Being a disability advocate means standing up for what’s right and genuinely educating people. It means to show society that if we come together we can fix a serious issue that is negatively affecting people with disabilities’ lives every single day or to show society that we can live an equally successful life as an able-bodied person. Able-bodied people will never be able to fully understand what living with a disability is like and that’s totally fine, that’s what advocates are for. To talk about the problems that we come across, address them, and explain to people what a possible solution can be or even just letting society know how it makes us feel so people can understand.
People are so important. And being able to advocate appropriately and sufficiently means everything for our future in the larger community. People are architects. People are pilots. People can be teachers. People can be doctors. These are all careers in which people serve other people, and in order to do that effectively they need to understand people of all ages and ABILITIES. Having a disability can be tough. Half the things that we think about, able-bodied people probably never have to think a day in their lives and that’s fine, too. Why wonder who’s going to help you get out of bed in the morning if you can get yourself up? Until an advocate talks about it and explains how tough it can be to find reliable, kind people to help them shower every single day… that’s when people start thinking about it. And that’s what we want. We want people to understand our everyday life so that when they work with a person with a disability in their career or even just a normal encounter, they know how to communicate with them and they can kind of understand what sort of struggles we may or may not be going through. That’s why people are important. Because every single day a new law is written, or new establishment is built, or new appliances are being made and people are finally starting to understand what sort of requirements need to be met in order for people of all abilities to be able to utilize these services. Most of the people that make these decisions are able-bodied and need to understand our needs in order to make adequate choices for the disabled community. And it wasn’t until advocates spoke up about lawmakers unfairly deciding how we run our lives and establishments not having ramps or elevators and appliances being specifically modified for able-bodied individuals that people started to take a step back and put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Being an advocate for people with disabilities means finding a topic where able-bodied people may not understand the obstacles we have to jump through on a daily basis and breaking it down in a way that’s easily and empathetically understood without making them feel uncomfortable or belittled. To do this successfully takes patience, empathy, and understanding. Being an advocate also doesn’t necessarily mean I, personally, come across every single obstacle that other people with disabilities do. This is very important. I never want to make myself seem like I am less able than another person with a disability just to prove a point. There are people with disabilities that have more needs than I do and it’s one thing to address a topic to make others aware and another to make my life look like I’m jumping through hurdles every move I make. Everyone has their own opinions but being able to efficiently and respectfully talk about a topic, whether I am the actual one going through the issue is crucial. For instance, I do not personally need straws when I drink out of a cup and currently a controversial topic in society is whether or not straws should be banned for the sake of the environment. Though I don’t utilize straws, I see the need for them in the disability community. Whether it be because someone does not have the strength to pick up their cup, or a jaw contracture that might limit their range of motion making it difficult to drink independently. Just because I don’t use straws does not mean I can’t advocate for it. As an advocate, I understand the need and will fight to make sure that every humans basic daily needs are met. Being an advocate means respecting people with disabilities’ struggles or successes.
Which brings me to my next topic, being an advocate for people with disabilities doesn’t always have to be about struggles and daily obstacles. It can and should also be about successes. Some negative characteristics society thinks of people with disabilities is pity, sheltered, unintelligent, unsuccessful due to their physical and/or cognitive impairments. As an advocate, it feels so good to share with people that we can hold down a job, or win a medal, or be as independent as possible. If society sees that we are living with the glass half full, they’ll start to see people with disabilities in a more positive way.
Pleasing everyone is close to impossible. But having the ability to think about all perspectives can be helpful to reduce the amount of controversy. Though I want to advocate and make able bodied people more aware, I also want to be sure not to offend others with disabilities that may or may not be going through similar situations. In addition, I want to ensure that people trying to educate themselves feel comfortable and entrusting in my words to help them understand our view of the world in order to gain equality. I find that a lot of able-bodied people are very uncomfortable with asking questions or finding the right words to effectively and respectively educate themselves. Openly advocating allows people to realize that we are open to answering questions and WANT people to understand what our daily life looks like.
Empathy is the biggest common denominator in becoming a true advocate. Being able to address people with disabilities’ needs respectively and understanding that some people have never even talked to someone with a disability is the key to advocating appropriately. Though there is no right way to advocate, I believe advocating means to help society understand that there is more than one reality in this world. Helping others understand each other’s reality will lead us one step closer to equality.