Advocacy has the power to change lives. It uses the beauty of compassion to have a positive effect on behalf of individuals who might otherwise lack representation for their needs and interests. In the case of those with developmental disabilities, it is the relentless effort to ensure that their rights as equal members of society are safe guarded at all times and that they enjoy complete inclusion and acceptance just like every other citizen.
Because advocacy requires courage and character, it brings together the best qualities of humanity for a common purpose. It allows us to focus on issues that are worth our time and attention. It is a compelling tool because it benefits everyone involved. Certainly the people with intellectual challenges for whom the advocacy takes place are impacted in a forceful way, but so are those who work to assist them. Advocates are committed to a cause that is larger than themselves. They give their time and talent in the service of others. Their efforts are directed at making life better for people who are often brushed aside and marginalized.
Those who are willing to advocate, act as our collective conscience because they refuse to accept the status quo. They are the enemies of complacency. They are a driving force for change in the community. Out of necessity they are uncompromising in their pursuit of fairness for those who deserve nothing less. The importance of advocacy lies in the fact that it represents some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are sometimes not able to articulate their wants and needs clearly.
Advocacy reserves judgment and promotes understanding. It challenges stereotypes and conventional thinking by focusing on the fact that people with developmental disabilities deserve to lead the most fulfilling and rewarding lives possible regardless of their circumstances. It is instrumental in changing perceptions by educating the public about the strengths, skills and talents of people with intellectual challenges. It encourages us to accept every person as an equal.
Advocating for people with developmental disabilities requires patience, tenacity and the ability to see the big picture. To be successful, advocacy must occur on many levels and in different areas of society. It does not hesitate to confront the decision makers who have the power to provide the resources necessary to improve the lives of all their constituents including those who live with a wide range of disorders. The legal process must be addressed so that justice is never denied to those who have difficulty representing their own interests. Education systems must be engaged so that they provide the most beneficial instruction possible, and the medical establishment must be held accountable to make sure that they consistently deliver compassionate care no matter what a person’s diagnosis might be.
Advocates play an integral role in framing the discussions and debates about how to move forward in the best interest of millions of American citizens. They provide oversight and reality checks to see that programs are working as planned and that outcomes are being achieved. They attempt to secure funding and other resources necessary to meet the needs of people who have complex physical and intellectual issues. They are on the front lines, often performing the least glamorous tasks in order to uphold the rights of those they care about.
Advocacy is a life affirming form of giving based on the decision to work on behalf of those who are sometimes left behind because they have a less visible profile. Although a person with a developmental disability may not be able to be physically present at all times in mainstream society that does not mean they are not equal members of the community. Advocacy is the unrelenting pursuit of impartiality and due process. It is a way of viewing the world that makes the isolation, neglect or abuse of those with intellectual challenges intolerable and completely unacceptable.
People who can advocate include:
Any person who cares
To be an advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities does not require a degree or specialized training. It does not require extensive experience or a particular skill set. It only requires us to have the courage to share our compassion.
Because all of us have the potential to advocate for people in need, our desire to see that every human being receives justice can guide us to the appropriate avenues where our influence can have the most effect. Our passion to see our loved ones and friends fully participate in life by having the same opportunities guaranteed to others is a powerful motivation for us to continually fight for their interests.
People who advocate tend to have an innate sense of fairness and justice. They know in their hearts what is right and what is wrong. There is no ambiguity in their minds concerning how those with developmental disabilities should be treated. Therefore they have a clear sense of purpose as they work tirelessly to level the playing field for every person regardless of the challenges they may face.
An additional benefit of advocacy is that it increases our own personal integrity and character because it is an effort we willingly make to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly. That fact is clearly demonstrated by the significant number of advocates who are volunteers. They do not receive financial compensation for their hard work; however they get something even more valuable in return. They get the satisfaction of impacting the lives of people who need and deserve their assistance. Their true reward is in knowing that they have made a selfless effort to improve our world.
The power of advocacy should not be underestimated. It has the ability to profoundly alter the lives of those with developmental disabilities as well as their families. In a broader sense it can help to bring positive change to all of society. It can affect the way people think and therefore the way they behave. It is instrumental in correcting the limiting perceptions and the narrow points of view that so many still cling to regarding people with intellectual challenges. Advocates know that every person, no matter what their issues or circumstances might be, is important. All lives have meaning because they all have the same value and worth. There are no second class citizens.
Advocates don’t just dream about a better future for people with developmental disabilities they help to make it happen.