I have been given the opportunity to do my final placement at Annecto in their Speakers Bank program. Annecto is a social not for profit organisation with community contacts throughout Australia. They offer and provide services that help individual feel safe and comfortable at home. They deliver these services to people with disabilities, older people, families and carers who want advice, advocacy and support. Annecto is an organisation who wants to point out the importance of awareness and understanding people with disability and their disabilities. It has been the organisations’ goal and advocacy to connect people and the communities to recognise an inclusive society. Speakers Bank has been a platform for people with disabilities to advocate for themselves, for others and for their rights by sharing their lived-in experiences, challenges and how they combat these challenges.
This essay will discuss Speakers Bank as an advocacy program of Annecto and how speakers help the organisation in raising awareness about disability and challenges faced by people with disability.
Speakers Bank as Advocacy Program
Speakers Bank is one of Annecto’s program which aims to ‘raise awareness, acceptance and understanding of people with disability and older people through the power of communication’ (“Annecto”, n.d). It has a pool of trained public speakers with personal experiences of disability and ageing. Speakers share with the community their experiences, challenges and the story of their lives. “They present through a positive lens their image to the community in order to deliver information about the challenges they face every day throughout their lives” (“Annecto”, n.d). It is a volunteer and advocacy program of Annecto which provides opportunity for people with disability to increase their confidence and self-esteem by giving them the platform and empowering them to share their stories to others especially those people who are facing the same challenges as the speakers. Speakers Bank helps its speakers whenever they are booked for speaking event or activity; the program helps them prepare their presentations and gives the speakers relevant information about the event or activity to make their presentations relevant with the target audience. When needed, team member from Speakers Bank assists them during their speaking event but must maintain the independence of the speaker.
Speakers become the ambassador of Annecto in their advocacy on spreading awareness, understanding and acceptance for people with disabilities. Speakers address community groups about their experiences relating to work, recreational pursuits, social topics and barriers to inclusion (“Annecto”, n.d). They become the voice of others and they make their views about disability known and heard. Annecto- Speakers Bank has been providing advocacy for people with disability, and their families for many years. Speakers Bank armed its speakers with the essential skills to become outstanding advocates not only for themselves but for others. It empowers and supports people living with disability to be confident and independent through self-advocacy.
Lee (2007, p. 7) said that “Advocacy promotes social justice and social inclusion. It can empower people to speak up for themselves. Advocacy can help people become more aware of their own rights, to exercise those rights and be involved in and influence decisions that are being made about their future”. With this, it can be seen that advocacy plays an important role for the speakers. It ensures that they are given the opportunity to voice their concerns which could help policy makers in drafting policies relating to their situations. It is also their way of challenging inequality and discrimination made against people with disability. Speakers from Speakers Bank likewise give relevant and important information that people needs to know about people with disability. Over the time, Speakers Bank help develop the skills of its speakers to advocate for themselves through training and engaging and/ or assisting them in speaking events. Through these speaking events and trainings, the speakers become active advocates for people with disability since there are experts by experience.
There are myriad of advocacy models that can be used but the advocacy model which is being used by the speakers is the self-advocacy which is defined as “people speaking for themselves and asserting their own rights, individually and in groups which share a common interest or face particular difficulties” (McNally, 1999 p. 47-48). Speakers from Speakers
Bank practice self- advocacy during speaking events wherein they are able to express their thoughts and feelings, they have clear knowledge about their disability and their rights. They convey these information to their audience to be able to make changes; help them understand and educate people about their disabilities. Another model of advocacy being used is the group advocacy which Weafer (2003, p.37) defined as “a group of people campaigning on behalf of themselves or others to try and change things”. Many of the speakers are doing speaking events in groups with the aim of raising awareness about disability and their rights. They inform people about their rights and what changes they think works for people with disability because they believe that not everyone is familiar with their rights which make it more challenging for people with disability.
Social Work Theories
Advocacy has been known to be “the heart of social work” (Sheafor and Horejsi, 2003 p. 57). Social workers use advocacy to amplify and promote the voice of the vulnerable individuals or groups. It is also their way of promoting empowerment, social justice and change which are core values of social work profession. As a social worker, we use advocacy as a means to influence and challenge the current system which are oppressive to vulnerable people like people with disability.
Empowerment theory is a well-known theoretical framework in social work which is closely associated with the concept of advocacy because it empowers individuals or advocates to improve their self-esteem. Shulman (2006, p.18) defines it as “the process of engaging the client, family, group, or community in developing strengths to personally and politically cope more effectively with systems that are important to them” while Gibson (1991 p. 354) as “a process of helping people to assert control over the factors which affect their lives”. Empowerment then is encouraging people to become self- confident and help them find the power they have within them; to use and maximise the use of these power they already have to create the change they desire. This theory enables the speakers of Speakers Bank to advocate for equality, inclusiveness and accessibility of services. As a social worker, my role is to support them in their advocacy making sure that their concerns are heard and by actively listening to them. Empowering the speakers can improve their confidence and increase their self-efficacy.
