Believe it or not, advocacy is an art form.
At some point, individuals and families affected by developmental conditions may be faced with advocating for services and equal access to economic opportunities. Entering the advocacy process haphazardly will diminish one’s ability to remain focused on your objectives and can derail efforts to achieving goals.
Before proceeding, let us look at the meaning of advocacy as well as what being an advocate will entail.
Advocacy is defined in Merriam-Webster as the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. That same source defines advocates as one that pleads the cause of another. It should also be noted that, individuals petitioning on their own behalf are self-advocates.
Now that we have briefly reviewed the meaning of advocacy and advocate, let us look at some key elements critical to the art of advocacy.
Elements critical to the art of advocacy:
“The process of advocacy requires a warrior mentality! An advocate will interact with many people and organizations that may oppose your cause.”
The process of advocacy requires a warrior mentality! An advocate will interact with many people and organizations that may oppose your cause. With that said, it is important for anyone promoting a cause to believe that what they are fighting for is just. Having a passion for the cause that you are advocating for will sustain your resolve during what could be a long process.
Passion is important but facts matter!
Before diving into the advocacy role, review any data available regarding relevant conditions.
Learn about current assistive technology, medical equipment, and services.
Identify what other individuals or groups have already implemented in your locality to impact your cause.
Most importantly, become familiar with organizational policies, state regulations, federal guidelines, and legal precedents related to relevant conditions.
This exercise may seem tedious but is well worth the time. Research enables advocates to collect data that will help determine the most effective way to affect change. All information obtained should be placed in a file for future reference.
Explore Public Opinion
When feeling passionate about a cause, advocates may be inclined to ignore other viewpoints. However, doing so could be a missed opportunity for early identification of barriers to successfully affecting change with your imminent petition.
A casual discussion with friends or acquaintances about issues related to your imminent petition may reveal potential barriers to achieving goals.
Getting a preview of public opinion regarding the need for reasonable accommodations can be especially useful. Advocates can use this additional information to design a strategy to promote equal access and inclusion for individuals with developmental conditions.
Establish a Team
“Advocacy is hard work that requires many skillsets. An advocate can work alone but establishing a team can be beneficial.”
A partnership can be two or more people committed to working toward a positive outcome to a cause. When building a support system, resist the urge to only partner with people that think exactly like you. A diverse team will ensure a variety of perspectives and talents. The goal of the team must be to support each member throughout the advocacy process and to advance the cause.
Advocacy is truly an art form! Passion, relevant research, and even public opinion are essential ingredients to developing a compelling proposal.
Take time to write out key points that you want to bring to the forefront. Failure to form a detailed strategy can result in interactions fueled by raw emotions where advocates can be easily exploited by counterparts.
“Successful advocacy is built on a rational proposal that is clearly presented.”
Develop a written bullet point argument that can be taken to meetings and referred to regularly. It is also wise to have supporting documents on hand that were obtained during the research process.
It is also important to do research about your counterparts to better understand their philosophy and practices regarding inclusion and diversity.
The harsh reality is that despite federal mandates, some organizations are not in compliance with supporting individuals with special needs. Noncompliance could be in part due to curtailing spending related to making reasonable accommodations.
Lack of empathy or understanding about how to support individuals with special needs may also be an issue.
Becoming aware of an organization’s current practices will help advocates gauge the resistance they may encounter regarding a claim.
After forming a team and developing a strategy on how to advocate for positive changes, take a moment to relax. The work ahead will be challenging.
When you are prepared to proceed, make an appointment to meet with someone at the organization that will hear your appeal for services, inclusion or changes in policies. This will ensure access to a representative that will listen to the case. Designated person(s) of the advocacy team should arrive on time for the appointment.
Clearly and calmly articulate the identified problem, supporting data, and any remedies. Be prepared for the counterparts to deflect the discussion to non-pertinent topics. Hold your ground by referring to any written key points to keep the discussion on track.
Listen to key points presented by your counterparts and take notes.
Before the conclusion of any meetings, revisit points raised that may be unclear and ask for clarification.
Additionally, obtain contact information for whom to follow up with.
Also be clear as to how the organization plans to proceed and provide updates regarding next steps.
Make every effort to end meetings on a cordial note.
Evaluate Outcomes Discuss Lesson
After implementing the advocacy process, the team should debrief and evaluate gains made toward achieving goals as well as any opposition. If the organization was able to make reasonable accommodations, there may be no need to follow up. Celebrate!
In many cases, some follow up will be needed. If organizations provide a timeline for providing an update honor that before taking further actions. However, follow up promptly with the representative you met with if the designated date has lapsed.
In some cases, lack of follow up may simply be an oversight and the agency will move forward with making efforts to provide access, opportunities, and services to individuals in need of reasonable accommodations.
Continue to work through the process for equal access and inclusion to ensure the process does not stall. Once all goals have been reached, recognize the organization’s willingness to make needed changes to support individuals with special needs and maintain an alliance. Celebrate!
Unfortunately, there are instances when the advocacy process completely stalls within organizations. In these cases, be ready to contact outside governing agencies. Typically, these are state or federal entities that enforce regulations, provide funding, or approve operating licenses for that organization.
It may also be a good idea to seek legal counsel to test the validity of your claim and obtain additional guidance.
Taking these steps will help further develop an argument for your claim. Armed with additional information, schedule a meeting with the appropriate governing body to present your case. Implement the same plan previously used and provide steps already taken prior to contacting the governing body. Activating this process can be lengthy. Advocates entering this process must have a high level of commitment to seek justice for citizens with developmental conditions.
If your claim can be resolved at this level enjoy the fruits of your labor and celebrate!
In a few cases, a remedy may not result by using resources provided by a governing body. At this impasse, legal recourse can be considered. However, this is a costly undertaking and should only be considered when a claim has been vetted and deemed to have strong merit.
The art of advocating for acceptance and inclusion has elements of passion, data collection, teamwork, strategy planning, and implementation.
Advocates must understand that, many organizations resist providing reasonable accommodations due to lack of empathy and efforts to curtail spending. Anyone activating the advocacy process must have a strong commitment to fight for what is just.
With practice, parents, family members, and caretakers can sharpen their skillsets to obtain equal access and inclusion for individuals with special needs in all sectors of society.
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