SHREVEPORT – Becoming a better advocate.

LSUS alumni coordinator Angela Myles started the intense Partners in Policymaking program to speak up for her nonverbal daughter Anais.

But while seeking the right words and resources to voice her concerns about policies that affect her four-year-old girl, Myles realized she needed to broaden her scope to create spaces for everyone with developmental disabilities to thrive.

“It’s bigger than just my daughter,” Myles said. “It must be about my community and everyone with developmental disabilities.

“Some individuals with developmental disabilities are incredibly intelligent, and they are actively advocating for themselves and their rights. I want to join them in advocating for public policies that support the rights and inclusion of all individuals with developmental disabilities.”

Despite being nonverbal, Anais expresses herself through gestures.

“She’s very bossy – she knows what she wants, and she’s clear in what she wants,” said Myles, who gave birth to Anais on Christmas Day at 12:25 p.m. in 2019. “She parallel learns, she learns by sitting beside you.

“She has the same capabilities as any child without developmental disabilities, she just isn’t using her words yet.”

The Partners in Policymaking program is conducted by the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council with the goal of teaching participants how to advocate at all levels of government when it comes to public policy.

As the only member from Northwest Louisiana and one of only two from all of North Louisiana, Myles traveled to Baton Rouge each month for six months to participate in two-day education sessions.

Myles completed the program in June as part of an 18-member cohort, which included multiple advocates who had disabilities. The initiative included 128 hours of direct instruction that included addresses from various public policymakers and advocate organizations.

“(The LADD Council) would bring in different public policymakers or different organizations to educate us about resources throughout the state,” Myles said. “The program identifies different biases that people have around developmental disabilities, and being in class with these self advocates just blew my mind.

“This program equipped me with the knowledge and tools to advocate for inclusion of people of all abilities.”

Myles learned alongside self advocates, including a blind man who gives museum tours, and a soon-to-be college student who will live on campus and regularly attends sessions at the Capitol.

These interactions encouraged Myles to increase social integration for her own daughter Anais.

“People with developmental disabilities want to be included, and we need to do everything we can to create inclusive environments,” Myles said. “I’ve found an outpouring of support and empowerment from my classmates, who now hold a special place in my heart and with whom I stay in contact.”

Myles intends to use her knowledge and experience into her role with the Office of Alumni Affairs at LSUS.

Thinking about different populations of people and how they experience the world can strengthen LSUS’s relationships with its graduates.

“The certification that Angela earned is a notable personal accomplishment and a welcome addition of expertise to the Office of Alumni Affairs,” said Jazmin Jernigan, director of alumni development at LSUS. “Ensuring that all members of the LSUS alumni community feel valued and supported is a priority for our office.

“Her fresh insights will only enhance our team’s ability to communicate more mindfully, understand diverse needs, and foster a more inclusive alumni network.”

Myles’ advocacy won’t be contained just to her Paw Patrol-loving daughter.

She’ll seek out opportunities to advocate for alumni at LSUS, which follows a State as a Model (SAME) employer initiative that adopts affirmative policies aimed at enhancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

“As a change agent, I’m passionate about driving policy changes and championing inclusivity,” Myles said. “While the community and individuals with developmental disabilities play crucial roles in advocating for themselves and educating others, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a part to play in promoting inclusivity and understanding.”