Lisa Lightner is a passionate advocate for special education and has worked tirelessly to bring attention to this important cause through her blog, volunteer efforts, standing before the government and more. With over seven years of advocacy experience, Lisa is well aware of what it takes to get the word out about a cause close to her heart and loves to help others do the same. We had the opportunity to sit down with her to learn more about her special education efforts, the importance of creating change in the world (even if that change won’t directly impact you or your loved ones in your lifetimes), and how to get behind a cause you care about.
1. How and when did your passion for advocacy begin, particularly surrounding special education?
When my son (with disabilities) was a toddler, I found the IEP (Individualized Education Programs) and special ed process so confusing. I took a course to become a Certified Special Education Advocate not to change careers, but to have the knowledge to assist my own family. Originally, I figured the knowledge would help our family and friends. Then, I had to complete volunteer hours to receive my certification and was assigned to a family who had so many struggles. The mother tried her hardest for her family, but the family was extremely poor and also struggled with mental illness. When I saw how they were ostracized by both their school and their community simply because of their circumstances, I knew I had a calling. Once I exposed how the principal of the school treated the child in that family, he actually lost his job and the story made national and international news.
2. Your social channels make it clear that you are passionate about IEP (Individualized Education Programs) and your background is pretty impressive in terms of boards you’ve sat on and groups you are a member of. What do you hope to accomplish with these efforts?
I know this sounds corny, but every morning I look at my two boys (one with disabilities, one without) and I say to myself, “Gotta make the world a better place for my kids.” And by “my kids,” I mean all kids. I feel like disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities and autism, are the last civil rights battle to be fought. People with disabilities—particularly intellectually disabilities—are among the most ostracized people of any society. I want people to accept these kids. Not just tolerate them, but accept them and include them. There’s a difference.
3. How long have you been advocating for special education and what has been your proudest moment so far?
It’s been about six to seven years (my son will be eight next month). He was diagnosed early and, once I got my feet back under me (after reeling from the initial diagnosis, which was really difficult!), I started advocating.
4. What is your favorite part about advocating for special education?
Helping moms—hearing their stories, helping them advocate, hearing them heave a big sigh when they realize that someone will help them and that someone else understands their story. When they feel validated—that’s my favorite part. I know people are sympathetic or empathetic to moms like myself, but it really isn’t until you’ve walked “a day in our shoes” that you can fully understand what we go through. I’ve been there and know what it’s like to long for that validation, to have someone else get it. It’s rewarding to offer that validation to other moms.
5. Advocating for a cause can be daunting, especially when you’re advocating for something to political leaders. How do you keep yourself motivated when you face challenges?
I’m a very practical and factual person, so once I understand a system, I’m okay working within the confines of that system. That’s not to say it isn’t frustrating at times, since politics can be completely crazy. However, legislation does NOT happen overnight. You have to be able to see the big picture. I have been lobbying for several years for a piece of legislation that my son will probably never benefit from due to the timeframes surrounding legislation. Yet, that doesn’t stop me because I see how it will benefit kids in the long run. There’s a proverb that says something like, “One generation plants the trees and another generation enjoys the shade.” We are enjoying the shade of our predecessors, such as women and African Americans voting, women in the workplace and so on. It’s my time to plant some trees.
5. How do you use social media to get the word out about special education and how do you think others can use the various social platforms to give their causes voices
I have a blog and a decent following on various social media platforms. My goal is to keep trying to spread the word in a positive way. It’s tough. There is so much social media noise out there now, but you just have to keep at it. Find your passion and what you’re good at and go with it.
6. What are your top tips for people who want to get involved and raise awareness for special education or another important cause?
Pick one cause that really resonates with you that you are passionate about. You can’t be an expert on everything and if you are constantly advocating for a zillion different things, your friends and followers won’t take you seriously. They’ll think it’s just your “cause du jour.” I am concerned about many things as far as society and the future for my kids go, but I focus on special ed and disabilities.