What to do when an advocacy issue comes up


The “Easy advocacy how-to” sections are:

How to keep track of issues
Getting in touch with your elected representatives
• What to do when an advocacy issue comes up

Check out whichever parts of whichever section you want. Look around in all three sections to “level-up” toward the best advocate version of yourself—in line with your unique interests and abilities.

A service dog team rides the bus lift up onto a bus while another team watches as the handler points to them.

What kind of advocate are you? Finding your fit

You may already be an advocate in some way. Here are some easy ways to branch out a bit and make the world a little better for having you in it.

Caution: Don’t try to do everything! But you can find your niche and do something. Treat these options like a menu and order to suit your mood, appetite, and energy.

Click to expand the text below on the page. Notice that there’s a way for almost every single option to be done from home if you want!

VOTE

Lots of people make decisions that affect us. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have your say in who’s making some of those big decisions about our communities? Voting is the first step to influence what kind of values and ideas get fed into those big decisions.

Deciding to vote is simple, but there’s more to it than that. Different places have different rules about when and how to register to vote, so don’t wait until the next election to look it up. Apart from googling your local voting procedures, a good place to start for voting info is:

http://www.vote411.org

Many people can vote from home with an “absentee ballot”. You usually just have to tell the voting office you want to be an absentee voter—just check on your local process. Absentee voting is highly recommended for everyone, because you still get your vote in if you can’t make it out of the house when the polls are open.

The extra mile: Surprise! Some people find out they really care about greasing the wheels of our democracy and want to do more to get others involved. If you discover this passion in yourself (or not), you can be a good citizen by encouraging others to vote.

Get involved in a voter drive (through a political party or not), work at the polls, volunteer for a campaign you believe in, or even drive people to the polls. Organize locally through the “Nextdoor” site/app, your church or community group, your workplace, or just chatting with friends and neighbors. Democracy depends on the active participation of the broader population, and you can be a catalyst for this!

 
 
contact your representatives (make them *represent* you!)

This is so important—and has so many menu options to suit your tastes—that we’ve made a special page to make it easy for you to know the lay of the land.

Getting in touch with your elected representatives

In addition to trying to vote the people you want into office, you can try to educate the person in office. Often, they aren’t familiar with your special concerns. Don’t expect them to start representing your interests if they’ve never thought about them!

 
 
social media

No way is social media just for videos of puppies licking babies! There are some powerful tools at your disposal, and today’s activists can make some big waves in the world.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and many more platforms are available. You don’t have to pick more than one or two. Just look up what’s available and find whatever floats your boat.

You also don’t have to be a hacker or an über-influencer. Advocacy can be as simple as sharing others’ creations and amplifying their voices, having conversations, creating and sharing your own stuff (art, memes, stories, reports, pictures, video, etc.), and generally raising awareness.

There are also a lot of ways to raise money through social media, for whichever causes you think deserve it (for instance, by starting a Facebook fundraiser for a nonprofit—see below). Doing that is a special kind of fulfilling!

A deeper dive: If you can understand what makes you click, you’ve gone a long way toward thinking about how to get others engaged, too. Ask yourself: What should people know? What could people do to help? How can I cut through the noise so they’ll hear me? What would get my attention and compel me to act in a helpful way?

Longevity tip: Assume that whatever you put online will be out in the world forever. However you present yourself, keep it sustainable, respectable, and without regret. Set limits and don’t waste time burning bridges with flames when you can ignore the negative and channel your energy into something useful.

 
 
webcam and home videos

Storytelling, skits, personal stories, education…there are so many options! The cool thing is that you can connect with the world by “doing you”. Share a quick clip of you explaining something in whatever way you’re comfortable.

Most of us really relate to everyday people, so you don’t need to worry about fancy setups. Some of the most popular videos on sites like Youtube are just videos of people talking into their webcams or vlogging (video logging) about a topic like their dog training. Let your message be your motivator. Whatever you’re passionate about is what will inspire others!

If you put some energy into shooting a video somewhere out in the world, make a plan for the final product and how to get there, allowing wiggle room because things don’t always go like you expect. But sometimes, they’re better!

