Does it Take to be an Effective Advocate?
by Lisa Simmons
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become advocates not because they feel they have natural talents
that would make them a good advocate, but because they are
When your child, your student, or someone you care about is not
being treated fairly you simply can't look the other way --
SOMEONE has to be their voice.
If you are one of these "drafted" advocates, don't despair. You
can still be an extremely effective advocate. Let's take a quick
look at the key ingredients to effective advocacy:
1. Focus on the Individual with Special Needs
An effective advocate is focused on what is truly important, the
individual you are advocating for. It's not about "winning" the
power struggle, it's not about "showing off" all the laws you've
learned, and it's not about "punishing" the people you feel have
let you or your child down. Are you focused on the needs of the
person you're advocating for? Do you understand things like:
=> How he or she learns most easily.
=> His/her core values -- things that are vital to include in
any futures planning.
=> What inclusion supports are critical for him or her to be
2. A Constant Desire to Learn
An effective advocate understands that more is being learned all
the time in the field of special needs. New types of technology
are constantly being developed, new learning strategies are
researched every day, information sharing is becoming more and
more efficient. So to provide the best supports for the person
you care about -- you need to stay tuned in to the information
flow. This can mean reading books, subscribing to newsletters,
taking workshops, participating in online conferences, and doing
research online or at your local library or resource center. The
Web offers a wide range of resources from those that are
diagnosis specific to those that take a wider view of the
special needs field as a whole.
3. The Ability to Stay Organized
It doesn't help to do research or highlight sections of the
regulations if you can't find what you need, when you need it.
Having an organized notebook or filing system of advocacy
information is absolutely vital in this world where the paper
constantly multiplies! Don't let chaos and clutter threaten your
advocacy efforts. Visit this page for simple instructions on how
to put together your own Advocacy Notebook.
4. Knowledge of the Law
I make the point in one of my workshops, that even the most
confident and talented advocate cannot succeed without knowing
the rules. Advocacy is like a 3 legged stool -- take away any of
the legs (knowledge, skills, confidence) and the stool tips
over. You can't win a game where you don't know the rules and
you can't be an effective advocate if you don't know your legal
rights. If you are advocating for a student, study up on the
laws regarding special education services. To assist an adult,
study the laws regarding adult issues like accessibility,
housing, and employment.
5. A Network of Personal Support
Few activities in life are as emotionally and physically
draining as advocacy. The pressure is high because the quality
of someone else's life rests in your hands and yet the "system"
is set up so that at very few moments do you have total control.
The result -- a struggle to use your skills to ensure that the
group system does what is in the best interest of the person you
care about. I'm tired just TYPING that sentence! It's not hard
to see why advocates need a reliable system of emotional
support. Making use of online communities, support groups, and
family resources can often be the difference between success and
6. Basic Computer Skills
In this day and age the most efficient way for any advocate to
gain the information they need is online. Unfortunately, not
every advocate feels comfortable with their computer. Learning
some basic computer and/or Internet skills can make your journey
quicker, easier, and less frustrating. So can setting up your
computer so that it becomes an asset and not another hurdle. For
example, software can allow you to listen to a web page article
instead of reading it or dictate advocacy notes out loud and
have your computer type them up for you.
Being an effective advocate can be a formidable challenge, but
by arming yourself with the essential tools you can make this
difficult task a little easier, a little less stressful, and a
lot less lonely.
© 2003, Lisa Simmons; Lisa is the author of several eBooks
offering ideas, resources and tools to help every special needs
parent become a more effective Advocate for their child. For a
free resource kit to help make the skills in this article a
reality in your life, send a blank email to:
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