Advocacy 101

Advocacy. Not such a big word. We all know what it means. Or do we, really, in terms of what it can do for us and others? In particular, what does it mean for those who have experienced serious vision-health challenges?

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, advocacy is the act of speaking or writing in support of something.  It can take many forms. For instance, it can be as personal as speaking up at an appointment with a health-care provider to ensure that our needs are met. Or it can be as formal as meeting with our congressman to gain support for current legislation.

You may be familiar with some nonprofit vision-health organizations and know that their missions encompass raising funds for medical research, increasing public awareness, and providing patient education and support. But what you may not know is that advocacy is also an integral part of many of their organizational goals.

The American Council of the Blind strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life, for all blind and visually-impaired people. Their recent advocacy efforts have resulted in:

  • Passage of the Twenty-first Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act
  • Passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010
  • Promotion of legislation to mandate accessible prescription drug labeling

The focus of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired is to support professionals who provide education and rehabilitation services to people with visual impairments.  One of their current advocacy efforts has been their collaborative work to ensure the success of the Medicare Low Vision Demonstration Project.  This project will increase the number of providers who are eligible for compensation and result in greater access to services for their clients. They are also striving to address the shortfalls in the implementation of special education requirements for public school students who are blind or visually impaired.

On a much larger scale is Vision 2020 USA. Nearly 40 organizations have banded together in this group whose mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness. VISION 2020 USA is the national entity that is part of a joint program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).  Their primary focus is to address the main causes of avoidable blindness to achieve the greatest possible impact on vision loss worldwide. They advocate on the federal, state, and local levels to promote comprehensive eye-care as a part of every national health system.

One voice may not seem to make a difference but many voices working together can create a tremendous impact. Maybe we have some advocates among us?  We’d like to hear about your own experiences as an advocate or other advocacy organizations with which you are involved.