The Disabilities Forum of Maryland has a vision of uniting people across disabilities, and allowing their voices to become prominent and powerful expressions in key public decisions affecting Maryland citizens with disabilities. With this vision in mind, individuals with disabilities will help create a society in which full equality and empowerment is an inherent way of life.
A New Approach to Advocacy
In 1994, Joel David Myerberg and a number of activists with disabilities, each of whom had been involved with other cross-disability organizations, formed the Maryland Disabilities Forum (MDF). The Maryland Disabilities Forum has since continued to successfully produce statewide systems change in order to achieve community inclusion, civil rights and equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
In 1994, MDF was the first grassroots network in the country to host an exchange between two gubernatorial candidates specifically about cross-disability issues. MDF has organized gubernatorial candidates’ forums every four years since then to provide an opportunity for persons with disabilities to communicate their expectations directly to political candidates, and for the candidates to present their disability platforms as part of their campaign pledges. MDF has provided assistance to the gubernatorial candidates in developing their platforms on disability issues, which were published as position papers during their campaigns. Most recently, Governor Ehrlich published his paper during the 2002 election, New Freedom Initiative for Maryland, which incorporated MDF’s Six Principles.
MDF has also organized other public forums in order for people with disabilities to speak to the public representatives whose policy decisions directly affect their daily lives. These include “Keeping the Promise” with Governor Ehrlich, Secretary of the Department of Disabilities and seven other key Cabinet Secretaries (2004), the Baltimore City Council President Candidates’ Forum (2003), a forum informing people with disabilities about available funding for cigarette cessation programs (2001), a health care forum (1998), and a Congressional Forum on Disability Issues (1996). These forums allow consumers and representatives of advocacy and provider organizations to hold elected officials accountable to their publicly-stated promises as well as for the exchange of information, ideas and recommendations.
MDF has a strong history of advocacy and building consensus within the cross-disability community and extensive successes in affecting systems change (see “MDF Successes”). MDF recommended to the Governor and his staff and advocated for the creation of a Department of Disabilities, thus elevating the then Governor’s Office for Individuals with Disabilities to a cabinet-level department. MDF assisted in writing the legislation for the proposed department, which included recommendations given by MDF for implementing the Governor’s New Freedom Initiative for Maryland. On May11, 2004, Governor Ehrlich signed Senate Bill 188, thus creating the new state Department of Disabilities.MDF has been from its inception an all-volunteer organization until a Director was hired in July 2003.
If you are interested in connecting with members of the Forum and discussing the overarching principles that drive self advocacy, as well as relevant issues affecting individuals with disabilities in the State of Maryland, then please join us on Facebook.