teen students meeting with adult teacher

How to Advocate Without Being Disagreeable: The Gentle Art of Winning Others to Your Point of View

Definition of an intimidating situation: needing to convince someone in authority that “the way things are done” is the wrong approach. It’s a situation all too familiar to many parents whose children have disabilities:

  • A pediatrician’s diagnosis disagrees with your observations.
  • A school objects to accommodations on your child’s Individualized Education Plan.
  • A club or team turns down your child’s application without seriously considering their qualifications.

Whatever your gut reaction may say, neither tearing into the offender nor crying over the unfairness does any good. Changing things for the better—and these “things” include others’ attitudes no less than the immediate situation—means basing your advocacy approach on proven human-relations principles.

The Art of Friendly Persuasion

Although its 1936 publication long predated large-scale disability awareness, Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People is a first-rate resource on advocacy principles. Such as:

  • Don’t criticize, condemn, or argue.
  • Ask yourself, “Considering the other party’s viewpoint, what would make them want to give us what we need?”
  • Begin in a friendly way.
  • Look for common ground.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Ask questions that invite “yes” answers.
  • Focus on changes that are easy to make.
  • Be willing to admit you might be wrong—and to admit it without hesitation or excuse.
  • Assume that the other party has the best intentions—and say so.

The book’s references and examples aren’t fixed in the last century, either. The most recent edition came out in 2022.

Getting Everyone on the Same Team

Another classic on human relations is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, originally published in 1989. Notable on the habits list are numbers 4 and 5:

  • Think win–win. Successful advocacy isn’t just about getting your way: it’s about achieving maximum satisfaction for all parties involved. When you approach as a teammate rather than an opponent, it clears the air for innovative solutions and long-term cooperation.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Obviously, you know your own child and want the other party to understand them as you do; but set an example by genuinely considering other viewpoints. Even if a viewpoint is narrow-minded and biased, there are legitimate concerns underlying it.  

Additional Advocacy Principles

  • Believe in your child’s potential. If you don’t want others treating your child as helpless and incapable, check your own attitude first. Pampering is the opposite of true advocacy.
  • Keep things organized. Effective advocacy requires keeping important information—including your child’s medical and IEP records—where it’s easy to find. (For helpful tools, search our database for “organize” apps, or see our recent article on VestLife.)
  • Take the broad view. Consider all facets of a situation, not just the most immediate problem. Especially if the same problems keep popping up, chances are that the real solution (often surprisingly simple) lies in the larger infrastructure.
  • Share stories. True-life accounts of how a situation has affected your family, or how your children have proven their potential, stir more empathy than does exclusive focus on what should be done.
  • Involve your child. Wherever possible, give them space to be visible and speak for themselves.
  • Take care of yourself too. Neglecting your own needs will leave you burnt out, irritable, and otherwise in poor condition to advocate effectively.
  • Never give up.

If You Still Need Help

And if you aren’t satisfied with the results of your advocacy—or don’t trust yourself to advocate effectively in a real-life situation—there are options for further help. Two advocacy resources that BridgingApps recommends:

  • A Day in Our Shoes, for parents of school-aged children. Created by Lisa Lightner, Special Education Advocate, this site’s slogan is, “No One Has to IEP Alone.”
  • TexasYouth2Adult, for young adults and their families. TY2A is a BridgingApps spinoff site, designed to help people with intellectual disabilities find their paths to independent living. Topic categories include “Legal and Advocacy.”

Easter Seals Greater Houston is on your family’s side!

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