Once you’ve posted a video somewhere others can see it, don’t forget to let people know it exists so you can get the ball rolling. Even if you just make a video to explain something to your family or closest friends, you might find it’s easier than writing it down. It tends to be more fun for your audience, too!

Taking care of yourself: Realize that some people are online just to be mean (they’re called “trolls”), so negative comments get sprinkled about. Trolls just want to stir up trouble, so most people would recommend not “feeding” the trolls by giving them the satisfaction of thinking they’ve triggered you (although some argue for a different view). If you can’t learn something from a negative comment, just pretend what the person is really typing is that they’re sad or craving negative attention, and move on. It’s nice to engage with friendly commenters, but you have zero responsibility to respond to someone who’s looking to make people feel bad.

Accessibility from beginning to end: Especially if your message involves disability, but also for every other video, think about the diversity of people who might want to enjoy your video. Could a person who’s blind understand what’s happening based on the sounds and what’s said? Could a person who’s deaf read along to get the same message? Youtube and some video editing programs make it pretty easy to caption videos. If you think about accessibility from the beginning of your planning, it gets a lot easier to provide adequate descriptions of what’s going on in the audio, including narrating any messages on the screen. A little extra effort can make your message have a much stronger impact!

Advanced lesson: If you want your video to hit home with people, think about what attracts you to videos. It’s good to have something different or attractive—a “hook”. Can you get someone else to help, so you have more than one person (or dog?) in your video? Do you have something fresh to say, or a new way to express something people should know? If you get really into making videos, you can start to think about how to edit and film them in catchy ways. Be sure not to get overwhelmed, though. Keep it manageable, because what’s most important is actually producing a video that others can get something out of. Start small and learn as you go what options suit you.

 
 
protest or boycott

Sometimes injustice inspires us to take a more vocal action. Join an existing protest or organize your own!

It can actually be fun to be around people who feel the same way you do about something important. Whether you make a clever sign or just want to be counted, getting out in the world can make you feel even more empowered.

Regardless of whether you can get out in the world, you can participate in boycotts of businesses, groups, or individuals who are doing something wrong. This just means intentionally not giving them your support, whether with your money or otherwise.

Be sure they know that you’re boycotting and why you’re doing it. They may not know why they’re losing you or why they should worry about people like you taking your business elsewhere. Be matter-of-fact and reasonable, spread the word, and you might just get them to change their ways!

Staying safe: Extremes make the news, but in-person protests are very rarely violent; just be aware and friendly. Staying safe is more about taking care of yourself and your canine. Bring water for you and your dog, dress for the weather, and protect your pup’s paws.

Pro tip: If you’re organizing a protest or boycott, be sure you have a base of support and then contact local media to cover your event or action. Take pictures and video yourself and spread the word in a way that can last. The main point is usually to create change through broader awareness or deeper support, so use what’s available to amplify your voice.

 
 
petitions: sign or start

Sites like change.org make it easy to quickly support any number of diverse causes—including worthy causes you didn’t even know existed!

Petitions are a great way to apply pressure for change because they can show that a lot of people feel a certain way. You can join with others to show the strength of people’s convictions, merely by adding your name.

If your cause isn’t already represented, it’s actually easy to create your own petition. Be sure to carefully think about and edit what’s in your petition so there are no mistakes, the issue is clear, and the action you’re requesting is precise. Teamwork can help with this, so you might consider putting this together with a like-minded advocacy buddy (see below)!

Don’t forget: If you created a petition to make a business or government change something, you may get a ton of sign-on support on the petition website (especially through the all-powerful social media sharing). Just be sure you let the business or officials know about your petition and its support! Set a realistic goal for the number of signatures in the beginning. You can always exceed your goal and it looks better if you’ve already hit it when you alert the folks you’re petitioning.

 
 
educate or complain

When you’re just going about your business out in the world or online, you’re bound to encounter opportunities to educate. Maybe someone is talking about a person with an obvious disability as if that person can’t hear or understand (or make decisions for themself). Maybe a well-meaning person is distracting a service dog from doing its job.

