One of the core services of Centers for Independent Living (CILs) is advocacy. The Merriam-Webster definition of advocacy is the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. Advocacy can be done on many levels and in many fashions. Individual advocacy happens when CIL staff support a consumer to ask for a reasonable accommodation at work or request an appeal on a decision made by a Housing Authority. System Advocacy happens on a broader level when Independence Now staff, consumers, or Board members meet with county officials on community access for example, or share the National Council on Independent Living’s public policy platform with our Senators and members of Congress. Advocacy is an important part of the past and present of CILs and while we have made progress in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, we still have a long way to go.
A year-long advocacy issue for Independence Now has been the installation of ‘floating bus stops’ in our area. Staff, Board members, and consumers have written letters, made calls, spoken up, and held direct meetings with members of the Planning Department, Transportation Department, and even a County Exec. We’ve made some progress with an evaluation of the floating bus stops by local officials and people with disabilities. During the evaluation, the stops were visited jointly by county officials and people with disabilities so the real problems could be seen firsthand. A report and tool kit are being developed as a result; we are awaiting the final result. If it is not to the satisfaction of our consumers and staff, then we will be back advocating again for more improvements. This is an example of how advocacy is making a difference, maybe slower than we’d like but we will get there!