Being a devil’s advocate isn’t as helpful as one might think…

Why not be an advocate instead?

When I talk or write about disability issues, some disagree with my point of view- even some in the disability community. That doesn’t bother me because the world is big enough for various opinions – and would be boring if it wasn’t allowed!

But I am prone to asking people what they are doing about the issues at hand during these discussions. I want to know if they put their “money where their mouth is” – do they spend their time and energy taking action and doing things – or are they just playing devil’s advocate with me?

Being a devil’s advocate, spending one’s time picking at advocates who are trying to change things isn’t very helpful. It’s particularly not helpful when the people doing it simply haven’t done any advocacy and don’t know the background or history of events.

So I ask them questions.

If we’re discussing access issues, I ask them if they report inaccessible places. Do they have the assistive technology they need to be productive? Are they able to afford medical equipment? If so, do they pass on equipment they no longer use or need? If we’re discussing employment issues, I ask if they mentor others with disabilities or take action on a community level if they’ve “made it” – if they are working at a job at equal pay. If we discuss the issue of home health care I ask them if they have family members who help and what they would do without that or when those folks age out? How much do they pay out of pocket for home health care and/or medical equipment? Are they aware of the staggering costs of these things for many- and the obstacles presented by them for many of our community members?

If they tell me they have a well paying job, their family members help them out, they don’t have time to report access issues and those other problems are things they can’t relate to because they’ve never felt comfortable around others with disabilities, I smile. This gives me the impression that they are playing devil’s advocate with me – while I’m trying to advocate.

Don’t get me wrong – I applaud those in our community who have “made it”. I’m happy to see people who are gainfully employed, have what they need to live productive and successful lives and give them credit for their hard work, resourcefulness and all that goes into that. But there is a danger in assuming that everyone else can do it, especially if it leads to playing devil’s advocate with advocates who are dealing with those who can’t do it in the present system.

Do I challenge people? You bet I do. I want to know what they’re doing- not for me and, to some extent, not for themselves – but for each other. Because when we help another disabled person, we’re helping our community. And that’s helping in a way that can’t be measured – and doesn’t have to be. This isn’t a question of spending all day on advocacy – but we don’t have to leave that as a job for others either. We can all do our part.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

2 responses to “Being a devil’s advocate isn’t as helpful as one might think…

  1. j3n

    “what they’re doing… for each other”

    Keep it up.

    That is a general issue, not just a disability issue. “we’re helping our community.” When I report a blocked ramp or parking spot I do so because these are matters of poor judgment, un-neighborliness, and/or selfishness. Our communities cannot afford such behavior.

  2. You’re absolutely right -it is a community issue , not just a disability issue. What’s so interesting about access (and preferably universal design) is that it benefits many in our population – seniors, parents pushing kids in carriages, etc. in addition to people with disabilities! Thanks for your comment.

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