Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion series led by our Ambassadors who share their thoughts on issues affecting wheelchair users worldwide. Today’s topic is on making a difference by becoming an advocate, written by Comfort Ambassador Margarita Elizondo.
Advocacy is defined as an activity by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.
I often tell people that after my injury 11 years ago it was not the paralysis itself that hurt me the most. It was being stripped of my dignity that did. From the onset of my Spinal Cord Injury and the next few months proceeding my injury, people were making decisions for me and my children, and I did not agree with all of them. As a strong independent woman, that ripped me apart. My health, my finances, and my personal life were all being dictated by opinions and values of others. So, I had to stand up and fight back. I could not lose my kids nor my independence. The only way that I was going to take back my independence was by speaking up and sharing how I felt with my family, and what I felt was best.
I accessed the resources that worked best for us, and I took action.
Two months after leaving rehab, my children and I were living independently in our own apartment.
As a person with a disability, we often find society instinctively making decisions for us or completely disregarding us in their decision making, especially in the legislature that affects our benefits. The current Medicare reform, also known as “Trumpcare,” is an example of that. Advocacy starts with you. By knowing you deserve more than what is being offered to you as an individual, and by using your voice, you can truly make a change.
I wrote this poem after winning the title of Ms. Wheelchair California 2013:
Advocacy isn't just fighting the cause it's living the cause.
Leadership by living example.
Inspiration through perseverance despite the extreme adversities.
Endurance through negative barriers both structural and perceptual.
Courage in times of weakness.
Faith in times of confusion.
Advocacy is more than you wanting change for yourself.
It's about making a change in others who may or may not have even known that change was possible.
Community advocacy is a larger version of the self-advocacy that you may already practice in your daily life. The difference is, community advocacy involves groups of people acting to affect positive change. It can be a wonderful thing to advocate on your own or someone else's behalf. It can also be very empowering to work together with a group of people.
When more than one person speaks up about an issue, the message can be even stronger.
There are many things you can do. For example, you can speak at a church or other organization about your personal experience. You can get involved with local disability awareness and fundraising events by participating in a walk or other events. You can join a peer support group, an organization specific to your disability or cause, or join a disability rights planning council. You can also advocate on behalf of your community through social media.
One of the greatest movements in America began by a woman’s refusal to sit down in the “colored section” of the bus. Instead, she stood up for inclusion and self-dignity. The right to sit in the “white section” (front of the bus). Rosa Parks through her self-advocacy launched one of the most powerful advocacy movements in America that continues to grow in different forms today. Never underestimate your ability to advocate, it might just be the cause America is looking for.
About the author:
Comfort Medical Ambassador Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author and an ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College, and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits. You can follow her @Ms_Hotwheels on Twitter and Instagram, or reach her on Facebook or through www.margaritaelizondo.com.
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Note: The Comfort Conversations articles are for informational use only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice. Ask your doctor about issues related to your health and medical needs.