Developmental Disabilities Leadership Forum: Leadership Perspectives in Developmental Disability: An on-line Journal for Consumers, Professionals, Family and Friends
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Volume 1 , Issue 1 Date: Summer, 2000 Topic: Advocacy

Tips on Advocacy

by Tricia Luce

I was stunned when Dr. Allen Crocker asked me to write an article about advocacy. While I believe that my experiences in life have lead me to find a number of ways to help people with disabilities. I certainly do not think that I know everything about the subject. Therefore, I will share with you some important tips that I have learned in the hope that my learning experiences may be of help.
  • The first lesson on advocacy is to release any anger that you may have or learn to make it work for you and not against you.

We are all born angry. Leaving the security and warmth of our mother’s womb makes us scream and cry. Anger is not always a bad emotion and often it is a survival method that is crucial to our very existence. However, it takes a lot of energy to by angry and learning to turn that passion and energy into a positive force that works for you is important. It is difficult to focus on what is important when you are angry. Many people lose sight of the real issue they are advocating for and are not successful because of their own anger. A counterproductive example of anger is seeking revenge. Additionally, being angry presents the risk of creating bitterness in yourself and others, as well as hardening your own heart. I am not suggesting that the anger is not valid or that you can make it go away. The important ingredient to successful advocacy is to learn how to utilize that energy in a way that works for you. For example, the energy of anger can turn into the energy of tenacity and help you stick to the issue that you believe in.
  • The second lesson of advocacy is to build an army of supporters.

You have all heard the saying, “no man is an island”. It is important not to try to advocate alone. Make a list of all the people that you think may share in interest in your cause. You will be surprised how many people will be more than happy to help you. DO not get discouraged if all the people are not able to help. The team of people you enlist will each have different gifts to help you advocate. This will also help you to stay true to your focus as well as reserve your own energy. For example, before attending an IEP meeting alone, invite your child’s doctor, therapists, friends, advocates and all the people you think will help to relay your child’s strengths and challenges. Additionally, before attending a doctor’s appointment alone, you may want to ask certain people to attend that appointment with you. If you are advocating on a larger scale, contacting as many people as possible to share your cause, to attend events and to write letters in support of your cause is most helpful.
  • The third lesson of advocacy is to trust your gut instincts, especially on behalf of the people you care about, and stay focused.

It can be easy to lose sight of your original goals. Trust your own instincts and remain true to them. It is helpful to make a list of what you intend to change and why. Check that list periodically. There may be people who may try to confuse you or change your mind. Trusting your original instincts that first made you want to change the situation is absolutely important. For example, if your loved one is taking a medication and you believe the medication is making his or her feel worse, it is important for you to trust your feelings and to tell the prescribing doctor. If you do not feel the doctor is listening to you, it may be important to ask someone to help you explain this to the doctor. If you still feel the doctor is not listening to you, it is important for you to find a doctor who will listen to you. Trust your own instincts.
  • The final lesson of advocacy is to celebrate accomplishments.

Take time to appreciate the positive changes that you have made happen. Have a party or go out to lunch or dinner to celebrate. Remember to invite all the people who have helped you. “Thank you” is one of the most important phrases you can say to people, plus it does not take a lot of energy.

Now you can move on to the next change you want to make in the world. I wish you enormous success!

Trisha Luce is the mother of a son with disabilities and is the Director of Family Support for the Family Partnerships Program. She is also the founder of the Scottie Luce Foundation.

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