Braille Monitor                                                             March 2007

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The words "In the Spotlight" appear at the top of this article, and a spotlight is shining on the words "Affiliate Action."

From the Editor: This month’s spotlight is focused on the topic of effective advocacy. One of our most critical roles as Federationists is to serve as advocates for individual blind people as they seek the services they need to find normalcy in their lives. Of course we must continue to work to improve the rehabilitation system, but we must also commit ourselves to helping individual blind people get the most out of their participation in the vocational rehabilitation program. Keep the following federal policies in mind as you help individual blind people to negotiate the rehabilitation system:

Eligibility: Anyone with an impairment that constitutes a substantial impediment to employment and who can benefit from VR services in order to become employed is eligible to participate in the rehabilitation program. Anyone receiving SSI or SSDI is automatically eligible for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services unless the agency provides clear and convincing evidence that the person is too severely disabled to benefit from them.

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE): This plan outlines the consumer's employment goals and the services necessary to help him or her achieve them. Any consumer can develop his or her own IPE, work with a counselor to develop the plan, or bring in representatives of consumer organizations or other consumers to help develop the plan.

Informed Choice: Choice is a basic right of all consumers. Consumers must receive all the information necessary to make informed decisions about the various aspects of their rehabilitation. It is particularly important in determining employment outcomes, services, and providers of those services.

Policy Directive 97-04: This policy directive reinforces the concept that a consumer can select an employment goal based on individual interest and informed choice. It also clarifies that VR services can be used to advance a person’s career, even if he or she is already employed.

Regulation 361.50: This regulation prohibits an agency from developing policies that limit the nature and scope of services, that place financial caps on services, that restrict access to out-of-state services, and that limit the number and duration of services. Actually, an agency can have such policies, but it must provide for exceptions for consumers based on individual needs.

Financial participation: RSA does not mandate that consumers participate in defraying the cost of their rehabilitation, but states are permitted to develop their own policies about financial participation. Recipients of SSDI or SSI are not required to participate financially in their rehabilitation costs.

Becoming a Federation Advocate
by Daniel B. Frye

Introduction

One of the primary purposes of the NFB is to serve as a vehicle for collective action on behalf of blind people across America. As such, Federation leaders and members are often called upon to advocate on particular issues for themselves or other people or on behalf of a larger group. Active Federationists regularly need to advocate on an array of issues including vocational rehabilitation, Social Security, education matters, employment and housing discrimination, access and accommodations, and more.

Blind people may encounter challenges attributable to public misunderstanding, misconceptions, and occasionally active hostility toward members of our community. When faced with prejudice, leaders and members of the NFB need to be well equipped to advocate for themselves, others, or a general principle.

Since advocacy is so vital to the everyday work of the NFB, knowledge of certain concepts and advocacy skills is important to our members. The following general information and set of strategies are not designed to turn one into a master advocate, but they provide the basic information about the art of advocacy that everybody should know. No doubt unique elements in situations will arise requiring variations from the approaches discussed in this article, but in most instances these elementary techniques should hold the layman advocate in good stead.

Definitions of Advocacy

The following definitions should prove helpful in understanding what advocacy is and what forms it can take:

Advocacy: Supporting or defending a cause; pleading on behalf of another.
Systemic Advocacy: The act of advocating for a cause or issue which will have broad or global impact on or for an entire community, e.g., modification of Social Security rules that apply to blind people generally.

Individual Advocacy: The act of advocating on behalf of a particular person faced with a specific circumstance requiring resolution or clarification. While the issue in question may have broader implications for other people facing similar situations, the efforts are primarily taken to support the person in question.

Self-Advocacy: Speaking up or advocating for oneself; speaking up for personal rights or against personal discrimination.

Techniques for Effective Advocacy

The following principles are important for an effective NFB advocate to observe and understand:

(1) The successful Federation advocate must possess considerable self-confidence and self-esteem. Ideally she or he should be well adjusted and at ease with the social and political issues surrounding blindness. The person who demonstrates self-confidence and an accurate grasp of the blindness system will be in the best position to convey a positive, self-assured image.

(2) The successful Federation advocate must be knowledgeable about all of the substantive issues in question, must understand how all of the issues relate to one another, and must be ready with sound answers to the most difficult queries that might be encountered. One useful way to prepare for any advocacy exercise is to understand and master the arguments of your opponent. The phrase “knowledge is power” is never underestimated by an effective advocate. Become an expert in a particular field before you presume to advocate in that arena, or at least be smart enough to enlist the assistance of an expert to help you present your case when you lack detailed knowledge about a subject.

(3) The successful Federation advocate must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.

Effective oral communication strategies include:

Effective written communication strategies include:

(4) The successful Federation advocate should be familiar with different negotiation techniques and other methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): mediation, arbitration, etc. An excellent book containing a comprehensive review of negotiation theory and a survey of ADR approaches is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

(5) The successful Federation advocate should be aware of and use the following miscellaneous concepts. These strategies, taken together, will enhance the effectiveness of any advocate.

Miscellaneous strategies include:

Pulled together in one document like this, the skills and characteristics of an effective advocate appear formidable, but that is no reason to duck the challenge of helping blind people who need an advocate. Remember that every good advocate started somewhere. Studying this article, preparing carefully for your work, and having a passion for helping those in need will set you on the path to becoming an effective advocate.

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