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Advocacy 101

1. Understand Historical and Policy Context

  • Research treatment of persons with disabilities (such as exclusion, segregation, and automatic referral by generic system to disability system).
  • Become knowledgeable about current policy framework and its strengths and inadequacies.
    Use understanding of historical and policy context to explain why change is necessary and the nature and scope of needed changes to current policy.
  • Recognize intensity of feelings by persons with disabilities regarding why critical to develop new or modify existing policy based on historical treatment.

2. Articulate Values, Principles, and Goals of Disability Policy

  • Recognize the difference between the old v. new paradigm of disability policy (old paradigm--need to “fix” “defective” disabled person v. new paradigm--recognize that disability is a natural part of the human experience and the responsibility of society to fix the natural, build, social and political environment by providing necessary supports, services, and accommodations (civil rights model).
  • Recognize the goals of disability policy-equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.
  • Equality of opportunity (individualization, inclusion, meaningful opportunity).
  • Full participation (empowerment, self-determination, informed choice at individual and systems level).
  • Independent living (skills, services, and supports).
  • Economic self-sufficiency (training, education, assistance and supports).

3. Understand That Policy is Made In a Political Context, Public policy is proposed, debated, modified and adopted in a political environment.

"Tools of the trade" include use of:

  • Politics
  • Power
  • Self-Interest
  • Compromise of Positions, Not Principles

4. Understand the Needs of Policymakers

  • Self-Interest (re-election, power, status among peers and interest groups).
  • Balancing priorities (Time pressures).
  • Political Implications.
  • Dependent on others for advice.

5. Understand the Needs of Staff

  • Promote and protect boss.
  • Help in sorting through avalanche of inputs to determine what is real and what is posturing.
  • Help develop assumptions and present fiscal and program estimates.
  • Help in identifying key players.
  • Help in developing viable policy options, drafting bills, report language, floor statements, speeches.
  • Help in developing political strategy.

6. Understand the Need for and Role of An Organized Coalition in Exercising Power Over the Policymaking Process

  • Need for a coalition (policymakers demand it, source of power, and helps provide support/assistance to policymakers and their staff).
  • Composition of the coalition (cross-disability consumers and providers and nontraditional groups).
  • Cohesion (keep the disability community together).
  • Synergy.
  • Skilled individuals performing varied tasks working together.
  • Leadership (policy entrepreneur).
  • Responsibility (carrying out agreed on tasks).

7. Understand the Need for A Strategic Plan

  • Planned spontaneity (need to think strategically and act on basis of a plan; importance of pre-meetings).
  • Reality Check (macro issues, past advocacy efforts and why change now possible, constraints on achieving success, capacities of coalition, and degree of opposition).
  • Identify the prize (focus on principles and major concerns, not positions).
  • Decide on overall strategy:
    1. Determine the nature and degree of controversy/opposition.
    2. Decide on appropriate vehicle such as modifying a statute, regulation, or guideline.
    3. Identify the key policymakers who will assume leadership roles.
    4. Frame the issue and decide on the message.
    5. Control the dynamics of the debate to create an aura of inevitability.
    6. Determine how a particular tactic (such as direct action or a meeting with a policymaker) fits in.
    7. Develop favorable program and fiscal estimates.
    8. Present viable policy options based on research and program and fiscal estimates.
  • Assess effectiveness of strategies.

8. Understand the Power of Personal Stories Tied to Policy Objectives

  • Telling personal stories in isolation doesn’t work.
  • Need to decide policy objective and how to frame the issue and then tie personal story to policy objectives and policy options.
  • Best personal stories demonstrate positive impact of proposed intervention/change in policy (describe circumstances before and after intervention).

9. Understand the Importance of Long-Term Relationships and That Who Delivers the Message Is Often More Important Than the Message

  • Develop long-term trust relationships to maximize influence.
  • Strategically select the spokespersons who will have maximum influence over policymakers.
  • Ensure that message is presented in manner that recognizes the needs of particular policymakers/staff.

10. Recognize Your Strengths and Limitations

  • Keep your eye on the prize--put ego aside.
  • Don’t agree to a policy option when not fully knowledgeable.
  • Don’t agree to a policy option on behalf of others who you don’t represent.


Source: Robert Silverstein, Esq., Principal, POWERS PYLES SUTTER & VERVILLE, PC

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