The Miami Inclusion Alliance (23-07)
This month our newsletter is dedicated to advocacy. The Miami Inclusion Alliance recognizes the importance of advocates and has a strong cohort of five advocates who are working at the intersection of abuse and disability to bring persons with disabilities to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault leadership tables and bridge the gap between victim/survivors with disabilities and the system of care. Their participation over the last two years has been transformative and significant change has taken place.
I asked each of our liaisons “What does Advocacy mean to You?” I would like to share their wise words. (see below)
Advocacy to me is speaking your truth—speaking up for yourself, your needs, needs of others, and raising awareness. Being a Job Coach for individuals with special abilities and part of the Miami Inclusion Alliance has taught me the importance of advocating for a cause to bring awareness to others. Sharing my knowledge in areas that others might not be familiar with is giving the spotlight to a wider community and acting as a catalyst for change. Supporting others in helping them know their rights is very beneficial in the field I work in, and sharing this a month ago with my staff at Best Buddies Jobs was everything to me. Sometimes we are in situations where we are not versed in domestic violence, especially in the special abilities’ community. Having that knowledge not only helps you but supports those in need. Being an advocate for my clients is very important to me and teaching them how to advocate for themselves in the workplace has no price. We all have a voice; we must speak up!
Before the age of eighteen when I moved to Chicago, I never knew what “disability friendly” meant. I was unaware of the acronyms “PWD” and “PCA.” I didn’t know about the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movements. And I sure as hell didn’t know what “advocacy” was. Not because I was sheltered and oblivious to my disability, but because my parents, family and friends have always found a way for me to do and experience everything I’ve wanted to do in my life, whether something was disability friendly or not. It may have been a little different than the “normal” way, but I experienced it.
At the time, I was unaware that the reason I was able to experience these things was because my parents fought and advocated for me. It all began when my parents tried to register me for kindergarten at the same school my able-bodied brother began attending a year before.
The ADA went into effect later that year, but my parents weren’t waiting for legislation. They also weren’t going to enroll me into a “special” school where PWDs were segregated in the district, like many teachers protested for. However, these teachers were unaware when I was diagnosed with SMA at the age of two, my parents decided that I would be raised the same exact “normal” way as my brother. The teachers didn’t know that my parents were ready to fight and advocate for my rights. In the end, my parents won, and I embarked on my eventful and wild, but successful and fulfilling life. Since then, I’ve realized that even if I had no idea it was happening, advocacy was instilled in me at the age of five by my parents.
Now, as an adult, I am an advocate for people with disabilities and other marginalized groups. I recognize my privilege and always try to use it to my advantage when serving my consumers. In the end, I always hope that when they move on, I have instilled advocacy in them, as my parents did for me.
In the most endearing way possible, this is advocacy to me.
I was recently asked what does advocacy mean to me? At first, I thought I knew but I came to realize that it required additional thinking. This is what I came up with:
Advocacy is looking within to one’s biases and seeing whether or not learning about inclusion is important to them.
Once you have come to that understanding you can begin to educate yourself on the struggles and triumphs those of us living with a disability face on a daily basis. After you’ve done this, you can help us fight the struggles and celebrate the triumphs.
This to me is what will bring about inclusion. This is why organizations like the Miami Inclusion Alliance are so important because it helps people come to terms with their own biases and lack of knowledge towards the epidemic which is people with disabilities experiencing all forms of abuse. We not only bring this topic to light but educate those experiencing and those who can offer help on best practices to no longer be a victim but a survivor!
Advocacy means to have my voice heard and speaking up on things that are important to me. Growing up and having learning changes has challenged me to learn to speak up for myself and what I need to become successful in different areas in my life. I am grateful for the resources out there that have helped me and guided me to get to where I am today like Best Buddies. Also, I am thankful for the opportunity Disability Independence group has given me to be a part of the liaison project.
Advocacy means having a seat at the table when decisions concerning my life and the lives of people in my community are made. It is using our voices to humanize a policy, or statistics, or an amendment to an existing law, so that its impact in the lives of real people can be taken into account and a better choice can be made.
There are many definitions of advocates. They can be individuals who defend a cause, or who promote the interests of a cause, or those who support the cause for another.
The MIA liaisons are a combination of all three, they defend, promote, and support others. The impact they are making on the DV/SA system of care has been extraordinary.