Eyes on the Hill

By Cachet Wells

We begin developing the ability to learn, live and navigate our lives independently and with confidence at an early age. Throughout our lives we continue learning the skills that foster independence and confidence, through relationships with schools, careers, communities, government, and from our involvement in the organizations we choose to join. Those transferable and adaptable skills we learn throughout our lives provide the foundation for our advocacy work. Self-advocacy is the ability to communicate what your rights, needs and causes are. Helping our members to understand how to present their needs and develop effective strategies that are clearly and concisely impactful is the goal of ACB’s legislative seminar.

As members of ACB we share the goal of having the same choices, chances, and the right to accessible opportunities as everyone.

ACB Advocates

Joining in the conversation with me about advocacy and ACB’s legislative seminar are Stephanie Watts, a retired California state employee and member of California Council of the Blind’s (CCB) board of directors, who continues to expand her advocacy work within the ACB and Swatha Nandhakumar, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for ACB. Swatha began advocating as a teenager during her collegiate studies, then while interning with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), and she continues advocating as a staff member for ACB. During our conversation, we found that we agree on many principles of successful advocacy, and we want to share them with other ACB members who are considering attending the 2022 ACB Leadership Conference.

Learn How To Advocate

Advocating successfully for the issues that are important to us as an organization depends on our willingness to get involved, to effectively communicate our causes, and to engage in collaborative teamwork. During the legislative seminar, ACB will share the tips, tools, techniques and guidelines that will allow each of us to advocate effectively with our congressional leaders.

Walk along with Stephanie, Swatha and me as we take you on the journey to “Eyes on the Hill” an inside look into the D.C. Leadership Conference.

Why We Advocate

We can all agree that there are several reasons why we partner with one another in advocacy and get involved in politics. We hope that we can encourage you to take the plunge, yourselves.

At some point in our lives there was a defining moment for each of us that energized us to get involved and advocate for what we need. Whether you became fascinated with politics in school like Swatha, or your life experiences provided the motivation for you to get involved, like me, or your awareness of so many instances of public injustice ignited a fire within you, as was the case for Stephanie, we welcome your involvement and eagerness to learn as you decide to be the change you want to see in the world.

We all know that legislative advocacy may look like this huge picture and seem too overwhelming at first. We can become consumed with questions like: What can we really do? Do we know enough about the issues? Does our voice actually matter, or are we just the small fish in the enormous legislative pond? Let Stephanie and Swatha and me encourage you to look beyond the reservations you may have about getting involved and see yourselves making the mark that will make a difference.

Legislative Imperatives

You’re not alone. There are members within ACB that can assist and mentor you. ACB’s Legislative Seminar offers encouragement, training, tools, and peer support through individual coaching, exercises that develop team strengthening skills, and real-time rehearsals to prepare you. Even if you are a newcomer to advocacy, you will be empowered to advocate with confidence for the goals that all of us share. This year’s imperatives for advocacy include expanding disability rights, accessing exercise and health care equipment and devices, assuring racial justice, providing web access, and improving access to technology and transportation.

Advocacy And Communication

Communicating our concerns about these aspects of living with blindness and low vision to our representatives should not be an afterthought for any of us.

The more tips, techniques and training any of us can learn, the more effective we will become in advocating for the policies that will improve all of our lives. The advice and support you will receive during the ACB Legislative Seminar will provide the keys that will help when you are participating with your team in those Zoom meetings with your Congressional representatives and staff members.

As we participate together in this year’s legislative seminar, we know that treating one another with respect is the foundation for our collective success. There is much power and inspiration that will derive from our collective endeavor. As we listen to informative presentations, learn from one another, acquire the language of effective advocacy, absorb techniques for managing time, speak up, know our team members, build strategies that yield results, and learn to adapt and value what others offer, each of us will be motivated, inspired, and encouraged to actively go the distance of advocacy. Ours is not a race of time, but rather one that measures progress and endurance. We can’t do it without you. Find your voice as we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us and become the shoulders those coming behind us will stand upon, to get through the next door as people who are blind or have low vision.

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