The Art of Subtle Advocacy ~ Part II

The Art of Subtle Advocacy ~ Part I  was posted on October 16, 2016.  In that post I discussed an observation I had during a visit to my child’s pediatric clinic.  A librarian visits each week to share books, toys, and games for the children who are waiting to be seen by the doctor.  The community outreach activity includes providing a monthly activity calendar for each family.  I noticed that one family who arrived did not receive an immediate greeting by the librarian or a copy of the monthly calendar. The family who was left out had a child with a visible mobility challenge.  The mother had to hold the child by the hand as she guided him toward the front desk for check in.  I waited to see what would happen next.  To read more about that interaction, you can refer to:

Fast forward to yesterday, November 10, 2016.  The same individual with whom I had an encounter for Part I was in the clinic again.  I took a deep breath and watched.  Perhaps the first impression I had about the librarian was simply a fluke.  Surely, she would approach another family.  I had gently pointed out that a child with special needs could also benefit from a library experience with his family.  Well, it happened again.  I saw a family enter the clinic with a child who had seating mobility (a wheelchair).  The family checked in at the front desk.  They found seating with a space next to their chairs that could accommodate the wheelchair.  The librarian stayed on the other side of the room, appearing busy with other families.


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I got the impression that the librarian was not comfortable approaching the family, so I approached the family and asked if they knew about the programs offered by the library.  It became clear that English was not their first language, so I attempted to communicate with them in Spanish.  They seemed interested in what was being offered, so I approached the librarian.

“Hi!  I was wondering if you have any calendars or information in Spanish.  The family over there might like one.”

“Well, I don’t have any in Spanish today.  But there is a program called ‘Explorers’ for children who have special needs.”

Ah!  That was progress!  She had checked out what was available and was prepared to explain the program.  The language barrier, however, was still a concern.  So I looked into her magical suitcase of adventures and saw a book about dinosaurs in Spanish.  It was the same book I had found for my children and purchased for our home library.


Spanish Version


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English Version


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I asked if I could show the book to the family.  Well, to be honest, I reached into the magical suitcase and said, “Oh, here’s a book in Spanish!”  At least, I hope those words came out of my mouth, because I remember having the thought bubble over my head. The librarian followed me to talk to the family.

I showed the book to the mom and dad and did my best to translate that the library had a program for children with special needs.  The librarian made an effort to talk to the family as she gave them a calendar.  Somehow, we were able to share the information in a way that made the family smile.  I made sure to say hello to the young man who was sitting in the wheel chair too.  (I really do need to step up my game and learn more Spanish.)

Advocacy takes more than one time to encourage people out of their comfort zone.  Instead of becoming upset and critical, we can attempt to demonstrate by example.  Teaching advocacy is a hands on, sometimes awkward, messy process.  But over time, it becomes more natural.  Those of us who have experience with outreach and advocacy can take the lead in both subtle and assertive ways.  The important things to remember:

Subtle and Assertive Advocacy Tips

  1. Offer kind words of encouragement as you provide information about an advocacy concern.
  2. Be prepared to assist and stand by the individual during an “advocacy intervention.”
  3. Allow the other person to participate or not participate according to their comfort level.  This is a process that requires patience and non-judgmental presence.
  4. Offer to assist in the future if possible.  Many organizations welcome volunteers so you can select an area where you feel confident with your approach. (For me, it’s Child Development, Survivors of Brain Injuries, and Programs for Seniors)
  5. Provide a business card with your name and information if you want to be considered for future advocacy opportunities.
  6. Have faith in the process.  Remember that you are more likely to effect positive changes if you are welcoming, helpful, non-judgmental, and persistent.
  7. A smile and sincere interest in what a presenter is offering can help break the ice.
  8. Compliment the individual following your attempt at advocacy.

My next challenge for advocacy will be to encourage a variety of books without gender bias.  For example:  Why is there a tendency to offer a little girl the book about princesses while offering a boy  books like “Guinness World Book of Records” or “Where’s Waldo?”  One step at a time.  We’ll get there.  Awareness, Education, Demonstration, and Inspiration are the keys to successful advocacy.  Be a part of the solution.

My Challenge to You

  1. What is your area of expertise and comfort level?  Identify and claim this!
  2. What is your plan for advocacy?  Think about what you have to contribute.
  3. Look for an opportunity to have a positive, non-confrontative interaction with someone.  Approach with respect and care.
  4. Try out your skills.  Practice with someone first before you make a more formal contact.
  5. Post your experiences here!  I’d love to hear about your adventures in advocacy!


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