Hello everyone, I am Heather Hancock and I am a self-advocate. This means I speak up for myself and what I believe in. I have learned many things, and will work hard for goals I want to achieve. Over time, I have gained many life experiences that other people take for granted. I found the love of my life, my fiancé Craig Blackburn. I have my dream job at the State Department of Education as an administrative assistant to the State Assistant Superintendent Renee Axtell. I was the Special Olympic Athlete of the Year 2011; and I am active on the National Down Syndrome Congress Board, along with our local organization the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma. All that I have accomplished is due to advocating for myself and my friends and family advocating for me as well. 

Self-advocacy is important to people with all kinds of disabilities. Many people spend their whole lives being told what to do. If you are always told what to do and you are never listened to, you won’t ever learn to make a decision for yourself. It might be hard for people with physical or learning disabilities to speak for themselves; but having difficulties is okay, because they can learn from their friends, family, and caregivers about how to be a self-advocate.

As a self-advocate, I want the best for myself and others who have disabilities. Recently, I have had the opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities.  I want to share my experience from the 2012 Buddy Walk on Washington with you.

I was excited and honored to have the opportunity to attend the Affiliates in Action Conference and participate in the Buddy Walk on Washington. This was a wonderful experience.  We were there to ask our Congressmen and Senators to co-sponsor three bills.

  • The first bill is called the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act), it was introduced to congress on November 15th, 2011.  It allows people with disabilities to save money in a savings plan like a 529 college savings plan, without losing their State or Federal benefits.  
  • The second bill we presented was the Down Syndrome Research bill, which requests and increase in National Institute of Health (NIH) research funding for Down syndrome.
  • The third and final bill was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization. 

My first visit was with one of our state Senators Tom Coburn (also known as “Doctor NO”).   We talked about the ABLE Act quite a bit, and the NIH Research funding. Because we only had 12 minutes, we just had time to mention we were in support of the reauthorization of the bill and needed his support.  He would not commit to co-sponsor any of the bills, but he said he would consider them after having time to study them.

My second visit was to our other State Senator Jim Inhofe.  He told me he works with our military. He travels to Afghanistan frequently to visit our troops and to see what is needed in that country by our military.  He told us he would co-sponsor the ABLE Act and consider the other two bills after studying them.

Last I was able to visit with Congressman Tom Cole.  He told me that he would co-sponsor the ABLE Act and he said that is a “NO BRAINER”!  He said he would study the other two bills, but he did say he didn’t feel that the education bill would be addressed this year.

 We had a wonderful, productive and beautiful day!!

Attitude has a great impact upon success or failure.   My attitude has always been positive and one of believing that I CAN achieve my goals.  I don’t accept failure as a way of life, but I try and if I don’t meet my goal initially, I will try again. Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.

This is true for everyone.  We sometimes measure our success against what others have achieved.  We don’t need to do that.  We need to base our measurement upon what we as individuals are able to achieve. Success is measured in trying.

As time goes by, my support group becomes smaller and that is the way it should be as I move toward greater independence.  My parents, sister, and friends have all been advocates for me in the past and now I have taken the lead role by being a self-advocate.  These roles demonstrate through example what is possible with belief and determination.  I look forward to the future and believe with the continued support of my family, friends and, of course, Craig, it will be as fulfilling as the past twenty-eight years have been.

I would like to leave you with one last thing:

Believe in yourself.
Remember that anything Is possible.
Believe in what makes you feel good.
Believe in what makes you happy.
Believe in the dreams you've always wanted to come true,
and give them every chance to.
Life holds no promises as to what will come your way.
You must search for your own ideals and work towards reaching them.
Life makes no guarantees as to what you'll have.
It just gives you time to make choices and to take chances
and to discover whatever secrets might come your way.
If you are willing to take the opportunities you are given and utilize the abilities you have,
you will constantly fill your life with special moments and unforgettable times.
No one knows the mysteries of life or its ultimate meaning,
but for those who are willing to believe in their dreams and in themselves,
life is a precious gift in which anything is possible.

Believe in your dreams and they may come true; believe in yourself and they will come true!