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Advocacy 101

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What is Advocacy?


“The Art of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or  policy; active support”

– American Heritage Dictionary (2000).

What is the difference between Advocacy and Lobbying?

Lobbying is “trying to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause.” Lobbying is a guaranteed right in the United States. Lobbying and advocacy are similar. If you have ever spoken with a public official on an issue that you are for or against, then you have “lobbied” your official and “advocated” on behalf of a cause. However, lobbyists are usually compensated for their services, and therefore need to comply with various ethical and lobbying disclosure laws governing their activities. As a volunteer advocate, you are usually not subject to lobbying, registration, and disclosure laws unless you are compensated for your activities.

The Federal Definition of Lobbying:

“Influencing, for financial or other compensation, the formulation, modification, or adoption of legislation, rules, regulations, executive orders, or any other programs, policies, or positions of the government, the administration or execution of a government program or policy (including the negotiation, award, or administration of a government contract, grant, loan, permit, or license), or the nomination or confirmation of a person for a  position subject to confirmation by the Senate.”

The Pennsylvania Definition of Lobbying:

An effort to influence legislative action or administrative action by any individual, association, corporation, partnership, business trust, or other entity that engages in such an activity on behalf of a principal, for economic consideration.

Legislators are hardworking, dedicated individuals. They need to be knowledgeable about everything from Special Education Funding to Agricultural. They kneed to stay current on issues from the Waiting list Initiative to the Trucking Industry. It is our job to inform them of the issues that affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially personal stories from their constituents. How do we do that?

Understand the Issues

  1. Check out The Arc of Pa’s website www.thearcpa.org or call 1-877-337-1970 to find out the key issues.
  2. Sign up for The Arc Action Alerts to be alerted when any key issues arise that require action.
  3. Read The Arc of PA’s Position Papers and Resolutions on Key issues. Go to www.thearcpa.org, click Disability Resources, and then Position Papers and Resolutions.
  4. Learn who to contact on specific issues.

Get Involved

  1. Contact your local chapter of The Arc.
  2. Become a member.
  3. Develop a relationship with your local and state governmental officials.
  4. Ask about, attend or join committees such as MH/MR Advisory Boards, local chapter fundraising efforts, etc.
  5. Attend Advocacy and Policy Day in Harrisburg and The Arc of US annual Policy Seminar in Washington, DC.
  6. Attend local training.

Take Action

  1. Action Alerts through website thearcpa.org/action-alerts/.
  2. Emails to local and state officials.
  3. Letter writing- examples on Advocacy Tools and Telling Your Story.
  4. Phone calls to your legislators’ offices.
  5. Visits to Legislators at the district office or Harrisburg- found on www.legis.state.pa.us.
  6. Attend community events and talk to legislators.
  7. Inform others in your support groups.
  8. Invite officials to your chapter to Board meetings or special events.

Helpful Hints when Advocating with an Elected Official

  • Be authentic, passionate, and professional
  • Identify who you are and who you represent
  • Do your homework and know your issue.
  • Present the facts and any statistics that are area-specific
  • If asked a question you do not know, tell them you will research the question and get back to them.
  • Tell your story, but be brief and to the point and how it relates to the issues
  • Bring along a picture of the person you are representing.

Talking With Your Legislator Over the Phone

  • Identify yourself and your issue.
  • Be concise
  • State your purpose
  • Refer to legislation- whether you favor or oppose the bill
  • State your concern
  • Think about how this affects your local community.
  • State the facts
  • Ask if they  support your view

Meeting With Your Legislator In Person

  • Schedule appointments with your legislator during their time in the district offices.
  • Be on time.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • It is ok to meet with staff or an aide.
  • Introduce yourself and why you are there.
  • State your objective.
  • Thank him or her for previous support- if applicable.
  • Explain how this issue affects you and your community.
  • Personal stories help the legislator relate to the human side of the issue.
  • Ask for legislative support.
  • Ask what you can do to help the legislator.
  • Leave fact sheets or other written materials regarding your issue, 1 or 2 pages.
  • Thank the legislator for their time and send a written thank you as soon as you get home.

5 Conversations Your Legislator Wants to Have With You

  1. Local/county statistics
  2. How state monies are being spent in the district
  3. Real-life stories that illuminate the statistics
  4. How your organization accesses voters in the district
  5. What specific legislative action would make you happy

Stay Involved

  1. Services constantly change- so it is important to stay involved. Understand that current issues may not be relevant to you now- but are on the horizon for you and your family.
  2. Provide feedback to your local or state chapter of The Arc on visits with local and state officials.

Downloadable Advocacy Training Materials

The information above (and more) is also available in downloadable form below.

These training materials were developed by The Arc of Pennsylvania Advocacy Capacity Committee.

NEW Module Just Arrived - Trauma-Informed Care. Visit our E-Learning Module Series. This series provides information and strategies for teachers, families, and paras to support the education of all students.

The Arc of Pennsylvania’s Making Employment Work course is an ACRE Basic Certification Training. In order to receive certification, participants must attend a 3 day, in-person training and then complete a self-paced, online curriculum. Completing this certification course will qualify individuals to provide Supported Employment services with Pennsylvania’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Office of Developmental Programs. Our training combines lessons learned from traditional Supported Employment and Customized Employment techniques.

Arc Discovery Employment Transitions (ADEPT) is The Arc of Pennsylvania’s customized employment program. The Arc of Pennsylvania supports individuals with significant impact of disability to seek and maintain customized employment in their community. As a result, The Arc of Pennsylvania’s consultants are trained and nationally certified by Marc Gold & Associates, a national leader in customized employment, to provide Discovery, Customized Employment Job Development, and Systematic Instruction to individuals with disabilities in Pennsylvania who are seeking employment. In addition to providing customized employment services, The Arc of Pennsylvania hosts several certification courses with Marc Gold & Associates for individuals and organizations interested in national certification in Discovery, Job Development, and Systematic Instruction.

Include Me is a new model for inclusive education and gaining meaningful employment for Pennsylvania’s students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc of Pennsylvania and Include Me believe all individuals with significant impact of developmental and intellectual disability deserve equal educational and competitive employment rights. Our mission, build and strengthen the inclusive education capacity for all public-school students, and discover meaningful employment opportunities meeting Pennsylvania employee and employer needs. Include Me strives to ensure all impacted students have equal access to all aspects of life and the community throughout their lifespan.

Include Me is an initiative that was part of the agreement on final terms between the plaintiffs and the Pennsylvania Department of Education in the Gaskin Settlement Agreement. We were initially assigned to work with school districts with the lowest inclusion rates. After the initial success, we have grown in reputation among school districts. Currently districts voluntarily chose our services, which are provided free of charge to the district. In addition to our School Age services, we offer transition-age services to help teams plan a path to customized employment for students transitioning from high school.

Donation Refund Policy

We are grateful for your donation and support of our organization. If you have made an error in making your donation or change your mind about contributing to our organization please contact us. Refunds are returned using the original method of payment. If you made your donation by credit card, your refund will be credited to that same credit card.

Automated Recurring Donation Cancellation

Ongoing support is important to enabling projects to continue their work, so we encourage donors to continue to contribute to projects over time. But if you must cancel your recurring donation, please notify us.

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