What Makes a Great Advocate

While I didn't always realize how lucky I was, I have been fortunate to get to witness the variety of instances that advocacy has happened in my life. Much of this is because my parents stressed this as a part of raising me, (something I thought was noticeably different in the way they raised my brothers) - there will always be something that is 'right' for me no one will know about unless I make it known, unless I advocate for it. Whether it was at IEP meetings, at the start of a new school year, a new medical professional, after school teachers, guidance counselors, the parents of my friends, the bus driver, police officers, flight attendants.. the moments I've watched advocacy happen are diverse and never-ending! 

Not all of these instances of advocacy were successful. And that's one of the things I want to point out: a great advocate isn't made because of how many accommodations were acquired, or how many bills and laws were successfully pushed through both houses of government. 
With this in mind, a 'great advocate' isn't measured by the expanse of what s/he is advocating in favor of. Something as seemingly obvious as asking the school to clear the curb cut so your child can roll up the ramp is just as huge as... getting a bill passed so that two hearing-aids are covered by health insurance companies for those under 22. In each of these examples the point is that there is an issue of access that is preventing one individual from having the same quality of life as his/her counterparts. 

It's not easy being an advocate - whether it's in a large or small day-to-day instance. Ultimately what being an advocate means is pointing out what isn't right, and asking for change. Neither of those things is easy or comfortable to do. No one likes to be told they are wrong or incorrect, or that there is some kind of error. Change is never easy, even if it's something everyone looks forward to. There is work, time, and usually many disappointments along the way. On top of that an advocate functions, at first, in the realm of the minority. 
But a great advocate (of the ones I have witnessed, and have had the great fortune of working alongside) is unfazed by what is needed to accomplish the end goal. They don't place the values of 'big' or 'small' on the work that needs to be done -- it simply needs to be done because in their hearts & minds that is what is right. They are creative in their approaches; able to stand firm in front of an audience of naysayers while rallying support of those still on the fence. 
Something else that I think makes a great advocate is one who admits to not knowing the solution to their own problem. When I was younger I sometimes would recognize that something wasn't right for me but didn't want to admit it because "what else would I do?" "They told me this is right, so it must be right!" "I don't know another alternative!" It wasn't until later when I realized that there is always someone out there who, if not has an answer that works for me, but is willing to work together with me to figure out what will work. Maybe it's the person training me how to use a piece of assistive technology, maybe it's the physical therapist teaching me how to open doors in my walker, maybe it's my friend who wants to know the best way to pick me up. 

A great advocate is someone who is willing to be proved wrong for the sake of what they know is right. And in the event that they are found wrong or unsuccessful, a great advocate doesn't forget the issue or charge. They continue to pass on their knowledge to others, they learn from one experience to speak on another, and they continue regardless of how many wrongs or rights they discover.

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2 Responses to What Makes a Great Advocate

  1. Loved this post, and I think you gave a "spot on" description of what an advocate should be!

    1. Thanks! Now only to somehow get there some day.. :) I guess it's a good thing I have an idea of where I should be heading.


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