Here are some quick facts about advocacy to get you started.
Who can be an advocate?
You can! And you don’t need any special training or a degree in law, political science, or public policy to do it.
What is advocacy?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines advocacy as “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.” That’s true, but it can be even simpler. Advocacy allows people and groups to share their opinion with policymakers. These policy makers are usually your elected officials and they vote on many important issues that affect you and people like you. But policymakers can’t represent you and your views effectively if you don’t communicate with them. Advocacy is a powerful tool to help promote the goals and interests of the profession and the Deaf community.
When should you advocate?
You should advocate anytime there is a policy proposed that will affect you. But you don’t have to wait for someone to propose a change to get involved. Be proactive! Did you know that several states, including Maryland, California, Florida, and New York, currently have no state licensure requirements for community interpreters? If you have an idea for a new law or policy, contact your elected officials. They have the ability to propose legislation that their constituents request. So if you have an idea, share it – that idea might become a law.
Where should you advocate?
Advocacy can happen at all levels of government and in many different ways. Whether you decide to focus on local, state, or federal issues will depend on you and your interests. Some issues are more appropriately addressed at the state and local level. Still others are better addressed through federal legislation and/or regulation. For example, policies related to Vide Relay Service (VRS) are promulgated through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a federal agency. Conversely, many states have enacted legislation regulating interpreters practicing within their borders.
Why should you advocate?
Many advocates start because they witness or experience what they perceive as an injustice. Perhaps you are a certified interpreter losing opportunities to uncertified interpreters because your state doesn’t have a licensure requirement. Or perhaps you are having a hard time convincing organizations and businesses that you are a professional who should be compensated for your time and work. Each advocate has a different reason for becoming more involved, however, most get involved because they encountered a situation that made them say, “Something has to be done!” This situation defines your core issue or cause and will become the basis of your advocacy efforts.
How should you advocate?
Everyone approaches advocacy differently, but some principles hold true no matter your approach. First and foremost, be honest. Your credibility as an advocate depends on whether policymakers can trust what you say. Don’t exaggerate facts or statistics and don’t make up information when you don’t know the answer to a question. Be respectful of the policymaker and his or her time. Stay informed so that you can provide as much information to support your opinion as possible. And finally, be persistent. Changing policy takes time and it’s important that you remind policymakers about your issue. Something as simple as a short email can serve as an important tool to keep your issue fresh in a policymaker’s mind.
On which issues should you take action?
You should advocate for any issue that is important to you. Policymakers expect to hear from advocates more than once, so don’t be afraid to contact your legislators about more than one issue. If you are short on time, choose the issue that is most important to you and work on that one first. If you have more time later, you can come back to other issue(s).