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Advocacy Workshop For Parents

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Sigrid McNab is a parent of a blind child. She is the Vice-President of the Blind Children and Youth Parent's Association.

A very exciting and informative advocacy workshop for parents of blind and vision-impaired children (sponsored by the NFB:AE and the CNIB) was held on Bowen Island, British Columbia on Saturday, August 28, 1999. Robert Fenton, President of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality facilitated the workshop. He was assisted by Betty Nobel, First Vice-President, NFB:AE, Richard Marion, Second Vice-President, NFB:AE, and Janet Hanevelt, Assistant Executive Director, of the CNIB, BC Yukon Division.

A well-prepared package of course materials, including a course schedule, background facts for the morning advocacy problem, side specific facts for the morning advocacy problem, a list of participants with their specific designations, and biographies of the instructors were sent in advance to the workshop participants. Also included were helpful suggestions and a brief overview of what to expect at the workshop. I found this package of great assistance in preparing for the workshop itself.

During the morning exercises, the chief topic was oral advocacy. The morning began with introductions and a brief lecture on "Basic Principles of Oral Advocacy" and was followed by a small group discussion regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the case which formed the basis for the workshop. The facts of the case involved a fourteen year-old girl who had recently lost her vision. Participants were asked to resolve problems involving the child's participation in the school band and the need to learn Braille.

Participants were divided into two groups (designated A and B ) and worked on two exercises. In Exercise 1, students with A designations took the lead role as the advocate to convince the teacher that the child should be able to participate in the school band whereas those with B designations represented the teacher who took the opposite viewpoint. The presentations were videotaped. Each group of students worked with two instructors at a time for the morning exercises. One instructor remained in the room with the group during each presentation and gave general feedback on what s/he witnessed. Once the presentation was complete, the person taking the lead role went outside with their videotape and received additional instruction on a one-to-one basis from the other instructor. After a break, the A and B roles were reversed. Those with B designations attempted to convince the parents that their plan to teach the child Braille was appropriate and those with A designations opposed the teaching of Braille.

I found the whole morning to be an extremely beneficial exercise in oral advocacy. I very much appreciated the one-to-one feedback, the small class size and the high level of competency of the instructors who taught the course.

We had ample time to do our presentations. Sometimes it felt like hours when you were the one on the "hot-seat", but it was really only about five minutes. Videotaping the sessions allowed me to see and assess my visual presentation, body language and voice inflection. These aspects are very important when advocating and it gave me a good opportunity to test my skills in a non-threatening environment.

After a lunch break, we were given demonstrations of the same oral advocacy exercises by the instructors. These were very lively and gave great examples of strategies and language to use, especially when a "curve ball" of little-known details was thrown into the discussion.

The afternoon progressed with a lecture on basic tips to follow in written advocacy. The students then proceeded with the first exercise in which they received an unknown fact situation. We were given 30 minutes to write a letter to the individual designated in the fact situation. We were asked to assume that the child referred to in the fact situation was our own child. Each participant then read their letter to an instructor and received clear, comprehensive feedback on their handling of the situation and advice for possible changes.

Written advocacy Exercise 2 consisted of the following. All of the letters written during written advocacy Exercise 1 were put into a hat and each participant drew out one of the letters. Participants were again given 30 minutes to write a response to the letter they drew from the hat and individual feedback was given.

I found the whole day to be extremely beneficial. As parents, we are our child's biggest advocate and knowing the skills to use in advocating on behalf of our children is essential. I would like to thank Robert, Betty, Janet and Richard for presenting this valuable workshop and I hope that there will be many more of them in the future.

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