Suppose there’s an intersection in your town where drivers are often inattentive to pedestrians and don’t slow down even when someone obviously wants to cross the street. As a person living with vision loss, you don’t feel safe walking there, and feel forced to look for a different route. Your local transportation commission could take actions to make the intersection safer, but its members may not even know there’s a problem.
You have the power to change that! Sharing your story with policymakers is one of the most effective ways you can make a difference. Your grassroots advocacy can help make your community safer and more accessible for everybody, including people who are visually impaired. Whether it’s dangerous intersections, lack of public transit options, or inaccessible election polling places, your voice and your experiences can have a real impact on the decisions that affect your life and your well-being.
What do we mean by grassroots advocacy? It simply refers to concrete actions regular citizens like you can take—in person, over the phone or online—to influence public policy. Sometimes the solution involves getting a law passed or changed, which is a complicated process that can take a long time. And sometimes—like when trying to get a pedestrian signal installed at a troublesome intersection—the process is much simpler, though you must still convince the right committee or municipal staff that the change is needed.
Here are a few grassroots advocacy ideas to consider for helping policymakers or candidates for public office better understand the issues you care about and the changes you’re seeking:
- Meet with an elected official in their office. This is the most fundamental advocacy action you can take, but it’s far from the only one.
- Meet with them on “neutral ground,” like a coffee shop or a park. Just the act of negotiating where to find an accessible meeting place may educate them about the barriers you deal with every day.
- Ask them to attend a forum or a town hall meeting, or if you learn that they are appearing at such a meeting, make plans to attend and ask questions.
- Invite an official or candidate to join you at a meeting of your Lions Club or at a local low vision support group.
- Ask them to lunch at a senior center.
- Do something together that may give them a glimpse into the realities of your world. For example, many officeholders do not use public transportation regularly. So take a bus ride with them. Or suggest a “walk audit,” which is an intentional tour of your town to uncover potential pedestrian hazards.
If you’re going to meet with a policymaker, either in their office or elsewhere, remember to do your homework first! Find out what issues they already care about. Think about the personal story you want to tell and why it should matter to them. And always have a concrete solution to offer.
There’s another thing you can do that will have an enormous impact on how effective your grassroots advocacy can be: VOTE!! A lot of decisions related to transportation, housing development, education and other issues that affect you are made at the local level, so make sure to vote in local elections, not just in presidential races.
To learn more about grassroots advocacy, check out this YouTube video of a presentation from the Council’s 2022 Advocacy Days event.