The basics of disability advocacy

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There may be times when you don’t feel listened to or feel like decisions are being made for you without any consideration of your thoughts, feelings or opinion. This is where disability advocates can play a vital role

Key points

  • Disability advocates are able to help you raise complaints or concerns
  • There are six advocacy types covering a large number of areas
  • The Australian Government funds a National Disability Advocacy Program

Advocates also help to make changes across the community to improve accessibility, inclusion and policies affecting people with disability.

So while you might not directly need support from an advocate, the chances are they are still working to improve your life.

What is a disability advocate?

When a problem arises it can be hard to speak up and take control of how you want to live your life. This can be particularly difficult if the concerns you have are about supports or services that you are relying on for meeting your most basic needs.

Many people find it difficult to raise a complaint or concern but it is important to address your concerns early and not leave it to escalate. This is where a disability advocate can play an important role.

Disability advocates can act as a voice for people with disability by campaigning for social change, equal rights and opportunity. This can include speaking, acting or writing on behalf of the interests of a person or group in order to protect, promote and defend their welfare or justice.

An advocate can also enable and support you by:

  • Helping you understand your rights
  • Listening to your concerns
  • Discussing your options for raising that concern

They can assist with negotiating changes to your National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan, give advice and support when dealing with service providers, and help you overcome any barriers that may impact your ability to participate in your community.

For example, if you use a wheelchair and find some of the paths you need to get around your town are not accessible, an advocate might help you bring this issue up with the right people to work towards getting the paths fixed.

Types of advocacy

There are a number of different types of advocacy, each with a different focus. The six advocacy types are:

Citizen advocacy – a commitment by a volunteer person without disability to advocate for a person with disability, particularly if they don’t have close family members or friends who will take up the advocacy role.

Family advocacy – when family members of people with disability advocate on behalf of their loved one. For example, parents advocating on behalf of their child to promote, protect and defend their rights.

Individual advocacy – when an advocacy organisation works with individuals on eliminating discrimination, abuse and neglect. This usually focuses on resolving a particular issue or concern the individual has a complaint about.

Legal advocacy – when a professional advocate with experience in the legal field helps a person with disability to address a legal issue and understand their rights.

Systemic advocacy – when organisations work to reduce barriers and discrimination you may face in the community or through Government policy.

Self-advocacy – when you advocate for yourself or as part of a group of people with the same issue. An organisation may help you to build your self-advocacy skills if you need support.

National Disability Advocacy Program

The Australian Government’s National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP) ensures people with disability enjoy and exercise their human rights within their community. The program enables access to local disability advocacy support and helps smooth out issues between people with disability and their service providers or the NDIS.

Through the Program, the Federal Government provides funding to advocacy organisations in different areas of Australia to offer services to people with disability covering all the types of advocacy available.

To find a Government-funded disability advocacy agency near you, search your local area on the Department of Social Services’ Disability Advocacy Finder website.

What do you want to know about disability advocates? Tell us in the comment section below.

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