What is the best way to affect positive change?
There are several facets of advocacy: education, self-advocacy, litigation and lobbying. Knowing where to start can help you be most effective in your advocacy efforts. This piece will focus on self-advocacy, which is often the quickest and easiest way to make change in your everyday life.
Often, people may not be aware that their actions are exclusionary and discriminate against you or others. By self-advocating you can educate and improve a process for yourself and others. For example, you could advocate that a company create a more accessible website so you can shop for groceries, or that their phone answering system is more inclusive by providing both verbal and touchscreen options.
At the Council, we educate members of the public, state agencies, and legislative staff about our legislative priority areas: Employment, Healthcare, Civil Rights, Education, and Transportation. We believe that sustained behavior change happens when people understand what is at stake and why it is important. You can learn more about our priorities at WCBlind.org/Advocacy.
It can often be unclear how to best start self-advocating. Begin by asking to speak with someone in a leadership role or customer service at the business to help bring awareness to your issue. Offer a possible solution that would be inclusive and not discriminate. Highlight what the business stands to gain by changing how they do things, framing the interaction as positive.
If, for example, you have difficulty navigating an automated phone system, ask that the system be changed to include an option where the auto attendant forwards the call to someone in the business at the end of the menu. Prioritize which businesses you decide to approach about this issue; choose places that you call regularly. If they agree to change their system, realize that this may take time and ask for a timeline.
Good for You, Good for Business
Businesses that listen to their customers will have a culture which, formally or informally, include customer advocacy. This customer-first approach considers the needs of people served by the establishment, banking on the long-term value of listening, responsiveness and, based on what is heard, providing great service.
Here’s where your voice comes in. To flex your self-advocacy muscle, it is important to practice effectively conveying your needs and rights. Communicating – speaking up for more inclusive and less discriminatory practices and policies at companies you frequent – is necessary to make changes.
As you find your advocacy voice it is helpful to remember that, in many cases, employees at a company are not even aware that they are doing something that makes it difficult for you to do business with them. Letting them know provides education and improvement for them and you.
Self-advocacy can also be individual advocacy, which refers to helping another person find a solution to a problem on an individual rather than a systemic level. Helping solve a service issue with a business will benefit others. Because if you’re having an issue using a website or phone system, it’s likely others are as well.
Individual advocacy relies strongly on education and using your voice as the tools to gain a positive impact, just like self-advocacy.
When it comes down to it, education, self-advocacy or individual advocacy can be a very effective and powerful way to positively impact change.
There is great value as a person who is blind or visually impaired in learning how to ask for what you need. Self-advocacy is a vital and necessary skill and there are many great opportunities to build it while providing important education for others and inclusion for many more people.