Everyone An Advocate

Everyone An Advocate

One of my many joys I have is participating in the American Council of the Blind-Indiana’s legislative and advocacy committee. It’s a privilege to keep abreast of what’s coming down the pike at the State House and from Congress regarding blindness and other disabilities. Getting our voice heard and respected in the political world, however, is only one part of advocating on behalf of the blindness community. Rather, everyone of us is an advocate in various ways.

Legislative Advocacy

When hearing the word, advocacy, we may think of calling Congressman, meeting with city council members, and attaching our names to petitions. Recent bills have come to our attention discussing enforcing the ADA to better address web access. (HR 9021 spponsored by Rep. Duckworth (D-IL). Earlier this year, the American Council of the Blind advocated before Congress concerning four legislative imperatives having to do with fitness, web accessibility in the workplace and school, medical testing accessibility, and updating the FCC’s requirements for streaming audio description on TV programming.

As we approach the upcoming 2023 Indiana State House Session, we in Indiana will keep December 9  in mind as the deadline for submitting bill/legislation requests and Jan. 13 as a deadline for our Representatives to submit bill drafts and proposals to be put on the calendar. As you follow the State goings on wherever you live, take note of those bills and proposals having to do with disability issues.

Community Engagement

Do you enjoy playing a game like chess or Scrabble? Singing in a choir? Writing poetry or prose? Or helping out with transportation concerns? Whether we live in a big city like Indianapolis, Indiana or Chicago, IL  or in a small town like Bedford, IN or Seward, NE, opportunities abound for us to join our friends who are sighted in choirs, tournaments, meetings, and more casual discussions. I know it’s sometimes intimidating even if we’re good at a hobby to join others we do or don’t know in public, yet doing so will build our self-confidence while raising awareness of our capabilities and rights. After all, how will people grow to embrace us and our concerns unless we are seen and not just heard.

Then what happens when we go with friends or family to the movie theater? Wearing those nifty headsets with the secondary audio programming, we get to laugh right along with everyone else watching the action. People can see that we don’t always have to rely on someone sitting next to us announcing what’s up on the screen.

Consider the times you and your family go out for dinner. If you have a guide dog, your host or hostess as well as patrons around you get to see the way that dog is , in fact, a four-legged disability advocate. The sign he wears tells people not to pet him while in harness and that he’s working. How he responds to your commands to walk from the table to the restaurant’s door or to sit nicely at your feet speaks to the helper he’s been trained to be. Here in Indiana, Rep. Cindy Ledbetter will be returning last year’s HB1102 for consideration so that more refined distinctions between service and emotional support animals can be codified as law.

Employment Advocacy

Nearly every one of us has heard the statistics for decades: 70 percent of the blindness community is unemployed. Add an additional disability and that rate rises to 80 percent. Include a third factor such as mental or cognitive illness and the percent jumps ninety. Of course, as is reported here, many factors help us understand the participation of blind and low-vision persons in the workforce or looking for a job. As such, those who do work for a living serve not only their need for gainful employment and bring home the bread for their families. They represent our community’s dignity and ability to participate in the workforce.

Some jobs are traditional fits for us like being a rehabilitation counselor or therapist as certified by ACVREP, becoming an employee of the IRS or Social Security Administration, or an instructor of adaptive technology. But we who are blind or have low-vision can be teachers, lawyers, and extreme athletes. So whether we work the nine-to-five j.o.b. or from home freelance, employment gets us in touch with those who can learn of our needs, rights, and capabilities. We educate people about making their companies’ websites more accessible. We help coworkers relax with us during a working lunch when the subject turns to matters far distant from our special accommodations and toward the topics of business, production, and publicity.

In short, we are all advocates throughout the length and breadth of our lives. Everyone is an advocate as we navigate life’s contours boldly blind.

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