Monday, August 30, 2010

10 Rules of Engagement: How To Self Adocate


Accessibility promised not delivered.


Frustration and anger.


Confrontation and resolution.

If you are going to have the audacity to have a disability, you are going to need the ability to effectively advocate for yourself. It is imperative that you know how to use your voice, how to control your temper, how to ensure that you control the flow of the confrontation and resist the impulse to be placated or bought off. From me to you, my tips on advocating when angry.

1) Breathe: It is important to think through the situation, you need some clarity, take a breath and slow down. The heart is probably racing, the blood pressure is high, the situation has caught you unawares. You need to be able to be firm, not hysterical. You need to be plain spoken, not vulgar. You need to be clear on what the issue is, not jump from topic to topic. So take a breath, when you know what you want to say, start - you have the opportunity, sometimes, to control when the confrontation happens. If the timing doesn't allow that, take a breath anyways, focus your mind quickly and ... start.

2) Respect: You want respect not pity. The issue is almost never your disability, it's inaccessibility. Make this about their attitude, their behaviour or their environment not your disability. Remember we are most often disabled by external factors. I once flew across the ocean, got in a car and drove 200 miles, only to arrive at a hotel and suddenly become disabled because they didn't bother to honour my request for an accessible room - they disabled me. So keep it clear, this is about them primarily.

3) Don't Barter: Often you will be offered a free room, a free meal, a certificate for the future. OK. Fine. But that's not good enough. Let them know that you are not complaining because you want financial compensation, you want moral compensation. You want to ensure that this doesn't happen to another person with a disability, you want the situation rectified, you want to know what they are going to do to change things so that accommodation offered is given. You want a 'right now' fix and a 'long term' solution. I get the impression that most managers think you are just doing this for a free ride - let them know that's not the case.

4) Respect: Yeah, this is here twice. don't hammer a clerk who has no power and is paid minimum wage. Speak to the manager. Even then, don't do to them what you don't want done to you - don't swear at them, don't call them names, don't cast aspersions on their character. This drives them nuts! They want a reason to dismiss you, don't give it to them. Be angry, be frustrated, be firm but be respectful at the same time. Even if they are not understanding or, ultimately, accommodating - don't give in to the urge to 'poo on their heads'. Go higher, go postal - write a letter or an email. They are more afraid of those who go forward with complaints based on anger and reason rather than anger and vitriol.

5) Power: Manage what power you have well. Saying, "I'll never do business here again," means that once you are out of the door - problem solved. Saying, "When I come back I don't want this experience again," means - oh, my, this is someone who will be back and will be expecting change. Too, speaking loud enough to be heard by others is great, they don't want to look like they are upsetting someone with a disability or a parent of a child with a disability. But screaming just pisses everyone off, even those who would be your allies. As well, create enough of a problem that they can't get on with other things until this is settled but don't be purposefully obstructive to others. It unsettles them if you say, 'I'll wait while you deal with this other customer.' The other customer will appreciate it and your credence as an opponent grows.

6) Platitudes and Apologies: Don't let them say, 'I understand' ... because if they do not have a disability, do not have a child with a disability, they don't understand. I hate it when non-disabled people use that line on me. They can imagine what it's like to live using a wheelchair but they don't know and because they don't know they don't understand. Stop them with a clear, 'You don't understand, don't patronize me!' They are using some crap training to try to get you calmed down and on side. Don't let them do it. Apologies are attempts to derail discussion and make it look like you've been heard - the only apology worth anything is change. Be clear on that.

7) Respect: It's back for a third visit. Always speak respectfully of your life with a disability or your child with a disability. Now is not the time to pull out the word 'cripple'! Don't go on about how hard life is for you. That makes disability the issue again. Speak of yourself and your life with respect - if you go for pity, you move them into a position of superiority. Then what they give you will be out of their magnanimity rather than because you are due your rights as an equal.

8) Settle: They say 'never settle' ... I disagree. If something can't be done in the moment, settle for a promise and a plan for something changing. If something can be done, once it's done, it's done. Carrying on and on about it once it's over is counter productive and makes it seem that all you are doing is attention seeking.

9) Close: Finish when you are done, this should be at least 3 or 4 minutes past their toleration. They should be uncomfortable with the interchange. At some level you have to make them feel. Learning happens when emotions are put with facts. You want them to fear this happening in the future, you want them to do everything they can to avoid other firmly angry, appropriately aggressive disabled people. So, control when it ends. Leave the situation with calm and dignity, storming off makes you look like a two year old. Be adult all the way through, right to the end.

10) Follow up: Go postal, as mentioned earlier. Write an email, write a letter, communicate in some way that you expect change. You will, when angry, be tempted to say, 'I'm going to call your head office.' The reason you say this is that it is a really good idea. Don't threaten and then not do - they will come to not believe that you will have the gumption or the energy to follow through. It takes only a few minutes to put thoughts down on paper or in an email message. Take the time and, of course, copy it to the establishment in question.

I've gotten really good at confrontation, I don't like it, I don't want to do it, but I'm disabled, so I have to use my voice over and over again. It's part of what it is to be different in a world that honours uniformity. So, what tips do you have because I'm sure I'll have to do this ...



Kristin said...

This is fabulous advice for both disabled individuals and others. One thing I'd like to add is take the time to recognize outstanding service too. If you are treated to amazing customer service or something of the like, write a letter praising that individual too.

Sher said...

Brilliant! expected.

Laurel said...

As someone who definitely needs to get more assertive in all areas, I really appreciate this advice!

Clay said...

Dave, your 'R' word treatise really inspired me.

Sumithra said...

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

I especially like "when I come back I don't want to have this experience again." What an effective and powerful sentence. Thanks

tekeal said...

this is a bit of a tangent, but my partner is an architecht and a head planner for a total renovation of a 5* hotel in switzerland...he was telling me recently of work they were doing to implement the necessary handles, buttons, doors etc in the accesible rooms, and i thought of all that i've read here on this topic- wondering if they really know what's needed (seeing as so often the supposed obvious is in complete disregard) and thought to ask for a list of what you expect in such a room...

Molly said...

I adore this entire post. I want to print it out and put it on my wall.