News from Around the World:
Advocacy Tips from Australia
Many parents of deaf children find themselves in situations where they need to advocate on behalf of their child. Advocacy means to 'stand beside' someone. Families may need to negotiate for resources or support for their deaf child when they believe that things 'are not quite right,' or when people who hold the resources don't see that things are not quite right.
Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you feel things are 'not quite right.' What can you do? You could:
- Walk a way from the situation
- Fight it head on
- Deny the situation or
- Decide to get some modification or improvement to the situation. It is when we feel that we need to get some improvement happening that advocacy begins.
What are the stages of advocacy?
Advocacy may occur at different levels.
- Advocacy to set the scene: e.g. some parents work at creating an environment where others will have more understanding of the needs of their deaf child. This involves explaining your child's needs and making sure that people working with your child understand what the potential barriers are and how to support your child over them.
- Advocacy through meetings: e.g. parents have the opportunity to participate and plan their child's individual education plan. This often requires discussion of specific learning needs and concerns and having your position heard. You may also organize meetings to discuss progress and monitor how well your deaf child's needs are being addressed.
- Raising the profile of advocacy: sometimes you may need to take the issues further, that is, to take stronger steps and to get the support of people who are able to release resources or expertise to meet you child's needs. In a school setting this may involve meetings with the school principal or writing letters to the regional director of education (or equivalent), outlining your child's needs and advocating for a serious look at how to improve the opportunities for your child.
- For a few, there will be situations where all the advocacy effort has not delivered the needed responses, and then you will need to consider whether it is time to take the issue to a systemic level for action.
Key Steps in Advocacy
When advocating for your deaf child, you will need to consider these steps below, so that a positive outcome for everyone can be achieved.
1. Define the situation - Ask yourself, or others:
- What is it that your child or family needs? what are the issues? How can you prioritize these issues?
- How is the situation best approached? Is it through meetings, through informal discussions?
- Who is involved in the situation?
- Where is the issue occurring?
- What are my goals in this process?
- What is the common ground of everyone involved? How can this common ground be found and used to achieve the best results for my child?
You need to find out as much information as you can. Information could include things such as:
- Your rights, e.g. the Disability Discrimination Act, Educational Department Guidelines, UN Declaration of Human Rights
- Learning as much as you can about the problem or situation and arguments people may use against you
- knowing who is responsible for change
- knowing the available support services
- knowing the organisations that support families for children with disabilities, e.g., Deaf Children Australia, Association of Children with a Disability
- Sharing information with the people involved
- Documenting everything that is said or written and keeping all these documents.
3. Communication and interpersonal skills
It is very important that you keep communication open and friendly so that you do not create an additional barrier. You can do this by:
- respecting each other
- listening to others
- being open to others
- using empathy
- using negotiation
- being clear in what you say and want
- collaborating with others
- using encouragement when people try to meet your needs
You will need energy. For some people, the role of advocate comes easily. For others it's more difficult. The trick is to know when you have the energy and when you don't and to identify the best person to help you. If you need another person to assist you, choose this person wisely and make sure they have the knowledge and skills to assist you.
References: The Association of Children with a Disability, Vision newsletter, May 2000 Parent Advocates, Victorian Federation of Parents of Hearing Impaired Children
This article was reprinted with permission from our friends at Deaf Children Australia . More information about this organization can be found at: http://www.deafchildrenaustralia.org.au/