Is advocacy for me? The 4 steps to becoming an extraordinary advocate

Mar 06, 2019

When you hear the word advocate, what comes to mind? Do you picture someone walking the halls of Capital Hill visiting legislators? Or someone in the street marching with a large crowd and a bullhorn?

That’s certainly a type of advocacy, but not the only kind. And not the kind that most people I work with get involved in.

Advocacy is defined as “the act or process of publicly supporting a cause or policy to bring about social change.” It’s raising the public’s consciousness about a particular issue. And anyone can get involved in advocacy. Advocates are simply real people who care about real issues and solutions. Or as often said, advocates are ordinary people doing extraordinary things!

The types of advocacy people engage in can be broken down into a few categories (note that not everyone breaks it down this way and there is overlap across categories. But this is the way I like to think of it to make it easy and straightforward):

  1. Political advocacy: Political advocacy or legislative advocacy is what most people think of when they think of advocacy, using your voice toward changing policies that impact funding, treatment or diagnosis of a condition, whether it’s by calling, visiting or writing letters to government officials.
  2. Self-advocacy: This is when you stand up for yourself. You bring a list of questions to ask your doctor. You get a second opinion. You demand answers when you are dismissed. You advocate for yourself.
  3. Individual or Peer advocacy: Similar to self-advocacy, you stand up for better healthcare, more information or more detailed explanations – but you are doing it for someone else. This doesn’t have to be related to healthcare – this could be advocating for your child in school or advocating for an elderly relative’s housing needs.
  4. Community advocacy: Getting involved in a community group, taking on a community issue, working to increase awareness among a local, regional, national, or international audience – this is engaging in community advocacy.

Most people already are advocates without even realizing it. 

Every time you speak up for yourself or others, you are an advocate.

Have you ever corrected someone who was misinformed about your disease? That is advocacy.

If you’ve worked to change an issue in your hometown (such as school policies or protecting your local park), you are an advocate.

Selma Blair giving an interview and showing up at the Oscars with her cane is her way of advocating for herself and raising awareness about multiple sclerosis. She is showing people what it’s like to live every day with a disease. That’s advocacy! 

Often, people WANT to help out, WANT to make a difference, but don’t know where to begin.

They often ask how to get started with community advocacy, the type of advocacy that most of my clients participate in - advocating by sharing their stories and speaking about the needs of people living with a disease or surviving a condition.

So, it’s time to get started being an advocate. Follow these 4 steps and you’re on your way!

  1. First, figure out what your passion is, what you truly believe in, and what you want to fight for. The moment you decide you want to make a difference in the world, you can start being an advocate.
  2. Next, learn your facts. Gain a solid understanding of exactly what you’re advocating for. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs of your condition but having a solid understanding of your experience and a thorough grasp on the issues will make you a stronger advocate.
  3. Third, learn about and explore the ways you can be an advocate, both big and small. Some examples include:
  • Educating and informing the public about prevention, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, side effects (both physical and psychological) through blogging, writing, and using social media to share your story.
  • Partnering with patient advocacy organizations to share their mission and be a spokesperson or ambassador.
  • Joining a company’s patient advisory board to provide patient insight on diagnostics, treatments or clinical trials.
  • Reaching out to the media to conduct interviews during your issue’s awareness month or another relevant date.
  • Participating in or organizing health fairs, walks, and community events to raise awareness about a condition.
  1. And finally, make a plan and take action! Share your story, raise awareness, and go out and change the world!

And that’s it! Are you an advocate? Send me an email and share with me how you advocate for a cause you care about. Or comment on my Facebook post about how you are changing the world.

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