2.7     What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is problem solving used:
  • To protect rights or change unfair discriminatory or abusive treatment to fair, equal, and humane treatment
  • To improve services, gain eligibility for services or change the amount or quality of services to better meet the needs of an individual
  • To remove barriers which prevent full access to full participation in community life

Why Choose Advocacy?
Progress - change for the better - will not happen without advocacy.  Advocacy is the tool citizens use in our democracy to bring about improvements.  People with disabilities have seen major changes in the laws, the service system, and public attitudes in recent years.  Communities have begun to see that people with disabilities have a right to fully participate in all aspects of life.  This awakening began, with great effort and behind-the-scenes preparation, because people with disabilities have decided for themselves it is time to use advocacy for change.

Advocates must be careful to not allow others to define who they are and what they want.  The words "advocate" and "advocacy group" are seen by some as negative terms.  Some think of an advocate as conveying a tone of "harshness", "unreasonableness", or "selfishness".  This perception of the term "advocate" reaches beyond the disability-related advocacy - it includes the advocacy of special interest groups in Congress, lobbying, and other contexts.

The reputation of advocacy, and advocates, who work on behalf of the rights of people with disabilities will suffer or improve depending on our advocacy approach. 

Ten myths and facts about people with a disability

The best way to help someone with a disability is first to ask if they need assistance. Here are 10 myths and facts about people with disabilities. Understanding them and acting upon them will increase disability awareness and heighten etiquette sensitivity toward all people with a disability.

Myth 1: Wheelchair use is confining; users of wheelchairs are "wheelchair-bound."
Fact: A wheelchair, like a bicycle or an automobile, is a personal assistive device that enables someone to get around.

Myth 2: All persons with hearing disabilities can read lips.
Fact: Lip-reading skill varies greatly among people who use it and is never wholly reliable.

Myth 3: People who are blind acquire a sixth sense.
Fact: Although most people who are blind develop their remaining senses more fully, they do not have a sixth sense.

Myth 4: People with disabilities are more comfortable "with their own kind."
Fact: Years of grouping people with disabilities in separate schools and institutions has reinforced this misconception. Today more and more people are taking advantage of new opportunities to be part of society's mainstream.

Myth 5: Nondisabled people are obligated to "take care" of their fellow citizens with disabilities.
Fact: Of course, you can reach out with caring and support to whomever you choose. While acting compassionately, keep in mind that ultimately disabled persons prefer to be responsible for themselves and as independent as possible.

Myth 6: Curious children should never be allowed to ask people about their disabilities.
Fact: Many children have a natural, uninhibited curiosity and ask questions that some adults might find embarrassing. But scolding children for asking questions may make them think there is something "bad" about having a disability. Most people with disabilities won't mind answering a child's questions.

Myth 7: The lives of people with disabilities are totally different from those of nondisabled people.
Fact: People with disabilities go to school, get married, work, have families, do laundry, grocery-shop, laugh, cry, pay taxes, get angry, have prejudices, vote, plan, and dream like everyone else.

Myth 8: It's all right for nondisabled people to park in accessible parking spaces for a short time.
Fact: Never park in a place designated for the disabled. Accessible parking spaces are planned, designed, and situated to meet the needs of persons who have disabilities. Those spaces should be used only by people who need them.

Myth 9: People with disabilities always need help.
Fact: Many people with disabilities are quite independent and capable of giving help. The best way to help someone with a disability is first to ask if they need assistance.

Myth 10: There's nothing one person can do to help eliminate the barriers confronting people with disabilities.
Fact: Everyone can contribute to change. You as an individual can help remove barriers by advocating a barrier-free environment. Speak up when negative words or phrases are used in connection with disability. Write producers and editors a note of support when they portray people with disabilities as they do others in the media. Accept people with disabilities as individual human beings with the same needs and feelings you have. Hire qualified disabled persons whenever possible. Encourage people with disabilities to participate in community activities by making sure that meeting and event sites are accessible.
In addition to these myths and facts here are some common considerations and courtesies that should always be extended to people with a disability

DO treat adults as adults. Call a person by his or her first name only if you are extending this familiarity to everyone present.

DON'T patronize people who use a wheelchair by patting them on the head. Reserve this sign of affection for children, even if a wheelchair user's head rests temptingly at the same height as a child's.
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