Educating Officials

Becoming an Advocate

The people who are elected into public service seek office because they want to make a positive change — just like you. They are concerned with many things and often do not have in-depth knowledge about people with disabilities. Most times though, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, they do care about people with disabilities and want them to get good supports in their home communities. As an advocate, you can help them learn a lot more about what good supports are and how they can assure that people with disabilities receive them.

Establish and Maintain Credibility

  • Know the facts. Do your homework on the issues.
  • Know the legislator’s political views as well as you can. His/her past voting record and legislation he/she had introduced are important indicators.
  • Know the opposition. Be familiar with what those with views different from your own are saying.
  • Be prepared to respond to the opposing view.

Establish Regular, Ongoing Communication

  • Establish a relationship. Try not to talk to the legislator or staff for the first time when you want something.
  • Be familiar with the process. It is important to understand how a bill becomes a law and where your issue is in the process.
  • Maintain communications with your legislator. Let him/her know when you agree/disagree with his position on issues.
  • Always be brief and get to the point of your communication.
  • Compliment or thank your legislator when he/she votes the way you requested or did something for which you agree.
  • Get to know the legislator’s staff. They are very important in the political process and should not be undervalued.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

  • Take the initiative to contact your legislator. RARELY, do legislators contact you.
  • Offer ideas and share alternatives to the problem. If you disagree with the option presented in a bill you oppose, offer an alternative.
  • Don’t be self-serving. Legislators are generally just trying to do the right thing for the community as a whole.
  • Be timely. Your options are more restricted the further into the legislative process you get.

Contacting Your Legislators

When the Indiana General Assembly is in session, you may occasionally be asked to telephone your legislator to advocate a position on high priority legislation. During the session, it is highly recommended you use the state house phone numbers for your local legislators.

Calling

  • Call the State House Switch Board or, if you know, the number for your local legislator.
  • Ask to speak to the legislator. On many occasions, time does not permit legislators to receive telephone calls. Do not be offended by not being able to talk to you legislator on the first try.
  • If your legislator is not available, ask to speak to his legislative assistant. You will normally find that the staff person is knowledgeable of the issues and pleased to speak to constituents.
  • State the reason for the phone call. Use the bill number and subject matter when possible.
  • State the position you want the legislator to take (support or oppose).
  • Explain how the legislation affects you and your family. Briefly tell your story.
  • Discuss only one issue per telephone call.
  • Ask the legislator’s position
  • If the legislator’s position is the same as yours, express agreement and thanks.
  • If your position differs from the legislator’s, offer some factual information and ask if there is any additional information you can provide that would change his/her mind.
  • State the facts as you see them. Try not to get emotional.
  • If appropriate, follow up the telephone call with a letter or e-mail to the legislator.

Visiting

  • It is very important to develop a relationship with your legislators. The following guidelines can assist you in making a visit with you local legislator:

  • When possible, make an appointment. You can speak with the legislator’s secretary, legislative assistant or scheduler to get an appointment.

  • You don’t want to overwhelm the legislator with several different issues. Try to focus on one or two issues so you can have a good and thorough discussion.

  • If you are meeting with a legislator to discuss specific legislation, review any background information and position statements you have available to you. Try to be aware of the opposing position and be prepared to comment.

  • When talking with legislators, try to use bill numbers. As appropriate, ask or inform the legislators when a vote is expected before their committee or respective chambers. Make sure they know why you feel this legislation is important.

  • Discuss with the legislator their positions on the issue and ask them how they plan to vote. It is important to know legislator’s feelings even if they are inclined to vote contrary to your position.

  • Get a commitment from the legislator. Don’t take a legislator’s politeness or consideration as a sign of agreement with your opinion. Ask the direct question – “Will you vote to support ***?”

  • Continue working with your Legislator even if you disagree. Most legislators really do want to help and a positive relationship will pay off in the long run.

  • When appropriate, request specific action from your legislator. If he/she does not serve on a key committee acting on your issue, request that they contact the chair of the appropriate committee.

  • Always follow up your meeting with a legislator with a short note. Thank the legislator for their time and remind them of the issue again. If they made a commitment to you to vote a certain way, remind them of that as well. Don’t go through your whole arguments again, be brief.

  • If you made an appointment to speak with a Legislator and at the last minute, they send their legislative assistant to meet with you that is okay. Legislative assistants play a key role in the process as well and you should not treat them any differently. Ask the same questions, give your same statements and ask them to get back with you once they discuss your meeting with the legislator.

Emailing

  • As an alternative to sending a letter through the postal service, you may wish to send an e-mail to your legislators on issues of importance to you. E-mails are not viewed any differently then letters by legislators or their staff, they see it as an important communication from a constituent.

    Remember, your e-mail is just an electronic letter. Just because there are no page breaks on an e-mail, you should not ramble on about your issue. Here are some guidelines for using e-mail:

  • Address your e-mail. Start with “Dear Representative/Senator ABC”.

  • Make your e-mail brief, friendly and respectful.

  • State your issue and what you are asking clearly at the beginning.

  • Refer to bill numbers when possible.

  • Make it clear that you are a constituent.

  • Briefly explain your interest in the legislation; its effect on you, your family or loved one, or other families in the district.

  • Ask the Legislator for a response specifying his/her position and the reasoning.

  • Ensure that you “sign” the e-mail with your name, address and phone number.

  • If you are willing, Share your e-mail with The Arc. We can use your e-mail to demonstrate to the Legislators and others that there is a public interest on specific issues.

Writing Letters

  • A personal letter is one of the most powerful tools you can use to advocate to a policy maker. It needs to be your own story and your own viewpoint.

  • If you want them to pay attention, write to your own legislators. They listen to the people who live and vote in their districts (their "constituents").

  • Be sure to include your full address so that they can write back. You may also want to include your phone, e-mail, or other contact information.

  • Date your letter.

  • Keep it short and simple. One page is best, two at most.

  • In the first paragraph, explain who you are (if you're writing as a concerned individual or writing on behalf of an organization). Also explain why you are writing. If you're writing about a bill, include the bill name or subject and bill number.

  • Explain your position. Use personal examples.

  • Be clear about what you want the legislator to do.

  • Ask for a response.

  • Write on only one issue at a time.

  • Make your tone positive.

  • Follow up. Especially if they do what you ask, write again to say thanks.

Join Our Advocacy Team

If you want to make a difference in the lives of people with developmental disabilities by advocating for their rights at the local, state, and federal levels of government, join our advocacy mailing list for updates, news and calls to action.
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