Getting Started in Advocacy
Do learning disabilities (LD) affect your life? Whether you are a parent of a child with LD, an adult with LD, an educator, or an LD professional, there’s a place for you in the world of LD advocacy. There are many aspects to advocacy, which you can learn about in this guide, but all are intended to ensure that lawmakers and the general public respect and protect the rights of individuals with LD.
Advocacy can be hard work, fun, exhilarating and sometimes frustrating, but it is essential to improving the lives of people with LD. So, let’s get started.
Being an advocate does not mean you have to quit your job, write big checks to politicians, or rush to Washington D.C. It also doesn’t mean you have to know everything there is to know about learning disabilities or every law ever written on the subject.
Being an advocate does require that you use your voice to make a difference for children and adults with LD. You have an important story to tell and experiences to share.
Under both education and civil rights law, individuals with learning disabilities are entitled to rights and services. It seems simple, but as you know, it is complex and often people with other agendas are pushing lawmakers to make decisions that may not take people with LD into proper consideration. That’s where you come in. Your voice is critical—it’s the foundation of democracy. You can (and should) tell your elected officials how to vote for laws, budgets and policies that work.
Becoming an LD advocate is not a new job or a special title saved for the chosen few, but rather a mindset. If you want the problems in your school district, state, or at the federal level to be fixed or at least improved, you’re going to have to get involved. Parents have been stepping into this role for years and you can make a difference—not only for your child—but for all children with LD.
Even if you only have five minutes per week to spare, these tips will get you started on the road to effective advocacy:
Become familiar with the state and federal laws that pertain to learning disabilities.There is no need to go to law school, because this information is available on www.LD.org, through your state office of education, and your state’s Parent Training and Information Center. A directory of centers by state is available at www.parentcenternetwork.org. To get started, also check the “Talking about LD” section of this guide.
Get on the mailing lists of advocacy organizations.NCLD’s own Legislative Action Center is a great way to become familiar with what’s happening in Washington, D.C. related to learning disabilities. Sign up for email updates.
Call your legislators.Politicians are people with their own experiences. If LD is not a part of their lives, they can’t possibly understand the implications of their votes the way you do. Your local, state, and federal legislators are listed in the blue section of your phone book, can be found in a quick Internet search, or at www.contactingthecongress.org. They want to hear from you; they have a staff for just that purpose. And if there is a bill you are interested in discussing, they’d rather receive your call before a big vote than get an angry call afterwards. More tips on working with policymakers are presented later in this guide.
Write a letter or an email to a policymaker.Your elected officials welcome hearing from you. Tell them how a particular piece of legislation will affect you and others who are affected by LD. First hand and personal stories from their constituents are always helpful to policymakers. In return, you can usually expect to get a reply explaining the issue more fully and what they intend to do about it.
Talk about what you know.Tell your story, talk about your LD concerns, and offer ideas about what can be done about them. Politicians want to be asked to do something, so seize the moment and ask them to be proactive on the issues that matter to you.
Go public.Call a radio station, blog on issues you care about, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Explain why disability legislation is an important issue and how things can be changed for the better. Email your friends, schedule a meetup or other meeting to discuss LD policies. As an advocate you don’t have to go it alone. To the contrary, you should try to get as many people excited and active about learning disabilities as possible.
Vote.It seems basic, but it is vital that you exercise this right. You can even go one step further by helping candidates who support learning disabilities issues with their campaigns. The knowledge you have can help a candidate clarify his or her position on an issue that is important to so many people.
Download your FREE copy of LD Advocates Guide. (PDF, 37 pages)
Table of Contents
- A Message from NCLD
- Getting Started
- Talking about LD
- Working with Policymakers
- Working with the Media
- Glossary of Terms
- Additional Resources