BBME Citizens: Brian Harnish
Brian Harnish is a Best Buddies Citizens participant in Bangor, Maine. Read below to learn about his lifetime of advocacy work for the IDD community!
Hello, there. My name is Brian Harnish, and I’m a pretty new addition to Best Buddies Maine. I’m 40 years old, and I have Spina Bifida, clinical depression, and anxiety disorder. What I would like to talk about today is what accessibility, advocacy, and equality mean to me.
My journey with all three topics really started when I was in middle school and high school. I began learning about reasonable accommodations and going to my IEP meetings and have a voice in my future education. I made sure I had a voice in my future education. For example, they wanted me to go on a “traditional” 5-year high school plan. I told them that I did not want to if I didn’t have to, and with some accommodations, I did meet my requirements in 4 years and got my diploma.
A few months after high school and an unsuccessful attempt at college later, I was contacted by the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion & Disability Studies (CCIDS) about speaking at a conference near my hometown about having a disability and what the youth to adult transition was like. The presentation went pretty well, and CCIDS offered me a part-time position on one of their upcoming 4-year grant projects called Maine Works for Youth. The project was centered around creating tools and offering pieces of training and presentations for youth in the transition process. I also have a pretty strong informal technology background, so I got to work on our website quite a bit as well and gained experience in that. Since I was right in the middle of my own and fairly well-spoken at the time, it was a perfect fit. They accommodated my various situations very well. My 20 (and later on 30) hours-per-week schedule was very flexible. At the job, I was fortunate enough to be in contact with hundreds of folks with disabilities, medical providers, teachers, families, and more through various presentations I did for those groups. I got to learn what folks with disabilities around the state were having to deal with on a day-to-day basis and offer advice, as well as learn ideas & tricks from them.
Since finishing my time at CCIDS, I have ramped up my advocacy work big time, both in the fields of developmental disabilities as well as adult mental health. I’m on the board of directors for Speaking Up for Us (SUFU), Disability Rights Maine, and the Consumer Council System of Maine. I’m also a member of Unlimited Solutions Clubhouse in my hometown and am a part of the group that goes around the country and does accreditations on other clubhouses. Come to think of it, I just got back from Baltimore, MD last weekend, where I went to an international seminar.
As you can tell, I’ve done a fair bit when it comes to inclusion and advocacy. As a person with a disability, I think it’s vitally important in today’s day and age to take control of your own narrative and your own story. It’s yours; you get to write it. That being said, I would also suggest you listen to what others who are more experienced have to say and at least consider what they have to say. Do what makes you happy and what drives you to keep going. Take risks & chances – you never know where they’ll lead. As far as the IDD community around Maine, I think we’re doing pretty well. For me, the hardest part is the fact that Maine is a very rural state, and my friends live very far apart, so it’s hard to see them physically. Video conferencing is nice, but it’s not quite the same. Right now, I’m just trying to help out where I can and soak up information and experiences.