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Finding An Advocacy Style

Editor's Note: Kim Kilpatrick is AEBC's Communications Liaison. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

When should I advocate and educate? What issues are important enough for me to spend time on and which ones do I let slide? And how do I advocate in a manner that is comfortable for me and still effective?

Since I have been totally blind since birth, I have learned over the years how to stand up for myself, how to educate others, how and when to ask for help, and how to decline offers of assistance. I am so used to advocating and educating now that I don't always realize I'm doing it.

I am a happy and optimistic person. I love humor and use it wherever possible. A friendly, humorous approach works best for me and fits well with my personality. Feeling comfortable with my own blindness, helping others to feel comfortable with me, and making sure that I know exactly what it is I need and want to get across also help immensely.

I enjoy public speaking. Someone else may prefer letter writing and express themselves more clearly that way. I do not personally feel comfortable in protest marches or couldn't see myself chained to a railing somewhere. This is just part of who I am. The most important thing is to know that each of us has different ways in which we advocate and educate, and that we should be tolerant of all the different ways.

As a woman with a disability, I think we have some unique challenges when it comes to advocacy. Women have traditionally been taught not to rock the boat, to accept what we have and be grateful, but this goes against advocacy principles. If we accept and are grateful for what we have, then we don't express ourselves when things aren't the way they should be and we don't ask for what we want or need.

As people who are blind gain access to more services, I think we will realize we can demand even more. For example, if I have a talking GPS (global positioning system) that helps me to know what buildings are around me, then I realize that I also want a system to be developed that can identify stores within malls. If I have a scanner and can therefore read printed material, I then wonder, "Why can't I have a handheld scanner to read restaurant menus or things on store shelves?"

None of us has the time or energy to focus on every issue that comes across our paths, but once we find an advocacy style that is comfortable and effective, we can advocate for ourselves on those issues we do pursue and, yes, even rock the boat, when necessary!

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