I am glad to be back as a blog writer for ACA. I am writing about my work as a volunteer advocate for a grassroots group I belong to in my neck of the woods. The name of my group is REDD (Rights, Equality for the Dignity of the Disabled). REDD’s mission is to promote the civil rights for persons with disabilities. Members can be individuals with/out disabilities who want to get involved. For the past year, REDD is working with several members called Self-Advocates who belong to an organization for individuals with developmental disabilities. I invited a few of them to a REDD meeting in December 2012 to talk about their issues with the local transportation system.
We listened to them share their stories about their frustrations and anger in riding the buses. Their advisor backed up some of their complaints by witnessing firsthand how they were mistreated. Our jaws dropped as we could not believe these incidents were happening to them. However, we came to the conclusion that they were being treated differently due to their intellectual disabilities. REDD offered to meet with more of their members to hear their stories. We were invited to a few meetings in 2013 to collect and document their issues and incidents with the bus company. REDD categorized their complaints and then met with the self advocates to ask for their solutions. We were impressed by some of their suggestions to resolve their issues. For example, the advocates support training the bus drivers and dispatchers on how to communicate and to be patient when interacting with them either on the telephone or in person. Unfortunately, some of the advocates encountered rudeness when talking to either the drivers and/or the dispatchers regarding their transportation issues.
REDD then asked the self advocates if they wanted a meeting with the bus company. They said “Yes.” I invited the bus administrator to meet with the advocates at the end of October. The REDD president and another representative from a disability agency will be meeting with the advocates to practice role-plays prior to this big meeting. I will follow-up with a future blog on the results of this meeting.
You may be asking how this relates to my job as a professional counselor. The answer is that I am using my assessment and clinical skills on a systems advocacy level to help these individuals to be feel empowered. I am one of few mental health counselors in my area who promote social justice on the community level for persons with disabilities. I find my work to be very rewarding and self-fulfilling in making a positive impact and difference in the lives of people I serve on the community level. One of the reasons I like working with my REDD members is that we volunteer from our hearts.
There is currently a push for mental health counselors to learn how to advocate for their clients on the systems level in graduate school. I welcome your feedback if you feel the training was helpful or not.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.