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Special Needs Planning Newsletter: We All Want the Same Thing: The Advocacy Approach

Chambliss Law Firm Monthly Editorial – July 2018

We All Want the Same Thing: The Advocacy Approach

by Amy Boulware, Care Manager, (LAP MSW)

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved to learn. I got my first library card before I could even read, and I remember holding my mom's hand as we took our weekly trip to the library. It didn't take me long to learn that knowledge is key and having access to it is even better.

My love for conferences is heavily influenced by this innate desire. I enjoy the amazing speakers, the connection with attendees, the chance to stay in a hotel away from my usual household chores, and, of course, the swag bags full of giveaways to bring back and share. In May I attended a conference called the Tennessee Disability Mega Conference, which is a two-day gathering of national and local speakers, exhibitors, persons with disabilities, family members, and professionals in the disability field. I work with people who have disabilities every day, but being submerged in all things disability was eye-opening.

Did you know that there are 1 million Tennesseans with a disability (according to the American Association of People with Disabilities)? Or, did you know that 47 percent of Tennesseans who voted in 2016 had a disability? These are staggering numbers, yet people with disabilities often feel as if they have to fight for every service or program that is out there. At this conference I was sitting shoulder to shoulder with professionals and parents who all wanted the same thing that everyone wants  – for their family member to be as independent and active as possible, understanding that their disability may require them to have appropriate assistance and programs to do so. We all need to speak up and advocate for people with disabilities, and this belief only became stronger after attending this conference.

Most families are touched by disability at some time. I have learned some best practices over the years for being an effective advocate.

7 Best Practices for Being an Effective Advocate for People with Disabilities

  1. Preparation: The more informed you are, the better. Learn your rights, how different services and systems work, and how others have been able to achieve the desired results for their family members.
  2. Identify specific goals: Make sure you are specific about the things you want to accomplish.  Don't try to take on too many things at one time. Start with the most important and move through the list.
  3. Identify key problems you are encountering and focus on solutions: If you don't know the right question to ask, then you don't know you aren't getting the answer you need.
  4. Identify possible solutions: How would you like the issue to be solved if you could do it yourself?
  5. Communication: This can include phone calls, written letters, emails, face-to-face meetings, or group meetings.
  6. Documentation: Keep all pertinent records. Take notes during meetings so you can use the information as a reference for later.
  7. Follow-up: Often advocacy doesn't provide the immediate results you hope for. Persistence and perseverance really do make a difference. Don't stop. If you don't get the answers you are looking for in one place, try somewhere else. 

Our Chambliss Special Needs Planning team is here to help with disability advocacy – from understanding public benefits to navigating the health care system. We share our clients' vision.