Civics League Hosts Advocacy and Disability Discussion

At an engaging special event, the Civics League for Disability Rights (CLDR) hosted Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State (CDPAANYS) Executive Director Bryan O’Malley for a discussion on advocacy and the challenges facing people with disabilities.
Civics League Hosts Advocacy and Disability Discussion

Nearly 20 participants attended the online workshop, “Tired of Being Tired: Advocacy, You and the Process,” where Mr. O’Malley answered a series of questions from Civics League President Sharifa Abu-Hamda and CLDR member Marcus Johnson, touching on everything from advocacy strategy to challenges with supplies and cuts to services. Following the discussion, the floor was opened for a question and answer segment with participants.   

Challenges facing people with disabilities

Mr. O’Malley, a leading advocate for the services that people with disabilities rely on to live independently, in the community, focused on a number of issues, including the #FairPay4HomeCare campaign, which did not make it into the New York state budget this year. With home care workers making under $13 an hour in most parts of New York, many are leaving the workforce in droves. At the same time, the need for home care among seniors and people with disabilities continues to grow, and the shortage threatens these vulnerable New Yorkers with the possibility of having to live in nursing facilities, rather than being cared for in their homes.

“What we want to turn around now is building that support, particularly in the Assembly, but maintaining support in the Senate, so next year when we come back to the budget session, we find ourselves in a different position,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Thatbudget session is controlled by the governor.”

Mr. O’Malley spoke to members about the differences between budget and legislative sessions, and provided a timeline of the budget session. Governor Andrew Cuomo builds a state budget from October through January each year, which is a crucial time to take advocacy steps.  

“Our consumers are our strength,” Mr. O’Malley said. “We want to empower people to tell their story to legislators over the next several months.”

Advocating for disability services

Marcus asked Mr. O’Malley how members can advocate for crucial services they need to live independently. Mr. O’Malley said that often, it is a small, united group that can effect change. And with a projected shortage of 80,000 home care workers by 2025, members need to take action now to preserve services.

When asked how consumers can make a difference in fighting for their services, Mr. O’Malley highlighted the importance of strength in numbers.

“If I’m the only one making noise? That will lose all the time,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When you all go to them and complain, then guess what? They come to me and say ‘How can I fix this? How do I make it better?’”

Sharifa asked how to get people to focus on macro issues instead of micro issues. Mr. O’Malley said it is about connecting the dots.  

“I can’t hire a worker. Why? The wages aren’t there,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Why aren’t they sufficient? Well there’s the rates. Why aren’t rates sufficient? Money is going to nursing homes. I have to tie those micro issues up to larger issues to help people see connections.”

Advocacy strategy and coalition building 

Mr. O’Malley said that when it comes to establishing a coalition, it’s about connecting people who face similar issues.  

“Each person should bring something to the table,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Someone will be strong on research. Someone on grassroots. On lobbying. You pull in these different pieces.”

Mr. O’Malley said that a strategy should be decided upon prior to building a coalition.

“What do you all care about?” Mr. O’Malley said. “You can’t hire people. You can’t get housing. You can’t get wheelchairs fixed. Those should be things we work on. You identify your constituents, your allies, then you identify your targets and your secondary targets—people who have power over the people you need to target. Then you come up with tactics. Tactics should influence targets and move them where you want or need them to be.”

Questions surrounding advocacy

A question and answer session followed the discussion, where participants asked about everything from advocacy tactics to how to be more confident advocates.

Mr. O’Malley said people with disabilities have to advocate for services, but also ensure for self-care to be effective.

“We have to constantly fight, but you need self-care,” he said“You need to recharge your batteries. You can’t be an advocate 24/7.”

He also explained that part of self-care is celebrating small victories. For Independence Care System members, some of whom participated in the event, he cited the establishment of ICS’ Health Home program as a significant victory that happened because of member advocacy.

“We won this,” Mr. O’Malley said of the ICS Health Home. “That was important. That was not predetermined and it happened because of your fight.”

Another participant asked how members who are uncomfortable with public speaking can develop confidence in being an advocate. Mr. O’Malley suggested role playing as an effective tactic.

“The expert on you is you. Don’t let them dismiss you,” Mr. O’Malley said. “You’re speaking on behalf of a larger group. Take your action. Speak your words—never be hesitant to share your story.”

Click here to watch the entire event.

Christopher Engelhardt

Christopher Engelhardt

Communications Specialist