Maybe you’re already an advocate! It counts as advocacy if you help by educating where you can. Be polite—think about what words you would be receptive to, and what words might turn you off to learning anything. It can really help to rehearse things you might say before you’re in a situation!

Another way to educate is to make a small presentation to a group, business, or even kids—or just distribute educational flyers to places in your area. If you know your stuff, you can help others get things right. You can start with local groups you’re a part of and spread out from there.

If there’s an issue at a business, write, call, talk one-on-one, whether complaining or educating. If they don’t know there’s a problem, they can’t fix the problem. You can even do this from the comfort of your couch.

Last, be sure not to talk over someone with a disability who is trying to defend themself. You don’t want to end up disempowering someone when you’re trying to help. If you’re not sure, just ask whether they’d like your help!

Get personal: Don’t underestimate the power of your social network. When you educate people about service dogs in your personal life, they can (and will!) spread the word. Give them accurate info and you’ll find a lot of folks enjoy becoming an “authority” on interesting subjects!

 
 
reinforce the good

It’s easy to think of advocacy only as trying to fix what’s bad. If you want to advance a cause, the flipside of decreasing the bad in the world is increasing the good!

You can practically double your ability to advocate if you actively encourage people and groups who are doing the right thing. If an employee follows protocol perfectly and professionally—for instance, asking the allowed two questions about service dogs when it’s appropriate—tell them you appreciate them being well-informed and doing the right thing.

A step up: Tell the manager the employee is doing a good job putting their training into action. A bigger step up: Write a letter or email to the business owner or corporate office. Bake cookies for them or give public kudos on social media! What’s appropriate depends on the situation, but you’ll get a better idea if you stay on the lookout for opportunities. What would you enjoy if you were on the receiving end?

People are sometimes given a hard time when they mess up, but it’s a rare treat to be rewarded for doing the right thing. If you reinforce positive behavior, it’s more likely to repeat and spread. What a happy way to advocate!

 
 
participate in local government

They say “all politics is local”. How do you get involved at the ground level?

Attending events like town halls or local government meetings is an eye-opening method to become an informed citizen. Good governments want you to be involved and value your feedback! If you ever wonder how officials could make this or that bad decision, sometimes it’s just because they didn’t have a community member like you participating and speaking up.

To stay informed, look up your city’s local government. Find the calendar of events, follow your city or county on social media, and sign up for any newsletters. Don’t be scared to dip your toe in or contact an official to find out how to join in.

If you’re paying attention to government and think you’re not being represented—if you’re gung-ho or passionate for change—think about running for office! There are many levels you can do this at, and a lot of these at the local level are part-time or volunteer.

 
 
advocate with organizations

You’re not on your own! Tons of great organizations would love your help in different ways.

Groups like Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the National Disability Rights Network all push for positive change. Find and follow groups you like so you can join in when they have a call to action. Some have newsletters, but most use their social media presence to spread the word.

If you have an advocacy issue that you think is right up their alley, contact the organization to let them know! They might not be aware of it, or if they are, you might be able to help out.

In addition to contacting a group and spreading its message, some groups have volunteer opportunities. Seek these out directly with organizations or through sites like VolunteerMatch. Many groups have ways for you to help push the gears of justice forward, but you might even be able to brainstorm your own!

Contacting yours truly: PSDP leaders welcome contacts about advocacy issues. We’re a small, all-volunteer nonprofit run by people with disabilities, so we can’t take up every issue, but we might be able to help spread the word or even celebrate advocates in our community!

You can contact PSDP through our Peer Guidance Group if you’re on it, through our Contact Us form, phone number, or email (type out info [at] psych [dot] dog). PSDP advocates in a non-partisan way on issues related to disability, mental health, and especially service dogs. Our advocacy is not restricted only to psychiatric service dogs!

 
 
donating or fundraising for a cause

It may seem obvious, but it takes money to advocate on a bigger scale. If you have some dollars to spare, there are plenty of responsible nonprofits who appreciate your investment in the public good. Be sure to know who you’re giving to—especially if it’s a large amount—by reading up about the group on sites like GuideStar and GreatNonprofits.

