“Civil rights are not a guarantee of the good life, but an equal opportunity and responsibility to participate in producing the good life for oneself and for all. Government alone cannot implement ADA: this is a responsibility of all Americans”
– Justin Dart
Nothing About Us without US!
In the United States, we are fortunate to be a part of a system that not only allows us to elect our legislative representatives on state and national levels, but also to be a part of a system that allows us to bring about change to policies, rules or laws. We are able to do this through Systems Advocacy. Systems Advocacy engages a network of persons with common goals and attitudes on the same issue that has broader impact. It can be as small as a group working to have a playground made accessible within a community or as large as working on change that impacts healthcare in the country.
Contacting your Legislative Official
Every year, hundreds of decisions are made by government officials that impact the lives of people with disabilities and their families. It’s very important, as a person with a disability, to learn to advocate for legislation that increases independence and accessibility for the disability community.
First, be sure you are registered to vote. Though voting is not a requirement for contacting elected officials, it is important that you vote for persons that you feel are best qualified for the job they are running for, and those people should desire to serve in the interest of all citizens they represent. If you are not registered to vote, a good place to start is by clicking here.
One of the best ways to let your voice be heard is to contact your legislators and government officials directly. Believe it or not, they do read all emails and letters and take note of all phone calls. First, you’ll need to find the person that you wish to contact about an issue. Click here to find the elected official that best suits your purpose. Don’t contact a state official for when it is your US Senator that is actually the person you need to direct the matter to.
Here are some hints for writing letters to your elected officials
It’s usually best to send letters to the representative from your local Congressional District or the senators from your state. Your vote helps elect them — or not — and that fact alone carries a lot of weight. It also helps personalize your letter. Sending the same “cookie-cutter” message to every member of Congress may grab attention but rarely much consideration.
Keep it Simple
- Your letter should address a single topic or issue. Typed, one-page letters are best. Many PACs (Political Action Committees) recommend a three-paragraph letter structured like this:
- Say why you are writing and who you are. List your “credentials.” (If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.)
- Provide more detail. Be factual not emotional. Provide specific rather than general information about how the topic affects you and others. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title or number whenever possible.
- Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy.
- The best letters are courteous, to the point, and include specific supporting examples.
Addressing Members of Congress
To Your Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
To Your Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
The above addresses should be used in email messages, as well as those sent through the Postal Service.
Here are some key things you should always and never do in writing to your elected representatives.
- Be courteous and respectful without “gushing.”
- Clearly and simply state the purpose of your letter. If it’s about a certain bill, identify it correctly. If you need help in finding the number of a bill, use the Thomas Legislative Information System.
- Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Even in email, include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. If you don’t include at least your name and address, you will not get a response.
- State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, especially those pertaining to the subject of your letter.
- Keep your letter short — one page is best.
- Use specific examples or evidence to support your position.
- State what it is you want done or recommend a course of action.
- Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter.
- Use vulgarity, profanity, or threats. The first two are just plain rude and the third one can get you a visit from the Secret Service. Simply stated, don’t let your passion get in the way of making your point,
- Fail to include your name and address, even in email letters.
- Demand a response.
Cite these legislation identifiers when writing to members of Congress:
- House Bills: “H.R._____”
- House Resolutions: “H.RES._____”
- House Joint Resolutions: “H.J.RES._____”
- Senate Bills: “S._____”
- Senate Resolutions: “S.RES._____”
- Senate Joint Resolutions: “S.J.RES._____”
If you are interested in Systems Advocacy, please contact Walton Options on 706-724-6262 to speak with an Information and Referral Specialist. Or complete the Self-Referral Form online by clicking here.
Looking for more resources? Click on the links below to find out more about Advocacy.