Advocating or Aggravating
What exactly does it mean “to advocate” and how do you do it? Clearly, advocacy has become one of the popular buzz words among disabled people in recent years. I’ve noticed, however, that while blind students and their parents are encouraged to advocate for their needs, very little attention is paid as to what to do and not do.
At the risk of stating the obvious, advocacy is nothing more than a tool for communicating your needs, whether that be to a teacher, employer, fellow student, or other family member. If it’s going to be effective, it should not be an excuse for venting. More than a few people say they are “advocating” when what they are really doing is telling the other person what an idiot he is. This may make you feel better, but, at the end of the day, what you really want is to convince the other person to do what you want.
The trick to advocacy is not to be so passive that you’re not willing to speak up for yourself nor so aggressive that, in the process of explaining your priorities, you’ve alienated the other person. The goal is to be assertive; that is, you want your “rights” to be respected while, at the same time, respecting the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the other person.
Learning to assertively advocate for yourself is relatively easy. Like any skill, however, it does have to be practiced. Knowing what to do is the easy part; being able to do it, frequently in stressful situations, is harder.
Knowing how to appropriately advocate for yourself is an extremely important life-skill for any blind person. It’s something that even relatively young children can learn and practice. After all, mom and dad won’t always be there for them.
One of the stereotypes some of the public have is that blind people are bitter and hostile. Unfortunately, advocacy that smacks of being aggressive only reinforces this impression. It’s only natural to be frustrated and, yes, even angry when confronting someone who might as well wear a sign saying, “I’m ignorant and proud of it,” however, aggression comes with a price, and that usually is for the other person to shut down and not listen.
No one, blind or sighted, is going to get everything they ask for, but skillful assertive advocacy will make it much more likely.