Advocacy is a partnership between two people, an advocate and a person who has experienced any form of discrimination.
The advocate's task is to represent, where necessary, their partner's views and interests as if they were their own. Advocates offer support and understanding, sometimes enabling their partners to speak for themselves. Advocates also gather information, allowing their partner to make informed choices.
People who are disadvantaged or vulnerable are often devalued by society and seen as 'different'. They are restricted in their opportunities to lead normal lives by lack of choice in such areas as: housing; work; leisure facilities; etc. They are often in receipt of services, which stigmatise and draw attention to their 'problems', thereby separating them from the rest of society.
All people share basic needs:
- to be independent
- to be treated with dignity and respect
- to be able to exercise basic human rights
- to be accepted by the community in which we all live
- to be able to choose how to lead individual lives and lifestyles
Advocacy is one way in which people who are in any way disadvantaged or vulnerable can be supported and encouraged to strive for these basic rights and needs.
An advocate enters into a partnership with another person. The 'partners' would be introduced to one another via the advocacy co-ordinator, who makes every effort to 'match' suitable partners, for example some people would prefer a partner of similar age to themselves or maybe an advocate has a particular skill or interest in a specific area of disability. Relationships will vary, according to individual need - some will be short term, to help someone through a crisis situation - some will be longer term. Advocates can help their partners in many ways:
- Assisting their partner to have a say in his/her life. Accompanying their partner at meetings, reviews, appointments, etc.
- Supporting - spending time developing a relationship within which their partner feels equal, valued and secure.
- Ensuring that their partner receives everything to which he/she is entitled.