If you don’t have spare funds yourself, you can still help by fundraising. Beyond traditional ways, there are now methods to use social media like Facebook to create your own fundraiser for a group. Birthday fundraisers are a popular way to raise money and awareness!

Facebook fundraising is easy: There are two methods to ask for donations with an individual post, but it’s really easy and exciting to get a fundraising campaign going! Just be sure to set a goal that challenges your network while staying realistic.

To do a fundraising campaign, just click through one of the two links right below. The first one’s for PSDP, the second one is to pick another cause.

https://www.facebook.com/fundraisers/PsychiatricServiceDogPartners

https://www.facebook.com/fundraisers/

If you just want to ask for donations through your individual post as a one-off, here’s are two ways to do it.

Method 1:
• Tag us: type “@PsychiatricServiceDogPartners” in your post and select our name
• Click “Post“, then click “Add button” and choose the donate button

Method 2:
• Click the “Feeling/Activity” button (with the emoji next to it), then scroll down to “Supporting” and click it
• Type in “Psychiatric Service Dog Partners” and click on PSDP’s box
• Click “Post“, then click “Add button” to confirm the donate button

 
 
advocacy buddies

For some of us, getting out of bed can feel like a challenge. So how can we get important advocacy work done?

We can rely on each other for both inspiration and cooperation. An advocacy buddy can be just what you need!

Find a friend through a common interest group. If you don’t have someone in-person who fits the bill, social media can help you pair up with a like-minded person. You don’t need to have an issue right away to find an advocacy buddy! It’s great to find someone ahead of time so you’re ready when something comes up.

Whether you’re on the lookout or locked onto an issue, divide up the responsibilities according to your strengths and interests. You might keep track of arising issues or initial action planning, your buddy might draft a letter or social media post, you might help edit, etc.

Disability limitations: We’re much more successful when we feel accountable to someone else, but not all of us have the “spoons” (energy) to be intense advocates. That’s okay! One of the beautiful things about disability advocacy is that most fellow advocates understand the need to take care of yourself.

Set realistic goals and timeframes, build in buffers to allow for downtime, and be understanding of your own and your buddy’s limitations. Keep it sustainable and realistic so you don’t burn out and can keep making improvements in the world that build up over time.

 
 
share this how-to with others for *any* advocacy issue!

This easy advocacy how-to is designed to help with any kind of advocacy issue, not just those for service dog users. Pass along the link to the main page for this guide to anyone you think it could help. Let’s make the world a better place together!

https://www.psychdogpartners.org/easy-advocacy

 
 

When you’re advocating, ask yourself: “What effect will it have on them? What effect will it have on you?”

Try to think about what would be more likely to make you change if you were in the other person’s position. A little empathy goes a long way!

We understand the need to express outrage, but as advocates we try to get them to change instead of just making them angry. While you can be upset and show it, it’s important to consider your approach when you want to advocate. If you’re outright rude, most people will just tune you out or have a kneejerk emotional reaction against what you’re saying, rather than taking your message seriously.

We recommend never, ever making an advocacy issue a personal attack on someone. For example, don’t say “This person’s too ugly or too stupid to be in customer service”. Instead, you can say “On 12/6/18 around 3:00 p.m., an employee name Gail told me ESAs weren’t allowed. According to your policy and the law, she didn’t follow the right protocol and this led to the other problems I detailed. How can we remedy this so employees like Gail do the right thing?”

We want you to be thinking about the future—and your advocacy reputation. When people look you up, what do you want them to see? For many of us, the more consistently we seem to act from a place of reason, even when we’re fiercely agitating, the more power we can have to win people over in the future. It’s too easy for others to discount anyone who seems erratic in the past, even if they’re right at the present.

So beyond just thinking before you act, consider your reputation when you’re making your choices. No matter what you do, it’s helpful if it’s clearly justified by the circumstances.

 

Any suggestions to improve this how-to? Please contact us.

A woman with a German Shepherd service dog and an man in a wheelchair embrace as they smile for the camera.

Linden and Brad were advocacy buddies to create this how-to; they hope you find it helpful!

Thank you to our 2018 Convention advocacy session attendees and our beta-testers for their help in contributing to this guide.