Advocacy is the pursuit of influencing outcomes — including public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions — that directly affect people's current lives. (Cohen, 2001)

Dave accepting the Disability 2016 Advocate of the Year award from Deaf Access ServicesEssential to the forward progress of our initiatives, the need to embrace advocacy is imperative, but not easily accomplished.

I find many people who want to advocate but don't know how. I remember thinking back to my service provider days and giving myself the self proclaimed title of advocate, when I was actually 'advocating for' but nowhere near the definition of a true advocate. I learned from hard core advocates, I researched topic areas, I collaborated with various groups, I was educated in what different interest groups issues were, I looked at in the context of my life situation, and most importantly, I began to take action.

Often times individuals will view themselves an advocate because they care for, have well intentions, and speak up for a cause or the best interests of an individual or group. Great start! Keep it coming, but be sure to connect with the interest groups, do your homework, stay up to date on the legislative matters, and TAKE ACTION. Call, email, write, and meet with your legislators and government officials. They do listen to what you say and there's power in numbers. Be prepared, follow-up, stay in tune with the progress of the cause or initiative.

We advocate in many forms, most common may be the parent of a child with special needs (although all parents advocate for all their children) in the school district, or for an aging parent receiving care from a senior care facility. When we advocate for an individual our emotional involvement increases immensely but we can not lose sight of the ultimate goal-the best interests of the person we are advocating for. It is important to establish a partnership with the entity you're working with. You have just joined a team.

Keeping notes and records is very important as is asking questions to ensure you're educated in what 'the system' (regulations, laws, etc) calls for. The team should have those answers but it is always recommended to connect with people who have experienced what you have and can help in explaining it on your level and usually they'll have tips to help advance your cause.

DAT will do its best to keep you posted on advocacy matters.