WSA Staff

Partners in Policymaking is a free program designed to educate people with disabilities and their family members/caregivers and supply them with the power of advocacy to positively change the way people with disabilities are supported and viewed in education, community the workplace, and more. More than 30 states offer free training sessions each year with a certification.

Find out if your state has the program available here.  If yours doesn’t or if online learning is more convenient, they offer free online classes as a good option too, at The online classes are available in English and Spanish.

According to the program’s website, class types include:

  • Partners in Living: created to help people with developmental disabilities, their parents, family members and friends, educators and service providers understand the important concepts of self-determination, family support, community living and assistive technology.
  • Partners in Education: created to help parents of children with developmental disabilities understand and maximize the special education system. The course focuses on a child’s right to a free appropriate public education, the laws that protect those rights and offers practical ways that parents can ensure that their children benefit from an inclusive education. 
  • Partners in Making Your Case: designed to help people with disabilities and their families create positive change through advocacy. The course helps participants understand the legislative process, the essential elements of good advocacy, identify and research personal issues, then advocate for systems change as individuals and as part of larger community efforts. 

It is a time commitment, for sure, but several of our members/parents have taken the journey and have had positive and enriching experiences attesting to its worth, and three have generously shared some of their insights and takeaways as alumni of the program. We'd be happy to answer any questions other members may have. Contact us at for additional information.

Melissa Murphy, Pennsylvania: 

“When I look back at this journey so far, it is clear that my participation in Partners five years ago was a turning point and paradigm-shifting experience.  While still reeling from the diagnosis, I signed up for the course. I made important connections with other parents and decision makers throughout the state whom I still rely upon regularly.  I learned how to navigate systems and what resources were available to my daughter.  But most critically, I changed my mindset about disability, recognized my own ablest attitudes, and re-evaluated my thinking about the kind of life that my daughter could have.  Based on the Partners program, I set a bold vision for her with high expectations, and demanded every single person in her life do the same.  Today she is a fully included, dynamic, funny, clever young girl who is thriving at school, has real friendships with peers, is active in her school and community, participates in a local theatre company, takes dance classes, and is all-around amazing.  I am forever grateful to Partners for setting us on this path.”

Laura Chesser, Michigan: 

“I was lucky enough to have found out about this intensive disability training program when Katelyn (now 18 and about to vote!) was two years old.  Although it is primarily focused on being able to affect policy, it really set me up to understand systems delivery and become a strong advocate for my daughter and to help others.  The most beneficial training was learning about the importance of my voice in making sure Katelyn had opportunities to pursue and focus on her having a sense of fulfillment.  Dreaming for my child again began here.  I was assigned to create a vision for my daughter and that piece of written work has served us well in making very hard and complicated decisions for her while she was young and now with her as she has blossomed into adulthood.”  

This program provided me knowledge to help create a path so it would build up to the future she chooses.  I cannot say enough how wonderfully this program has served our family, our personal community and most importantly Katelyn. It was a year of dedication and made a world of difference in what services and supports I expect to be available and ask for.  It is always utilized when I speak to others about what services and supports are available, what they are meant to provide for people who need them, and how to access them.   

Since then, Katelyn has been included in preschool - 12th grade, and has had access to curriculum with accommodations and supports that she personally needed.  She has decided she wants to attend a four-year program and is currently looking for a university that will help her obtain employment in her chosen career.  Katelyn has taken advantage of the Work Innovation and Opportunity Act services through her Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at her high school.  We are currently in the process of applying for her Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI) and Medicaid benefits and will be pursuing the Michigan’s MI Choice Waiver Program (self-determination waiver). This school year, she is attending a super senior year with ½ day academics and ½ day employment and career exploration helping narrow down a path of career.  (She loves science and people--which is a lot to narrow down!!)   

With all she has had available, I hope she has the life that she wants.  I wish for Katelyn a life of happiness and fulfillment, doing what she loves and most importantly leading to define her own life.”  

Chrystal Murphy, Tennessee: 

 “I am currently enrolled in this year’s Partners in Policymaking class. It has provided so much education for navigating the world of disabilities and given me the confidence to be able to advocate for my daughter and for others in my community. Mikayla is 10 (how is she already 10???) and in the fourth grade. We have homeschooled from the beginning but as she has gotten older I had been really uncertain about her transition to adulthood without the help of the school system. Partners has taught me how to plan and dream of a future for my daughter and given me the tools to make it happen.

Perhaps the biggest blessing from this class are the friendships I have developed with others from around the state who are also advocating for those with disabilities. There is a comradery and a resource of people to turn to if I have questions or need help. This class has helped me feel like I can actually make a difference - with the help of my classmates - in the rules and regulations that govern disability systems at the local, state and even national levels. The Partners program is an invaluable resource for parents of a child with disabilities and also for adults with disabilities. You will not regret being a part of this program.”

Sometimes it can be difficult navigating all the resources out there in individual regions and states, but programs like this can set a path that can make a world of difference.