Martha Haythorn, Policy Intern with The Arc Georgia, reflects on her experiences at her first National Convention with The Arc of the United States, which took place this year in Nashville, Tennessee from November 7-10:
(Q) Why did you want to go to Convention?
(A) Before I came to the Convention, I applied for the scholarship. I didn’t get it but still wanted to go because I am really interested in policy. I am a policy intern for The Arc Georgia and I wanted to learn more about policy before I made the great leap into policy work.
(Q) What did you think about your first Convention?
(A) I would say, when I was at the Convention, I thought I knew a lot about policy, but there is a lot that I did not know. I learned more about policy, and now I am more comfortable. I have always wanted to make a difference and be a leader, and I think the convention has made me be a bigger leader.
(Q) What was your favorite part of Convention?
(A) My favorite part was meeting self-advocates and meeting other people from Arcs of other states. I did not even know there were Arcs of other states, and that was completely awesome. It was an awesome hotel and I got to walk around and explore every day. Also, the red carpet was a big favorite because I really got to show off. It was so much fun. I loved that red carpet. And seeing the movie was really interesting. There were a lot of heavy emotions in it, and it made it even greater.
(Q) What did you learn about being an advocate?
(A) I have been advocating for a long time. I learned to keep on advocating and don’t stop. Advocating is a way to show who you are to the rest of the world. If you don’t advocate, the rest of the world wont hear your voice. So raise your voice!
(Q) Did you learn something that really surprised you?
(A) I went to a talk about dementia and learned that 70% of individuals with Down syndrome can get dementia by not taking care of themselves. In my life, I have really taken care of myself, and I was surprised to find that out and I did not know that could happen.
(Q) What was one thing you learned that you are most likely to use in your community?
(A) Something I will use, is to work on finding a way to make housing more possible for individuals with disabilities because that is a big conflict right now in Georgia and other states. There is so much more we can be doing for individuals with disabilities to have a life in the community.
(Q) Would you recommend the Convention to others?
(A) Yes, I definitely would because you can learn so much. And once you do, it stays with you for the rest of your life.
(Q) What would you want other potential attendees to know about the event?
(A) Be prepared to learn a lot more than you are used to. You will learn so much from one conference about things you can be doing today. And you will wonder why you weren’t doing those things already, but you need to go and hear from other people because that will help us.
(Q) What would you like to learn at the next Convention?
(A) I would like to learn about other disabilities and not just Down syndrome. I would also like to learn how we can help people with disabilities have a college experience with housing.
(Q) What is next for you?
(A) My next step in December is for my first segment of Mondays with Martha, and that will be a segment where I interview other citizens in Georgia and other states about how we can become better advocates for people with disabilities. And I will be going to the Capitol soon to meet with legislators.