Sandy, we are pleased to inform you of your candidacy for an internship at The Center for Human Rights Policy. Can you come for an interview Friday at 2? Said the E-mail. At the ready, my fingers hovered over the keyboard. Though I have asked countless times, the few seconds of delay allowed me to remind myself of a lifelong victory I consistently claim. As I take a deep breath, my fingers performed the familiar tap dance in response: Dear Mr. R, I am a student dependent on a wheelchair. Is The Center wheelchair accessible?

Advocacy was introduced to me years before I knew that human rights and social justice existed. In fact there was never any formal introduction; advocacy is an act on which I have always been raised. By preaching the benefits of self-advocacy, my parents have taught me that biases are for me to defy, assumptions exist for me to disprove, and obstacles are fodder for my determination.
Like many of you, my childhood was not marked by first steps or bike rides. Instead, my milestones were groundbreaking in that they will survive any photo album or embarrassing family videotapes. Growing up, I watched and listened as my mother demanded I participate in Physical Education in elementary school, despite having O.I. “Sandy should not be separated from the other kids, she is normal!” When I was about to begin middle school, I was adamant about what I needed and even more resolute about what I did not, “I don’t want an aide. It’s not cool to have an adult following me around,” I declared over the sounds of my teacher’s chuckles. In high school, I decried the school’s decision to provide speech therapy support for me. “I don’t need this extra support, I’m on the debate team!” Advocacy is not just a means by which I have endeavored to acquire an equal playing field; in retrospect, it has afforded quite the opposite- allowing me to surpass a height I will never physically reach, while encouraging those around me with a tangible reason to continually strive.
Sometimes though, when the advocacy means bringing an entire classroom down to the first floor - or needing a temporary ramp moved to the President's house at the University, I get embarrassed. I'm not sure where the line is drawn between knowing that 'This is something I know I deserve' vs. 'Do I really need them to be doing all of this?' There are times even today where I may feel guilty about causing so much "hassle" for something that might otherwise be so simple to have accomplished. Each time the words come out of my mouth, the awkward stab I take in the situation - however wobbly or uncertain I may be - each time it gets to be a bit easier, and it's frequently one of those moments I can actually feel like I'm growing. 

            It was the day before the interview and I had yet to receive an answer from The Center about accessibility. Armed with a Google Maps print-out and a steadfast hope that it has to be wheelchair accessible, I rolled through Harvard Square’s jumbled brick paths. Ten minutes later, I found The Center after riding the elevator to the second floor of the correct building, “Hi, can I help you?” the receptionist asked. “No, I’m all set. Thanks,” I replied as I turned to exit. 

Acquiring Advocacy:
  • I must admit that I feel odd offering suggestions on this topic as it is something I am forever working on myself. But, like so much else in life, I think the first lesson is taught from the family. Whether parents are successful or not in advocating for their children should not be the "main" steal for the show. Instead HOW mom or dad goes about advocating for their children should be an experience every child - disabled or not - witnesses firsthand. 
  • Understand the fine lines between advocating, complaining, and arguing. This is something that I am only beginning to understand the differences between.
  • Just because you are advocating for an issue doesn't mean that it is also your SOLE responsibility to provide a solution for the issue. Everyone should be involved. 
  • Just as you should not feel like you're completely responsible for a solution, you should not need to feel alone in advocating either. Friends, family, other organizations/individuals can help as well. 
  • It just takes practice. 

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One Response to Advocacy

  1. I have had dozen upon dozens of job interviews in the past 15 years. I never let them know ahead of time that I am in a wheelchair. Normally the day before the interview I drive to the location and scope it out. Since I live in a more suburban area, it can be hit or miss when it comes to parking and accessible entrances. I have cancelled some interviews after my inspection. While I know they could make reasonable accommodations for me, I prefer to work some places that is already set up. I have learned that "reasonable accommodations" are not always confortable to use 5 days a week. I also love seeing the interviewers reaction when the come into the lobby to meet me. You know they are never expecting to see a 3 foot tall girl in a wheelchair! There reactions also give me a good indication if it is a company I would want to work for as well.


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