Articles
Spring 2014
From "New Horizons" Magazine

Advocacy and Why it is Important

by Sharon Hayes, VRSCA Director

People throw the word around quite a bit, but what is advocacy? The general meaning of the word is to stand up for and defend the rights of oneself and/or others. This could mean contacting elected officials for representation or speaking up about your needs for closed captioning and/or telecommunication needs. Simply being out in the community – being seen and heard – is advocating. (Deaf and hard of hearing people out on their own and speaking out, imagine that!)

Advocacy is important for all people – young and old. We as individuals are the ultimate guardians of our rights... BUT, like most things, there's a right way and a wrong way of advocating. I would guess that most people (to some degree) are excited by the radical, rabble-rousing element of advocacy. This is the fun stuff – protests with American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, or ADAPT, the hardcore, radical disability rights network. People often overlook the fact that these demonstrations, rallies, functions, etc., are the product of hard work behind the scenes.

An old stereotype that many folks still believe (though it is changing these days) is that people with disabilities are whiny, impatient, selfish, rude and largely uninformed. Some of that is a result of fear – the fear of the status quo being challenged by people with disabilities who are traditionally considered "less than" everyone else. But in many stereotypes are elements of truth. With that said, it's important for advocates (especially those who are young and/or inexperienced) to visualize the change they wish to see before acting. By visualizing change, one needs to think of the improvements they want to see. Dream it and then do it! More importantly, it is absolutely necessary to show respect and the ability to compromise. Being harsh and rude is counterproductive. It won’t work!

It's easy to get excited, but we must understand the seriousness of what we do and the impact it has. It is also important to pick and choose what causes need advocacy. Arguing over petty matters is not good advocacy - it is often seen as bitter, dramatic and ignorant. By "petty matters," I mean something as simple as resolving issues individually or using politically correct disability language. Many people are unaware that terms, such as "handicapped," "hearing-impaired" or "hearing challenged," are generally thought to be bad. Is it really worth getting fired up if someone who is uninformed does use such a term? No. Why not just calmly let them know what the most acceptable term is, in a positive way?

When I become aware of a situation that is not accessible by the rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), here is what I do. First, I communicate by email or by sending a letter with utmost respect and courtesy. If that letter goes unanswered, I send another letter, as a reminder, ending with "I expect a response," rather than "I look forward to hearing from you," which is the way I ended the first letter. If and when the second letter is unanswered, I send a third and final one, with a colder tone, BUT NEVER WITH THREATENING LANGUAGE! I ask to discuss solutions to the problem. I would suggest contacting the organization that could most provide me with guidance or contacting the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for advice in handling a situation. This is my way of advocating.

We live in an age where our rights are being stripped from us at an ever-increasing rate. The global superstructure has long discriminated against the deaf and hard of hearing, so WE see our rights fall by the wayside at a higher rate than the general population. Those who oppress us count on us to be passive and generally unknowledgeable and whiny. That's why it's important to advocate for equality. By the same token, the goal is INTEGRATION, not SEGREGATION, so it is important to have respect for ourselves as well as the community we represent and the community we live in. We need to appreciate the progress that's been made in the last 40 years, and remember that cooperation is the best way to create change. Let's keep it real!

McGovern, Kieran (2014, April 8). Retrieved from: www.fvkasa.org/resources/files/civil-advocacy-imp.pdf‎. This article was inspired from McGovern’s article on-line “Advocacy….Why It’s Important.”

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