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NNCIL logo next to a photo of a young man next to a young woman in a wheelchair

Community/Systems Advocacy

Nothing about us without us!

This graphic depicts a series of solid black characters against a white background. First we see a man and woman talking with hand gestures. Then we see a man on a scooter talking to another man holding a seeing-eye dog. On the far right, we see a woman and a child both on crutches.

Can you tell which person above has a mental health disability, multiple chemical sensitivities, or chronic back pain?

What is systems change or community advocacy?

There is an old advocacy story about a place where people started noticing that babies were floating down the river alone. They started fishing the babies out of the water one by one, but the babies kept coming and soon there were many people fishing babies out of the water. Finally, one person shouted in frustration, “That’s it! I have had it!” and walked away. Shocked, someone called after her, “Are you walking away from these babies that need saving?” The person replied, “No, I am going upstream to find out who is throwing these babies in the river and I am going to stop them!” With that, several others took off up river to help her.

Systems change involves noticing a trend and searching for the source of the barrier or problem in order to eliminate it at its source. This might mean talking to the person in charge, changing public policy, or changing the law.

NNCIL and all other centers for independent living are involved in changing systems to make them more user-friendly and responsive to our consumers’ needs. Independent living and self-determination philosophy stresses the importance of people with disabilities being in decision-making roles about programs that are for their benefit.

Community advocacy involves removing barriers and increasing access to the community for all people, including people with disabilities. Our approach to affecting community change is to work in partnership with other individuals and organizations that have the same concerns and goals. NNCIL gets involved when consumers come to us with community situations that present barriers to them. When we become aware that the problem isn’t an individual problem, but rather a problem for many others, we gather interested parties together to develop an advocacy plan to solve the problem.

Here are examples of issues that required community advocacy:

  • Inaccessible movie theaters
  • Social Security disability rules that make it hard to go to work and keep necessary health care
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) policy of making some people provide a doctor’s approval before issuing a driver’s license
  • The need for a door opener at the bank or mall food court
  • Accessible airport shuttle vans
  • Service policies that do not reflect self-determination and consumer choice
  • Civil rights protection from employment discrimination
  • Sufficiently accessible public transit