By Jesse Schwartzman
I am the type of person who likes to use real life examples to explain my points. If I bring up a real-life example, then it should relate to the disability community. The lives of people with disabilities over the last forty years have improved, but there is so much work to be done. As you may or may not know, members of the disability community still face barriers to transportation, housing and employment among others. When you meet a member of the disability community, that is great, but it is important to keep in mind that you just met one member of the disability community. Our needs vary. In this blog, you will learn more about why personal touch is the special ingredient that you might have been missing.
When I worked on political campaigns, I learned that everyone reacts differently to messaging. Some people like phone calls, some people like emails and some people like to have someone come to their door. Some people really do not like most of those things but that is another story for another time. This is important because you need to create a relationship before you can do anything else. Trust should be built, and your audience should be able to learn about you first. This takes time but usually occurs within the second or third meeting. Once the relationship is built, now is the time to advocate for yourself and others. You need to be aware of your audience and how he or she likes to be contacted. The only way you can find out is by reaching out in any ways that you see fit.
As this relates to advocacy policy changes, I have found the first step is to reach out to members of the disability community and introduce yourself. Ask questions to seek answers on what you do not know. In the last few years, I did not know what workability or support coordination was. Thanks to wonderful mentors in the community, I now know. This first step is of utmost importance because you need to know what you are advocating for so you can explain it to others.
The second step is to get others involved in your advocacy work. There is power in numbers. When workability was passed there was such strong support from the entire disability community. Self-advocacy could be anything from calling your legislator, emailing your legislator, signing on to a letter, holding a rally (in-person/online) just to name a few.
Once you have your people, it is now time to reach out to your legislators to set up a meeting. It is up to you and your fellow self-advocates to explain the topic/policy in a way that is understandable. It is helpful to see if the policy turns into a conversation between the legislator and yourself because that indicates interest. It is also important to have a goal for your meeting, it helps to stay on track. The goal could be to have your legislator primary sponsor a bill.
After the meeting, it is important to thank them for their time. If they do not follow up within two weeks, you should follow up. Following up is important because there are so many topics that the legislators cover. You will stand out for following up. You are following up on whether they will be a primary sponsor of your bill. You can even have an opportunity to help write the bill. Whether they sign onto the bill or not you will still need to reach out to more legislators. You might know more self-advocates in other locations in the state. If you do, it would be beneficial to have them reach out to their legislators as well.
A personal touch is very important and will take your self-advocacy journey to the next level. It will separate you from the crowd. Build the relationship, let it grow and don’t forget to follow up.