How to Advocate Effectively

Ed Zwilling Sept. 22, 2015

I'm proud to represent Jean Marie Lawrence of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her recent efforts to bring access to the downtown Chattanooga Post Office are representative of two important topics I'd like to share. The first is how to be an effective advocate. The second is the reason why it is necessary for more people with disabilities to become effective advocates.

Effective advocacy looks like this: Jean Marie went to the post office in downtown Chattanooga after receiving a notice that there was a package waiting for her. She arrived at this post office to find an extensive flight of granite stairs leading to the main entrance. The post office is located in the Joel Solomon Federal Building which was constructed in 1932-3 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There wasn't a single sign indicating the location of an accessible entrance. Eventually, with the assistance of a stranger, Jean Marie learned there was a ramp leading to a service entrance in the rear of the building adjacent to the loading dock. This is an employee only entrance and Jean Marie felt the ramp to be excessively steep.

Jean Marie said this experience made her feel like a piece of junk mail - and she did something about it. Jean Marie got everyone's attention. She didn't just complain to the one postal worker on duty at this post office during her attempted visit. She didn't just complain to the police. She didn't just send a letter to her Congressman. She didn't just file an administrative complaint with the US Access Board. She also didn't just stop with talking to the local news to bring attention to the situation she and every other individual in a wheelchair faces when trying to access this post office. She is organizing and mobilizing her local disabled community toward seeing this issue remedied. This is effective advocacy.

Why should people with disabilities do this? Simple. Because no one else will. There is no one to go around and inspect facilities, programs and services to ensure they are equally accessible to people with disabilities. It is up to people with disabilities to enforce their own civil rights. Thank you Jean Marie!