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(5.14) What should I know to be a good advocate?

(5.14) What should I know to be a good advocate?

Collect the facts. Think about what you would want to know about the situation if you were hearing about it for the first time. Look at all documents about the situation in your file at the agency or regional center. You can review your own file at any agency and make copies. By law, it cannot cost over 10 cents per page to copy your papers unless a different law sets a different amount.[1]California Civil Code section 1798.33. You do not have to pay for the time it takes to make the copies. Keep a copy in your own personal file of each paper the regional center (or any other agency) has in their file for you.

Keep a diary. If you have a meeting or phone call, write down everything people said. Write down who was at the meeting and who said what. It will help remind you later of what happened. Keep all the papers about the situation together in your file.

If you don’t understand, ask questions. You have the right to get information from every agency in a way you can understand and in a language you understand. If you don’t understand what someone tells you, ask them to explain. Ask as many questions as you need to understand.

Be a good listener. After you ask for a service or ask a question, listen to their response and write what they say. Ask yourself if the response answers the question you asked. If it doesn’t, ask a follow-up question. Don’t move on to discuss something new until you understand what they said about the request or situation you just discussed.

Make sure you and the regional center are talking about the same things. If you have to argue with the regional center about something important to you, first make sure everyone understands each other and agrees on the basic facts. Each side can have their own opinion on the facts, but neither side should have their own facts. Give them information that only you know, or that is in your assessment reports. Give them information reported by someone who knows you well or by one of your service providers. Once you and the regional center agree on the basic facts of your request or your situation, you can talk about services or other solutions. 

Sometimes you cannot agree with the regional center about the facts of or your needs. If that happens, you may have to go to a hearing and have an administrative law judge decide the facts. Hearings like these are to find out what the facts are and then apply the law and decide.

Be prepared. Before you go to a meeting, look over your file. Know what you want, and why you want it. Make a list of questions you want answered. Bring all your information about what you need and want and why. Find out before the meeting what the regional center might say or what information in your records the regional center may point to about the issues. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list the facts and evidence you have on one side of the page. Write the facts or evidence the regional center or other agency has on the other side. This shows where you may need more evidence. Maybe you need a new evaluation report or information from one of your providers to address what the regional center might say.

Share information. Your opinions are valuable. You know your needs as well as the professionals who evaluated you. Don’t be afraid to say what you think.

Be assertive. You have a right to receive services. The agency is there to help you get services. You don’t need to be angry, but you do need to speak up for yourself.

Get help when you need it. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a meeting alone, get someone to go with you. Take a friend, relative, or someone from an advocacy organization. You may always take someone with you. They can help you stay focused and take notes at the meeting. Just having someone there for oral emotional support can help.

See other DRC publications about self-advocacy skills and strategies by clicking here.

1 California Civil Code section 1798.33.