciate the space Lydia created and held for this discomfort and vulnerability. They acknowledged these conversations can be hard. I always left class feeling supported by Lydia and my classmates. I so appreciate the work Lydia did scouting out in-depth resources from so many diverse voices. This is something I would like to see continue to expand in the disability community!   

Session 4: Health Equity in 2021  

I appreciated learning from Kathy Bates in a role different than the Leadership Series. She offered actionable examples of how to talk with your providers to improve these situations. I was a bit star struck to have the opportunity to learn from Bob Williams! Not two months prior, I’d watched the LISTEN movie by CommunicationFIRST in response to the movie, Music by Sia debacle. I thought LISTEN was so well done, and was a fantastic representation of “Nothing about us, without us.” I can’t believe I got to take a class with the policy director of CommunicationFIRST, who also worked with Presidents Clinton and Obama, who I quickly learned was down to earth and had a great sense of humor. Rock Star. I felt like I could talk with him, ask questions, and I deeply appreciated the information Bob Williams shared. 

Key takeaways 

Much has been done, but as a culture and in many systems, we still need to learn basics on ableism, equity, cultural competency around disability, and diverse representation. I hope more self-advocates and a diversity of voices will continue to be represented as presenters in the NH Leadership Series. It was fantastic to learn from so many in the Advanced Series. 

The Advanced Series helped me realize there is a balance between being aware of your privilege, listening with humility to marginalized voices, and recognizing the power of your own journey. This Series gave me the information& to begin that balancing act, resources to continue to learn more, and helped me recognize how important my journey and my voice are.