I receive a lot of requests from people with disabilities for free help with advocacy problems. Because I have a day job and only so much energy, I have to turn down most of these requests.
Some of the people who ask for the help of an advocate really don’t need one. Their issues can result from one of two situations:
1. There are ways for them to self advocate with a referral to information or
2. They are not taking personal responsibility for some of their choices which has resulted in the situation created.
The first situation is easy to deal with. I can give them a direction to go in and most people are able and willing to help themselves. But the second group of folks is very hard to deal with.
They simply do not recognize that their problems are of their own making. These are the people who , even if I took their cases on, would probably not cooperate with me when I tried to help them out. If I asked for information, they would fail to document things or accurately report things. If I needed a paper signed they would lose it. If I suggested they talk or not talk to someone about the case, they would call me a week later and mention that they had to go against my advice and they hoped it didn’t “hurt my case”.
Which, in the end, is why I’ve learned that personal responsibility is key when dealing with advocacy situations. It’s never good to battle against a situation where one person isn’t perceiving things realistically and it’s even worse to do so when that person won’t accept responsibility and help himself.
My Scottish grandmother told me when I was little that when it rained a person who had to go out in it could react in one of two ways: She could complain about the rain or bring an umbrella. Basic personal responsibility runs along the same lines: sometimes you can’t change a situation right then and there and there are always going to be things you can’t control, but you do what you can to help yourself.
I can’t help people who throw up their arms and moan about getting wet. If that’s their choice, no matter how many times I tell them where to buy an umbrella, how to open an umbrella or even if I lend them an umbrella , I can’t make them use it.
I believe in the end that people with disabilities all have to do some self advocacy. Checking to make sure that we’ve acted in a responsible way before we lament about the rain is the best advice I can give to anyone as a starting point.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan