Yes, we are all advocates!
Yes, we are all advocates!
In my last column, I highlighted changes in our environment and work place that are the direct result of advocacy accomplishments; many of which FCB members played a direct part in achieving. Because of these changes, things are much better for people with disabilities than they were 25 years ago.
When I was asked to participate in an advocacy presentation at the upcoming President's meeting in Alexandria VA this month, I asked myself, ‘Who really are the advocates?’ Yes, each and everyone of us is an advocate, and we have been successfully advocating since we pleaded for our first diaper change or bottle of milk. It follows that each and everyone of us can and must take part to advocate in the ongoing battle for change to improve the quality of life for all of us.
As I write this column, I'm again preparing for my annual trip to Capitol Hill for the ACB legislative lobbying adventure. I remember the trepidation and angst I had last year – my first time – worried about meeting with Congressional aides to push ACB'S legislative imperatives. Yes, I have argued in this state's highest court, and lobbied State Senators and House members, city and county commissioners and the like, but I was still nervous and concerned. Would I say the right thing? Would I get "the ask" correct? Would I make an acceptable appearance? Yes, apprehension and nervousness are normal and natural. I submit, though, that the more you get out and face this situation, like others in your life, the easier it is and the more natural it becomes. Maybe it’s too practical and too "down to earth", but I submit that it’s fine, and its normal to be nervous.
The value and benefits of being prepared in my opinion cannot be overstated. Its necessary to cross the t's and dot the i's as you make ready for whatever your lobbying venture might be. Being prepared is invaluable. That means you know your subject, "your ask", and the reasons therefore.
Third, the only real way to solve concern or uncertainty that you might have in performing your advocacy mission is to just do it. Advocate, use your words to deliver your message, not those of someone else, be yourself, keep it simple and be prepared. Read or study beforehand. Know your issue and be comfortable with it before you set out in your advocacy role. Your audience may have questions. You can try to anticipate those, but if you can't answer them, don't be afraid to say, "I will have to look into that and get back to you with a phone call or an email later." It’s much better to do that than give out wrong information or guess.
Fourth, expression of gratitude is extremely important in the lobbying process. When you are leaving the meeting or teleconference, be sure to thank your audience for their time and attention to your issue. If you can follow that up with a written thank-you e-mail or letter, it is equally important. You can include your contact information again, and extend an offer to be available to get additional information or answer questions as they arise.
Finally, sometimes going alone increases one's trepidation and worry. If that's the case, take a partner. Its good to have company – you can encourage, support, and evaluate each other. A team approach really can be a lifesaver, especially for those who may be new to advocating for FCB and ACB issues.
Every issue is important, but not all of them can become FCB or ACB issues. Nevertheless, your issues are important, and they do matter. Talk about them with others, think about how you might propose and promote a solution, and be assured that you can advocate for change to meet your concerns, especially since you have been doing it since you were born.
Just the other day, I was in a meeting sitting next to a gentleman that has been coming to FCB chapter meetings for several years, but he has not been really active. He told me of a problem he has with a state-administered Department of Education test which is not being fairly or properly administered to blind and visually impaired students. Its a perfect issue for FCB, and it gave me an opportunity to strongly encourage him to both attend the upcoming convention and to contact the chair of our Resolutions Committee to work on drafting an FCB resolution to take before the membership addressing this unfair and inequitable situation. You never know when articulating an issue or concern might open the door for further action.
As I complete this article, the Convention Committee is busy putting finishing touches on arrangements at the convention hotel, the Convention Call, and the program. Hotel reservations can now be made. The Committee has a great Thursday night social and barbecue planned. Friday will be Committee and special interest presentations, workshops, and seminars followed by our annual Awards Dinner. Saturday morning will focus on a voting panel, and breakout sessions that will feature online banking from the Technology Committee, accessible labeling and bar code identifiers by Envision America, a membership committee discussion led by our visiting ACB Board member Sara Conrad on how to attract and keep younger members, and an update on the progress of Vanda Pharmaceutical in addressing the non-24-hour sleep disorder. Invitations have been extended for Saturday afternoon's Town Hall meeting. We then anticipate provocative sessions with some of our special interest affiliates.
In short, we are expecting a truly great, exciting and rewarding convention in Jacksonville, May 12th through May 15th. We invite you to come and join in and participate to make it even better.
Then, after all the fun and games, you can vote in the slate of officers that will be elected to lead FCB for the next 2 years. I am truly looking forward to seeing each of you in Jacksonville in May. I hope you can attend, but if you can't, we will do our best to stream as many presentations as possible.
Jim Kracht, President