If your loved one has intellectual or developmental disabilities, you naturally want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to improve their quality of life. Sometimes, that means being their advocate. Depending on your community, there may be different problems your loved one with a disability is facing, and advocacy can help raise awareness of these issues and change them.
However, to be a good advocate, you need to be ready. It means knowing everything about the issue in question, being able to communicate it effectively, and working persistently to bring about the desired change. Here’s how to be your loved one’s best advocate:
Be PreparedThe base of any advocating process is preparation. Whatever the issue you’re preparing to tackle is, you need to know it inside and out. Information is power, so learn everything you can about your loved one’s rights, the current systemic situation, the root of the issue your loved one is facing, etc.
You need to always have a clear goal in sight — what is it that you want to achieve? Sometimes, advocacy is about finding a compromise, so there may be other solutions you might need to consider accepting. Still, first identify what you would see as the ideal solution and the people who could help you make it happen. Usually, those would be the people who are experts in the issue you’re dealing with or other people who have successfully advocated for their loved ones in the past.
Have a Clear MessageIt’s essential for advocates to be able to communicate effectively to convey the message they want. Whether you choose face to face meetings or written communication, you should learn how to make people listen — and know how to listen, yourself. When you establish respectful two-way communication, people will be more receptive to your message.
And when it comes to your message, make sure you state it as clearly and briefly as possible so other people can understand exactly what you want for your loved one. Stay assertive, keep your body language relaxed but firm, and tell your story.
Keep Everything DocumentedEvery conversation, every written response, and communication should be documented. You might need the information you got from them in the future, so keep track of whom you speak to, when and about what. It is essential to have in case someone makes a verbal promise but doesn’t act upon it. In those cases, it’s quite helpful to have a record of what was said and promised.
Stay PersistentAdvocacy does not always provide instant results. Sometimes it may take many attempts, so persistence is key. Eventually, if you see your efforts are being wasted, you might have to follow up on your issues with a more senior person in the organization. You might also require help from a disability organization to reach particular people within government systems or agencies. Look for the people who have the authority to make the desired change, and remember that advocacy is all about negotiation.
Ultimately, making a change in a society or community is challenging — even if it’s a positive one. It may take a lot of time and effort, and you may have to compromise. Still, being an advocate for your loved one means you’ll fight for their rights and quality of life improvement, no matter what it takes.
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