Self-advocate leaders share position statements with lawmakers


The Council on Developmental Disabilities’ VOICES of the CNMI self-advocate leaders representing Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, pose in a group photo with lawmakers, government officials, and DD Council officials outside the Jesus P. Mafnas Memorial Building on Capitol Hill. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

The Council on Developmental Disabilities’ VOICES of the CNMI self-advocate leaders representing Saipan, Tinian, and Rota shared their position statements with lawmakers last Wednesday, calling for equal access and to improve opportunities for quality services, support, and action by all policymakers on behalf of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

Self-advocate leaders of VOICES—which stands for “Very Outspoken Individuals Can Each Succeed”—of the CNMI read their position statements during a joint presentation before senators and representatives in the House of Representatives chamber.

VOICES of the CNMI, which was founded in 2013, has advocated for more options for people with disabilities to access quality services and support, reach economic self-sufficiency, and experience fairness and inclusion in all areas of community life.

After the presentation, leaders and members of the VOICES of the CNMI toured the Legislature, where lawmakers discussed with them about the legislative processes, among other issues.

Pamela Sablan, executive director of the CNMI Council on Development Disabilities, later said in an interview that VOICES of the CNMI was one of the initiatives that they helped establish in 2013, since it is in line with one of DD’s mandates, which is to build self-advocacy and capacity. In order for that to happen, they support the VOICES of the CNMI, which is a self-advocacy organization led by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Sablan said.

She said they support VOICES of the CNMI’s activities by providing training, technical assistance, working with their partners—the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. and the CNMI University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

“We work together and also empower them so they have the skill sets to advocate for themselves and voice out what they need to improve their lives,” Sablan said.

She said one way to do that is through legislation and when policymakers enact laws, sometimes they inadvertently exclude the “vulnerable populations.”

VOICES of the CNMI has three chapters—Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Sablan said DD Council and the CNMI University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities shared in the cost to bring the self-advocates from Rota and Tinian for the presentation.

Sablan said the self-advocates are here to share what are their most pressing needs and how to work together to improve services in the CNMI.

Felipe Aquino Jr., a member of the VOICES of the CNMI as well as a board member of the DD Council, said they believe that all people deserve opportunities and equal access to inclusive programs and services.

The Tinian chapter of VOICES of the CNMI said their goals include continuing to push policy makers to support expanding the Center for Living Independently to Tinian to allow individuals with disabilities to have access to the center, to advocate for local funding to hire staff and for operations for CLI-Tinian, and to create a partnership with the Tinian Mayor’s Office to utilize the accessible vehicle to allow individuals to come to the center.

The VOICES of the CNMI-Rota Chapter’s goals include work with public and private entities to ensure public right of way, making sure that government programs and private businesses are accessible to the community; educating the public and private entities on the use of person’s first language; and advocating that the public transportation system on Rota receives annual financial assistance form the Legislature in order to effectively operate the transit system.

The VOICES of the NMI-Saipan chapter’s goals include advocating for sustainable local funding to the Department of Community and Cultural Affair’s Commonwealth Respite Services Program so they are able to build capacity for respite services CNMI-wide, to continue to advocate for local funding to build the capacity of the Center for Living Independently on Saipan and to establish satellite locations on Tinian and Rota.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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