Effects of Self-Help Guides on Three Consumer Advocacy Skills
The independent living philosophy maintains that handicaps are a result of environmental conditions, not of disability itself. Because of this focus on environmental barriers, one independent living goal has been to involve adults with disabilities in advocacy activities to improve environmental conditions.
Purpose and Anticipated Benefits
The development of self-help guides help people with disabilities advocate on their own behalf.
Tom Seekins and Stephen Fawcett, both Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas, worked with individuals to increase their communication skills.
A task analysis was done of three advocacy skills involving letter writing and testimonials. For example, testimony at meetings was observed to identify effective responses. Advocacy groups also were interviewed to determine what they thought made a letter effective. Responses were used to write three instructional guides in a standard instructional format. The guides provide example of pro and con statements about an issue with space to prepare a personal response and other features.
Pilot studies then were done to finetune the guides. In one study experiment, a woman, 40, with multiple sclerosis prepared letters and testimony was given 60 newspaper reports related to local independent living and disability rights topics. She was asked to write a letter to a public official and a newspaper editor for each issue, and also to prepare testimony using the guides. To build on the first study, a randomized, postest-only, control-group design was done with 10 participants with ages ranging from 19 to 57 of an independent living consumer advocacy group. Half received the self-help guides, and half just received a model letter.
In the single-study involving one woman, the percentage of her target responses used for writing to an editor averaged 15% for baseline and 79% after intervention.; 25% during baseline in writing to a public official and 89% after intervention; 38% during baseline for testimony preparation and 93% after intervention. In the 10-person study, the control group’s performance of writing a letter to a public official averaged 31%, and the treatment group’s performance averaged 80%. Results of letter writing to a newspaper editor were similar. The following outlines the steps used to accomplish the three advocacy goals.
Letter to a Public Official
- Open the letter.
- Write something about yourself.
- Summarize your understanding of the issue (decision) being considered.
- Tell why you think the decision should occur.
- Tell what any changes mean to you personally.
- If you think others also will be affected, identify them.
- Acknowledge past support.
- Describe what action you hope the official will take.
- If you have written a letter that opposes some action, offer an alternative.
- If you have time and you are committed, ask how you can help.
- Close your letter.
- Sign the letter.
Letter to the Editor
- Open the letter.
- Tell why you are writing.
- Tell why it is important.
- Praise or criticize something someone has said or done.
- Tell why is good or bad.
- State your opinion about what should be done.
- Make a general recommendation.
- Sign the letter.
Personal Testimony Response
- Go to podium.
- Stop at podium, and pause.
- Briefly look at each member of the panel.
- Look directly at chairperson.
- State your name.
- Make a statement about yourself.
- Describe your circumstances.
- Tell how this happened.
- Tell what this means to you in your everyday life.
- Tell how the decision the panel makes will affect you personally.
- Tell how the decision will affect others.
- Ask a value question.
- Pause, and look at the members of the panel.
- Leave the podium.
Advocates using the self-help guides made greater use of targeted responses than did advocates using materials similar to those often distributed to prompt letter writing. Their use, too, cuts down on the time needed to learn a new skill. Because the guides addressed style and organization rather than content, they avoid criticism that they tell people what to say.
Seekins, T., Fawcett, S.B., & Mathews, R.M. (1987). Effects of self-help guides on three consumer advocacy skills: Using personal experiences to influence public policy. Rehabilitation Psychology 32(1), 29-38.
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