Being an advocate isn’t that glamorous. It’s never one of those occupations students identify as what they want to be when they grow up. Most advocates would say they didn’t plan it, they “kind of fell into the work.” It’s not an occupation profiled on many TV programs. And the image of advocates these days, in some arenas, isn’t a positive one. So, what is a day in the life of an advocate like?
It starts about 8 A.M. as I walk into room 5 in the State Office Building (affectionately called the “SOB”) for a hearing on the Metro Mobility legislative study. I have my testimony prepared, which I spent three hours writing the night before. As I take my seat, I hear that there is someone on the schedule before the Metropolitan Council’s presentation and the advocates. I look at my watch, knowing I have a Metro Mobility ride scheduled for 9:30.
As I wait for our turn, I review my notes. Then Nacho Dias from the Met Council gets up to give their presentation of the study. As time moves on, I realize that I’m not going to be able to testify because my ride is due soon and Nacho is still speaking. Fortunately, two other advocates are in the room with me and are ready to testify.
It comes time for me to leave and I take my ride back to my office. I walk in the door and our receptionist says there’s a consumer on the phone who wants to talk to me. I haven’t yet taken my coat off, and have my hands full of stuff. “OK, let me go to my office and you can put them through.” I walk into the office and throw my stuff on the empty chair across from my desk as my phone rings. As I pick it up I reach over to turn on the computer. “Hello, this is Lolly,” I say, and on the other end of the phone an exasperated voice says, “I’m calling to talk to you about Metro Mobility.”
“OK,” I say as I take off my coat and sit down to listen. I know what’s coming, but I listen because I know that’s what I would want someone else to do for me.
“I’m so frustrated!” says the voice, almost in tears. “My ride was two hours late picking me up and I was on the van for over 90 minutes. The driver could hardly speak English and got lost and wouldn’t ask for directions.”
I listen and try to comfort the frustrated consumer. I know that I can’t offer immediate solutions, and I know that the policy work being done by advocates will take a while to show up in the service, but I can’t say that to the consumer. For now I can only offer a friendly voice and a willing ear.
As I hang up I simultaneously check my voice mail and email. I have seven voice mails and another 30 emails. I triage them as if I were an E.R. nurse.
I move through the work I can and then pick up my coat and my dog’s harness and I am off again to the Capitol for more meetings with legislators. The topics will vary today: Metro Mobility, accessible housing, and MA-EPD. Some of the legislators we’re seeing we don’t know well. Will they be receptive? Will they raise issues we can’t respond to? Most legislators know a little about a lot of things. It’s our job to educate them about the details.
As we complete a particularly difficult meeting with a legislator who is a highway supporter and not a transit supporter, we walk out and breathe a sigh of relief; “Made it through that one.”
After the meetings I come back to the office to prepare for an evening presentation. It’s going to be a 13-hour day. In my absence, more voice mails and more E-mails have accumulated. I get the materials ready for the presentation and write out my outline. The presentation will cover the ADA, plus local advocacy issues such as transportation, health care, housing, employment and the workforce shortage. It will also cover global issues like assisted suicide, genetic engineering, prenatal testing, selective abortion, and the value of a life with a disability.
Then a woman comes in to see me about a project she’s working on. She is looking for some resource information on disability culture. As we talk I give her several ideas and referrals. This meeting is fun and easy.
Before I leave for my presentation, I have an appointment scheduled to help a woman shoot a video as part of an application process for getting a guide dog to work with her as she transitions into using a wheel chair. As I’m shivering, waiting on the icy sidewalk for her and the photographer to cross the street, I think about my job and how lucky I am to have such a variety of interesting tasks and issues to cover. With all of its challenges and frustrations, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.