Many state associations and the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) urge students in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) to become involved in grassroots advocacy initiatives. NSSLHA recognizes that students who participate in advocacy programs are more likely to understand, participate in, and assist in government relations activities throughout their professional careers. That's why NSSLHA includes participation in state or federal advocacy efforts as a requirement for all levels of its Chapter Recognition Program.
Students who learn to advocate not only acquire valuable skills, they also help their state and national associations, their profession, and their clients. Associations in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas actively involve students in advocacy efforts, and their programs can be replicated by other states interested in building student participation.
Drawing on the advice and experience of these programs, ASHA will work with other targeted state associations to develop similar efforts and build the foundation for an expanded dynamic and effective grassroots advocacy force.
The Ohio Speech and Hearing Governmental Affairs Coalition (OSHGAC) sponsors an annual legislative breakfast to show legislators the vital services SLPs and audiologists provide consumers throughout the state. Founded in 1982, OSHGAC includes the Ohio Academy of Audiology, Ohio Council of Speech and Hearing Administrators, Ohio School Speech Pathology and Educational Audiology Coalition, and Ohio Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The students' participation is funded by the OSHGAC member organizations.
The March 2009 breakfast in the statehouse atrium drew 30 audiologists and SLPs and many students from Bowling Green State University (BGSU), Baldwin-Wallace College, and Ohio State University.
"We were all a little nervous about meeting the legislators when we first arrived at the breakfast," said Julie Rader, present of the BGSU chapter of the NSSLHA. After meeting and talking with Rep. Cliff Hite, however, the students felt more comfortable.
The students met with a senator and two other representatives; Rader had the opportunity to discuss early intervention with her district legislator. The students reported that the experience was positive, and said they would like to observe legislative procedures in action.
The Oklahoma Speech-Language-Hearing Association (OSHA) strives to involve students in a variety of activities, especially grassroots advocacy.
After several years of sponsoring a legislative day—sometimes with breakfast—OSHA now sponsors an annual brownies and ice cream reception for state legislators. The event, held in May to coincide with Better Hearing and Speech Month and Mental Health Month, is cosponsored with the Oklahoma School Psychological Association.
Students prepare and deliver give-away bags, serve refreshments, and provide free hearing screenings. Some students volunteer for an hour and others stay for the entire four-hour event. OSHA plans to expand the number of student volunteers in the future to give all the participating students time away from their volunteer posts to speak with their legislators.
Students cite various reasons for wanting to participate. Some receive extra credit in a class or clinical hours for providing hearing screenings. The speech-language students enjoy seeing the audiologists and school psychologists in action, as well as meeting with legislators in concert with "seasoned" Capitol Day participants.
Distance and timing prevent some students from participating. Of the six CSD programs in the state, two are at least two hours away from Oklahoma City and one is about an hour away. The May date, a convenient time for legislators and the two professional recognition months, often coincides with students' finals or is after the academic year ends.
Many students also have helped with OSHA's grassroots legislative network, formed in 2003 with assistance from ASHA, and continued to participate in the network as they transitioned to professional status.
OSHA is stepping up plans to involve students through volunteer events throughout the state. Students who participate in an autism walk, for example, will be more likely to advocate on autism-related issues. Organizers hope that multiple events across the state will allow more students to become active and strengthen their involvement in legislative efforts.
The Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association (TSHA) is strongly invested in student involvement, especially grassroots advocacy. The most recent session of the state legislature included an active TSHA agenda and provided many opportunities for student involvement. The student loan repayment initiative garnered the most student interest and activity. Two graduate students in speech-language pathology, Christina Worlee from the University of Texas at Dallas, and Raquel Martinez of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, left their classes (with the permission of their faculty) to travel to Austin to testify at a committee hearing in support of the bill.
During the annual TSHA convention in Austin in April, members had an opportunity to visit the state capitol and their senators and representatives. More than 450 SLPs, audiologists, students, and consumers participated in a brief legislative training and then boarded buses for the capitol. The advocates spoke to their legislators and staffers about the critical shortages of SLPs in Texas and asked for their support of the bills that affected the professions. The response was overwhelmingly favorable, especially for the student loan repayment bill, which passed both the House and Senate. Unfortunately the governor vetoed the measure.
For those unable to get to Austin, TSHA also sponsors District Legislative Day, when students and professionals throughout the state visit legislators in their home offices. TSHA provides participants with talking points about pending legislation and the fields of speech-language pathology and audiology.
Through TSHA, students serve an active role in the political process as members of the Legislative Active Students Task Force; through participation in VoterVoice campaigns, a program through which members contact their legislators on specific issues; and by volunteering for social and governmental policy committees. Several students have moved into THSA leadership positions as they transitioned into the work force.