Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
As Occupational Therapists, we spend a significant amount of time with people in their homes and in the community. In this role, we witness daily injustices, challenges or problems that our clients unnecessarily or unfortunately experience due to vendors, landlords, or business owners / operators failing to understand, care, or address the needs of people with disabilities.
Recently, a student I was supervising on placement experienced an accessibility challenge with a client as they attended a local coffee shop. We blogged about this in our post, Accessibility Issues in Our Daily Lives. As her mentor, I discussed with her the need to advocate for change and to send the owner a letter about the problems that client experienced.
That situation made me reflect on my history of advocacy as a person and an OT. I remember as a teen writing a letter to a restaurant who would not book us a reservation on the “main floor” such that my two disabled grandparents could attend my birthday dinner. As a young adult, I wrote a letter to an Alaskan cruise line about the challenges my grandfather experienced using his scooter around the boat and on the gangways. Then I became an OT and the advocacy continued. I have written, and continue to write, letters to equipment vendors, drug and department stores, public and private places, major banks, landlords, the CCAC, and fast food restaurants. Sometimes my letters are specific and highlight an “incident”, while others speak more to general accessibility or service problems. My advocacy initiatives even resulted in me building a training program aimed at helping the “average Joe” best service people with disabilities. I personally feel that advocacy is how I will make my mark on the world, regardless of how small, with the hope of leaving this world in better shape than how I found it.
For this blog, I wanted to take the spirit of advocacy further, and to embrace our human responsibility to try and be catalysts of social, environmental and institutional change, by sharing a guide of sorts that could be used by other therapists, clients, caregivers or really anyone who wants or needs to bring an issue to someone’s attention. Give this a try and keep us posted on your outcomes:
Name of Person / Establishment
I am X. On DATE (I, my family member, client etc) experienced the following problems (when accessing your establishment, using your services, interacting with your staff, etc):
In bullet or paragraph format, list the problems you had. Be factual, truthful and professional. Avoid judgement, anger or threats as these will not result in change.
Provide some input on how you feel the problems you had might be impacting their service, business, etc. Try to hit home with how the issues you experienced will turn people away, or jeopardize their reputation.
Next, explain what you feel the solutions are or how it can be better for you next time. Help them to know what to do. You don’t have to be prescriptive or specific, but maybe they need to consider some building modifications, better trained staff, to understand disability codes or acts, an easier to navigate website, consultation with someone who can develop solutions with them etc. This is where you can really try to be helpful.
End the letter by thanking them for considering your feedback and provide your contact information. Be prepared to have a discussion with them about it. Some might ignore your letter, but I hope most will not. Either way, if your letter stays friendly and is perceived as helpful, they may want to thank you for your time or seek more input.
Of course, add a final sign off like “sincerely” and your name.
I hope this format / suggestion will be helpful as you venture forward and try to educate, share and advocate for the change you hope to see in the world.