10 Steps to Effective Self-Advocacy

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Ten Steps to Effective Self-Advocacy

1. Believe in Yourself

  • You are worth it! You can do it!

2. Learn Your Rights

  • You are entitled to equal rights under the law. Educate yourself with reliable information.
  • Contact Disability Rights Florida to request information about your rights.
  • Use libraries, the internet, e-mail groups, and social networking. Put yourself on mailing lists.
  • If you need an accommodation, ask for it.
  • Use peer-run, family and community support programs, referral or crisis hotlines, advocacy groups, and service providers.
  • Attend classes or workshops.
  • If you do not understand information or explanations provided, say so.

3. Discuss Your Questions and Concerns

  • Prepare. Write an outline of your concerns. Write down your questions.
  • Raise your questions and concerns by phone, in person, or by writing a letter. Use e-mail and on-line forms to start a conversation about your concerns.
  • Schedule a meeting. Speaking to someone in person can be an effective way to advocate for yourself. Plan what you are going to say. Practice with friends, with a tape recorder, or even in front of the mirror. Dress for the occasion and be on time. You may bring someone along for support.
  • Be polite. Introduce yourself and anyone with you. Learn and use other people’s names when you communicate. State your concerns clearly and simply. Ask politely for what you want.
  • Listen carefully to the explanations and answers given. If you do not understand something, ask for clarification.
  • Write down the name of each person you spoke with and their contact information.
  • Send a follow up note listing your understanding of any agreements reached or next steps decided during the conversation or meeting. Keep a copy for your records.

4. Be Effective on the Phone

  • Before you call, write down the key points you want to say and your most important questions. Stay calm and be polite. Keep your message clear and focused.
  • Try to make your call in a place without distractions. If you must leave a voice message, keep it brief and make sure to include your name and a contact number where you will be available to accept a call.
  • Be willing to listen. What you hear may be as important as what you say.
  • Always get the name and position of the person you are talking to. Ask when he/she will get back to you or when you can expect action.
  • If this person cannot help you, ask who can. Thank the person for being helpful.
  • Keep a record of your call and follow up!

5. Put it in Writing

  • Write a letter or send an e-mail about your request or concern. Provide information in writing. Keep it short and to the point. Begin and end your letter or e-mail by stating your request or concern.
  • If you need others to become aware of the situation, you may send copies of your letter or e-mail to supervisors or advocacy groups.
  • Only copy your letter or e-mail to people who can assist you. Be cautious with sharing confidential information.
  • When you circulate a letter or e-mail to other people, put “cc” (carbon copies) at the bottom of the letter with a list of the people you sent copies. If you are sending an e-mail, list the names of other people in the “cc” line of the e-mail.
  • In some instances, you may want to contact your legislators or include them in the people you copy with your letter or e-mail.
  • Keep a copy for your records.

6. Get Information and Decisions in Writing

  • If someone tells you something, ask them to put it in writing or send you documentation.
  • If they tell you something is a law, policy or procedure, ask for a copy.
  • If you disagree with a decision, ask for it in writing along with the reasons for the decision.

7. Use the Chain Of Command

  • If you feel you are not getting a straight answer, thank the person for their time and ask to speak to someone else who can address your concerns.
  • Use the organization’s chain of command to help you find the supervisor or other person you need to communicate with.

8. Know Your Appeal Rights and Responsibilities

  • If you do not get a satisfactory decision, ask what you need to do next to resolve the dispute or appeal the decision. Most organizations and government agencies are required to have a process to review decisions.
  • Request clear written information about the dispute resolution process and your right to appeal a decision you believe is wrong. Be sure you understand your responsibilities.

9. Follow Up and Say Thank You

  • Keep track of key deadlines and time frames. Follow up.
  • Remember to thank people along the way. Recognize those individuals that provided helpful information and good service.

10. Ask For Help

  • If you need assistance resolving a dispute, contact Disability Rights Florida or another advocacy or community organization to request information or assistance.