In advocating for yourself on 'Be Real' we thought it would be useful to clearly define what advocacy actually is, what forms it can take and what are the best ways to go about it. In this section we will take time to discuss several specific issues, as well as advocacy in general.
What does the term ‘Advocacy' mean? Back To Top ^
The term advocacy is broad and can include many different definitions depending on which service provider or government agency you have spoken with. As not everyone agrees, we should avoid generalising advocacy as an expression. Following are some principles to which 'Be Real' (and BIAQ) subscribes:
- Advocacy must be independent;
- Advocacy must be autonomous;
- Advocacy must be clearly on the side of the person or people with disability;
- Advocacy must focus on the fundamental human needs, rights and interests of people with disability;
- Advocacy should have a clear value base of social justice and full inclusion of people with disability as contributing/participating members of the community;
- Advocacy is about achieving justice;
- Advocacy is about achieving equity;
- Advocacy must minimise conflict of interest;
- Advocacy is not service provision or personal care support.
In defining what advocacy means it is important also to example what types of situations advocacy may be able to assist you with. Although these situations will vary depending on who you are and who you are dealing with, some basic scenarios are:
- Other people (including service providers) have an obligation to you that they are not fulfilling;
- Your rights are being ignored or violated;
- You have a responsibility that is particularly difficult for you to carry out; or
- You are being misunderstood or are having trouble understanding others.
So why is Advocacy important? Back To Top ^
Advocacy is important because you are important. Despite society's progress in the way it supports people with a disability, there is still a lot of unfairness, exclusion and general misunderstanding within the community. In many instances, people with a disability still do not have access to various buildings, services and community associations; which can be due to any number of reasons.
You always have your rights!!!
No matter what the issue is or what reason you are given for it not being what you want, you always have the right to ask why that is and what can be done about it. Advocacy is important because it is a way for you to access what you are entitled to within the community and have your rights as an individual upheld the same as everyone else's. Here are some more reasons why advocacy is so important:
- Advocacy can change community attitudes and misconceptions;
- It can assist people to gain access to resources, funding and information;
- Advocacy can help make service providers and organisations accountable ensuring there is transparency in their actions and decisions;
- Advocacy can help you have control over your situation;
- It ensures that you have a voice and that it will be heard;
- Advocacy makes sure that there is recognition of the rights of people with a disability.
- It can also promote positive change to the structure and policy of organisations, which will be of benefit to people with a disability.
By self-advocating you are providing yourself with not only the opportunity to resolve your issue, but to learn more about service providers, about other people, and most importantly about yourself. Trying to bring about positive change for yourself can sometimes feel like it is an ongoing struggle that requires considerable time, energy, and commitment. Always know that you have the ability within yourself to achieve your goals, and no one can tell you otherwise. Don't forget - advocacy is important because you are important!!!
An advocate is basically someone who advocates an issue for you on your behalf. The reason you are at 'Be Real' though is to advocate for yourself, so in this instance the advocate will be you (and who better to do it anyway!!). While we at 'Be Real' would encourage you to advocate for yourself, there is always the option of getting someone else to advocate for you. If this is your preference then it is valuable to know a little about what an advocate actually does. Some roles and responsibilities that an advocate would normally undertake are:
- To speak for you or on your behalf, or to help you speak for yourself;
- An advocate has no interest in telling you what to do, but will aim to help you identify what you want and how best to get it;
- An advocate can help you get the information you want or need, and to use as you see fit;
- An advocate may be able to help you challenge people who make unfair assumptions about you, or who treat you with disrespect;
- An advocate can help you recognise and make good use of your own skills and strengths, while also providing help in areas where you may require it.
It is valuable to note that while these points summarise what an advocate generally does, these are all things that 'Be Real' believes you can do yourself! Identifying and utilising your own strengths and skills is a talent in itself, and can create a real sense of empowerment and achievement. Never be afraid to ask for assistance. Asking for assistance is neither a weakness nor a flaw, and there is no such thing as a silly question.
You can ask us at 'Be Real' a question in our Feedback Section.
What are the different types of advocacy? Back To Top ^
There are three main forms of advocacy that you may hear about from other service providers, or read on their web sites; “Independent Advocacy” , “ Systemic Advocacy” and of course, “Self Advocacy” .
Individual Advocacy is when the advocate concentrates their efforts solely on advocating for one or two people. The advocate could be a staff member of an organisation, a carer, family member, friend or volunteer. This type of advocacy is focused on the specific needs or situation surrounding the individual or person with a disability.
Systemic Advocacy is primarily concerned with influencing and changing the ‘system' in general (such as legislation, policy and practices) in ways that will benefit people with a disability as a group. Systemic advocates will encourage overall changes to the law, service policies, government, and community attitudes. This form of advocacy does not usually involve individual advocacy as it can cause a conflict of interest around the resources that are being generated and the purpose of the advocacy in general.
Self Advocacy is similar to individual advocacy except it is undertaken by a person or group of people on behalf of themselves. If it is a group of people self advocating they typically share the same characteristics, interests, or needs.