Many people with disabilities and mobility challenges find out quickly how important it can be to become your own advocate. What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who defends a cause, stands up for theirs and others rights, or makes sure their basic needs are being met. An advocate could be someone who speaks on another's behalf or on behalf of oneself. Perhaps an advocate is someone who supports or recommends a certain course of action for the positive outcome of others.
While some people choose to become advocates as a career choice, an advocate does not have to be someone who stands in front of congress, drafts legislation or organizes petitions and protests (although all the more impact if you do!). If you have ever posted a Facebook status about a cause you believe in, verbalized your needs to a caregiver or medial provider, or shared your challenges with a community member, you have had the experience of being an advocate!
Sharing our experience with others is a simple way we can advocate for issues affecting the disabled community. Blogging on Rolling Without Limits is a great example! You can share your story, offer information, and create a dialogue with the online community.
Some other tips for becoming a successful advocate:
Learn all you can. Keep researching. Talk to others. Go to your library. Search online. The more you know about disability issues, the more effective you will be when speaking out to others, and the more credibility you can have behind your cause.
Listen to others. Effective communication is nothing without a two-way dialogue. Listen at least half as much as you speak. This not only builds rapport with others and those you are advocating on behalf of, but allows you to take in different perspectives and identify opportunities where you could be most effective.
Reach out. Look for ways to get involved in your community. This doesn't have to be with disability organizations only. Networking through volunteer work can help you build a strong base of contacts to bounce ideas off of, and help support the issues you care about.
Ask for what you need. This is perhaps the most basic rule of thumb! You cannot create change without asking for what you need. Asking for what you need is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Those who ask for what they need, can make the biggest impact.
What are some ways YOU are an advocate?
Please share your disability advocacy stories in the comments.