Advocacy is defined as the active support of an idea or a cause. The best advocates for a disabled person are his/her parents. No one else has the same perspective about the special needs that their child faces.
How does advocacy make a difference in a person's life? Changes in many governmental agencies and programs have come about as the result of parents and caregivers standing up for the rights of their children. The services that local, state and federal agencies decide to fund are often the ones with the most vocal and effective advocates.
Check out on the following points about how you can become your child's best advocate.
You are talking, but is anyone listening? When you are speaking to others about an issue concerning your child, it may become difficult to get your point across. Follow these tips to communicate effectively.
1) Write down what you want to say beforehand
Having the main points on what you want to tell others will help you not get lost. Sometimes emotions get the best of us and we may forget what we wanted to say. Having something written down can help you keep on target.
2) Be short and clear
When speaking try and keep your statements as short as possible. This will help the listener hear all of what you are saying. Often times if you try and say too many things at once others will only focus on one thing, which may not be the point you want to make.
3) Stay on Topic
If you are communicating with someone for a specific reason try and stay on that topic.
4) Use a calm voice and tone
It is not just what you say but how you say it. As angry and upset as you may be it is important to take a deep breath and calmly address the issue. If you feel yourself getting upset you can ask for a second, leave the room and take a deep breath.
5) Ask questions
If you don’t understand what is being said it is ok to ask questions. You can also ask for specific information if they are not being clear or ask the person to explain it in a different way.
6) Make sure others understand you
When speaking make sure the other person understands the point you are making. Ask them if you have made a clear point and if they need further information on the topic you are speaking about. Here is where an anecdote would fit in well.
7) Listen to others
So often times when others are talking we are trying to think of what we want to say. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear what the other person is saying, even if you don’t agree with them.
Never underestimate the power of note taking. Your notes will keep you organized and help you hold agencies, insurance companies and schools accoutable for their policies.
One of the best tools an advocate can use is a strongly worded letter. You don't need to be an accomplished writer to pen an effective letter. In the body of your letter, be as objective as posible. State the facts. Then address the steps that you have taken to resolve the issue. Conclude by outlining the actions that you would like to see as a result of your letter.
To give your letter real muscle, there’s a simple technique called “cc” or “carbon copy”. It means that you’re sending a duplicate copy of this letter to another person. At the end of the letter you make note of this cc to let the recipient know that you took this action. It’s often a good idea to cc your letter to the recipient’s boss or the agency head that administers a program. Using two or more cc’s can be useful: you can cc an advocacy organization such as your state legislators, a parent training center or a senator representative.
Taking Your Message to the Media
Sometimes the best way to end an injustice is by shining a light on it.
1) Don’t wait until you have an issue
Call your local paper, radio and television stations and find out who is the right person to cover issues around disability rights, access, education etc.
2) Educate your contacts in the media
Send them brochures on your organization, fact sheets on your issues, action alerts etc. that impact your lives and your community. Use numbers and statistics whenever possible. Data creates news and your message has more credibility when you can show the quantitative news value.
3) Have good spokespeople available
Make sure you have recommended resources and spokespeople available for media to gather data from or interview.
4) Be persistent and consistent in getting information to these media
contacts you develop Even if it seems that they don’t initially use your information, they start to build a file and get to know who they can count on as a regular resource on these issues.
5) Hold the media accountable
Hold the media responsible for stories that don’t present your side of the story. Write your paper and TV station editors, reporters, news directors and advertisers to complain when things are wrong or biased. It is also important to give kudos when things are well done. For the most part, the media wants to “get it right” and will listen to your letters and calls.
6) Be proactive in writing letters to the editor.
7) Follow up, follow up, follow up and follow up with media on all these steps by phone, letter or in person.
Sometimes you need legal help to stand up for your child's rights.
Put a face on the problem. Anecdotes are stories to make a point. A short anecdote about your child can bring people around to your point of view. This is a particularly useful tool in face-to-face meetings with elected representatives, public hearings or meetings and letters to the editor of a newspaper. People remember anecdotes.