The anti-oppressive practice (AOP) is also applicable in Speakers Bank as a program. Anti-oppressive practices challenges inequalities that vulnerable groups are experiencing which force of h is the driving AOP. It is a concept that promotes the principles equality and social justice (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995; Dominelli, 2003). Anti-oppressive practice is a central idea being practice by the speakers through their speaking events and doing podcast. Through these events, they practice AOP by educating the community and raising awareness about disability. They likewise engaged themselves in discussions and workshop during their speaking events and activities wherein they share their thoughts on challenging oppression experienced by them. They connect and collaborate with their audience in identifying issues and challenge it to initiate change in the community.
The social model of disability is similarly associated with the advocacy program of Speakers Bank. According to Barnes, Mercer and Shakespeare (2010, p.163) “it is society which disables people with impairments, and therefore any meaningful solution must be directed at societal change rather than individual adjustment and rehabilitation”. This model states that ‘disability’ is created by the society. Social model of disability recognises the barriers that people with disabilities faces to fully participate in the society. This model aims to remove these barriers to create equality and for people with disabilities to be more independent to and to give them a more accessible environment. The social model of disability helps our speakers illustrate it in practice through their advocacy on accessibility of facilities, transport, services and how to make our community inclusive. Speakers aim to remove these barriers for them to be treated equal in the society.
Challenges, Limitations and Strengths
When I had my placement at Annecto, I am aware that I will be doing it at their Speakers Bank program. This made my placement limited to Speakers Bank program only. Although, I learned many things while I am at this program, it would also be great if we were involved in other programs of Annecto to be able to understand and learn more of their programs that help and assist people with disability aside from the advocacy program which is implemented by Speakers Bank.
On the micro level of concern, Speakers Bank is under staff and relies on volunteers. It is only the Program Coordinator who runs the program which to my observation is stressful on her part. While the Program Coordinator is passionate about her job, she sometimes feels overwhelmed because of the many activities she has to handle. The program runs with the fund raised from the social enterprise side of Speakers Bank. The program lacks support from other staff and they are more focused on the business side of the organisation which is being a service provider of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Speakers Bank as the only advocacy program of Annecto should be supported and promoted by the different programs of the organisation. Likewise, allocating funds for more staff at Speakers Bank will help assist speakers as the ambassadors of Annecto.
Speakers Bank as a program known to do community works must include in their workshop and trainings different issues that affect people with disabilities like family violence, discrimination on employment and education and other issues that affects them. While raising awareness and understanding about disability is important, we must also stress the importance of these issues and must be included as part of the Speakers Bank program. Speakers could do a presentation to our community about how these issues impact the lives of people with disabilities experiencing these issues, how to increase awareness on these issues and how the community members help regarding these concerns.
On a macro level, Annecto’s program are siloed from each other which makes it difficult to navigate the programs that can help promote and assist Speakers Bank. Speakers Bank is the advocacy program of Annecto, however, it is being isolated from other program and gets little support from the management. As stated earlier, the organisation is engrossed in chasing clients as NDIS service provider rather than supporting its advocacy program which is essential to the objectives of the organisation. Likewise, the lack of allocation of funds from the government on advocacy program for people with disability is seen as one of the factor why programs like Speakers Bank gets little support. In this way, it is seen as an oppression not only on the program but to its speakers. An organisation like Annecto, who advocates for an inclusive community must give as much support for their speakers and the Speakers Bank program. While the speakers share their time and personal experiences to fight the barriers they faced, Annecto should also do their part by doing their best to give the much-needed fund, support and to advocate with them by including them in their other programs.
Advocacy is one of the important role of social workers. It has been a part of the profession to engage in advocacy works on behalf of groups, individuals, families and communities (Brawley, 1997). We, as social workers advocate for social change and to fight the oppression experienced by vulnerable groups or individuals. We strive for social justice and to magnify the concerns raised by these group of people and individuals through advocacy. My placement experience at Annecto- Speakers Bank was full of challenges and excitement but the best part was the opportunity to work with their speakers who are great advocates for people with disability. I learned a lot from them, from knowing the appropriate language and terms to be used to treating them like just like the others. As a supporter and ally of these speakers on their advocacy, I am lucky to be able to assist them and work with them during my placement. It also gave me the chance to reflect on my own practice as a social worker and to express my thoughts on how to address the assumptions and stigma that our society have about disability during supervision and group discussions.