First, I want to thank the readers who have written into the post office a few times and specifically mentioned loving not only Good Cheer, but my Touch Points column specifically. It really touches my heart to know that you are enjoying my articles and that it helps people in some way. Keep writing and even suggest things that you want to know about because either me or someone else at Good Cheer will work to cover any topics that we can.
As I have talked about before, I took a training course on DeafBlind Self-advocacy last summer. I actually had a longer course which taught me how to teach the course. The course covers very important skills that we all need, but especially the Deaf/DeafBlind. I want to give you an overview of the skills in hopes that you can learn something to help you better self-advocate and lead you to find out where you can take the course in your locality.
What is Advocacy? Advocacy is about requesting and getting the support and education needed for life. It is all about making the things you need happen. How can you advocate? Know your rights. Get support. Contact the people involved. Talk to the media.
How is self-advocacy different? Self-advocacy is about doing that advocacy for yourself. You must know what you need. Why is self-advocacy so important? It helps build confidence. It gives you more opportunities. It also gives other Deaf and DeafBlind people more opportunities because you educate people and organizations about being aware and doing what is needed. It gives you equal access, and teaches hearing people something new.
There are seven steps to self-advocacy. First, you must remember to always request specific accommodations. Tell people exactly what you need to have equal access. You can’t be vague or unsure. Second, know your rights. To do that, learn about the ADA and your own state’s laws, as well as other applicable laws or policies that might affect your situation such as Air Carrier Access Act for air travel. Third, once you have learned, educate others about those rights under the law. Don’t assume that the people you are dealing with know your rights. Often they don’t. Those in management might, but not always, explain your rights to them. Fourth, when dealing with others, know who they are and what their role and what level of authority they have. Also, know about the agency or organization and if they are capable of providing what you need. For instance, how large or successful is the business, is it federally funded, or is it a religious organization? The obligation to provide reasonable accommodation varies based on the nature of the business. Fifth, once you have done your research, follow procedure as the business has established and do so in advance being mindful that some accommodations such as a qualified interpreter take time to schedule. Sixth, be tactful and courteous which involves knowing when to pick your battles, educating, and persuading. Be consistent and confident avoiding anger and negative attitudes and comments which might be the hardest thing to do when you are being denied something you need, but it doesn’t help really. And seventh, be willing to compromise as the situation demands. Consider other options if your accommodation cannot be granted. You don’t have to settle for less than what we actually work for you, but be open to other options that might work, though, not preferred. If all of this fails, it might be time to consult a lawyer.
The steps for self-advocacy are easier than they seem and will get easier as you practice them. Use your failures from one experience to another to improve your self-advocacy skills. I have been forced to self-advocate many times. I can’t count the number of errors I have made including becoming angry and making comments that didn’t help me get what I needed, but I keep at it. I have now succeeded more than I have failed and along with this class that gave me these specifics, I have a good plan that helps me to stay focused and make my case more accurately and more effectively.
The Deaf or DeafBlind Self-Advocacy Training course curriculum is provided by the National Consortium Of Interpreter Education Centers. The course is taught by Deaf and DeafBlind instructors and is usually offered by state Deaf and DeafBlind agencies or other regional or local agencies. It is worth your time and effort. Contact your local or state agency to sign up or ask for this course.