By Tatiana Peralta

Think about the last time you talked with a friend about an issue that's important to you. You may not have realized it, but that's advocacy. In simplest terms, it's showing up, speaking up and getting your elected members of office to defend and protect the issues that you care about. Most of us advocate for causes we believe in every single day.

No matter what cause you support – getting started doesn't have to feel like an overwhelming task. At SourceAmerica, we advocate for the employment of professionals with disabilities every day. Here are a few ways you can start your journey as an advocate:

Advocacy at its core

Advocacy is multifaceted whether you're advocating for yourself or on behalf of someone else. It's all about giving people a voice. For self-advocates, advocacy provides a platform to share their stories and talk about how policy directly affects them. As an organization, SourceAmerica provides opportunities and tools to give professionals with disabilities, their families, and our member organizations the chance to speak to the community and members of congress.

Our Government Affairs department works year-round to plan grassroots events, encourage people to sign action alerts for important legislation, and motivate members of congress to become advocates of the AbilityOne Program.

If all of the nearly 40,000 professionals with disabilities employed through the AbilityOne Program began to raise their voices together, imagine the influence they could have on policy, businesses, and people all over the nation.

The journey of advocacy

One of the most rewarding aspects of our advocacy efforts is hearing how we impact the lives of professionals with disabilities. During SourceAmerica's Grassroots Advocacy Conference, we see the transformation of self-empowerment undertaken by self-advocates in attendance. We arm them with tools, training and a platform. In turn, they recognize that they have powerful stories and voices that they have been using all along and can leverage with members of congress.

So often, on the first night of the conference, self-advocates feel nervous about speaking to legislators. During the week, we see them go on personal journeys, building their confidence and becoming comfortable speaking their truths. Many of them realize that their voices and stories are important in creating change for themselves, their friends and their colleagues who might not have the platform to do so.

The conference and passion of self-advocates becomes a steppingstone on a larger path to more recognition for the need to create jobs for professionals with disabilities. It's an honor to see the long-term effects of their efforts when our members are featured on local news segments or recognized on the house floor.

Getting started

Whether your cause impacts one person, 100 people, 40,000 people, or every member of the population, participation is the most important part of grassroots advocacy. But it doesn’t mean talking to your member of congress right away or sending out an action alert.

First things first - show up! Go to a local townhall meeting or use your social media accounts to share your story. Next, encourage those around you to do the same. You can also get involved in organizations that care about causes important to you that can help elevate and amplify your voice. Most of these organizations have blogs (like this one!) and websites to help educate you about the issues at hand.

If you're a self-advocate employed through the AbilityOne Program, a member nonprofit agency, or a family member, contact Shari Walton, Director of Government Affairs at: swalton@sourceamerica.org to find out how you can get involved in our grassroots advocacy efforts.