The following blog post comes to us from Paula McElwee, Technical Assistance Coordinator with Independent Living Resource Utilization (ILRU) based in Houston, TX since 2012.
Lately I have had even more questions than usual around the difference between advocacy and lobbying. I will address lobbying more specifically next week, but before I do I want to talk about advocacy. Let’s start with what we must do instead of what we can’t do with federal dollars.
As you probably know, advocacy is defined in three parts – self-advocacy, advocacy on behalf of another, and system advocacy. Here is the definition from the regulations found at
45 CFR 1329.4
Advocacy means pleading an individual’s cause or speaking or writing in support of an individual. To the extent permitted by State law or the rules of the agency before which an individual is appearing, a non-lawyer may engage in advocacy on behalf of another individual. Advocacy may—
(1) Involve representing an individual—
(i) Before private entities or organizations, government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in a court of law (whether State or Federal); or
(ii) In negotiations or mediation, in formal or informal administrative proceedings before government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in legal proceedings in a court of law; and
(2) Be on behalf of—
(i) A single individual, in which case it is individual advocacy;
(ii) A group or class of individuals, in which case it is systems advocacy; or
(iii) Oneself, in which case it is self advocacy.
This is a core service that is required of all centers, although we have some flexibility in how we accomplish it. Advocacy must be a key component of your center. It is our history, our birthright if you will. CILs came into being because of the discrimination and injustice in this country against people with disabilities. Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act and of these regulations starts out with:
The purpose of title VII of the Act is to promote a philosophy of independent living (IL), including a philosophy of consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and individual and system advocacy, in order to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence, and productivity of individuals with disabilities, and to promote the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society…
The very core of a Center for Independent Living (CIL) is a mission to enact social change related to people with disabilities. If we are going to continue to see change for the better in our society, we must speak out about injustice. When our key civil rights legislation — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the only civil rights legislation that passed with bi-partisan support — is attacked by the congress, we have a role in describing both the positive impact under the law and the negative impact without it. Let me say again, this can be done without lobbying, and we are required to do it.
The strategy used to pass the ADA included town hall style meetings where people from every state had a chance to express the discrimination they faced day to day. People wrote “discrimination diaries” and shared them in testimony at the state level and before congress. The nation-wide, blatant discrimination became so obvious that the nation knew it had to pass a law to guarantee the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Those town hall meetings, where people told their stories, were not lobbying. Advocacy can include public education, policy research, position papers or statements on issue, get out the vote efforts, coalition participation or building, litigation and boycotts along with direct action such as that led so ably by ADAPT at the local and national levels. All of these things are allowable for centers as part of the required service of advocacy, and it is permissible to pay for the time and cost of doing this through the federal funds in your grant.
Advocacy can also include lobbying, both direct and grass roots, but these activities cannot be paid for with federal funds.
“Lobbying” is defined quite narrowly by the IRS:
Direct lobbying refers to attempts to influence a legislative body through communication with a member or employee of a legislative body, or with a government official who participates in formulating legislation. Grass roots lobbying refers to attempts to influence legislation by attempting to affect the opinion of the public with respect to the legislation and encouraging the audience to take action with respect to the legislation. In either case, the communications must refer to and reflect a view on the legislation.
But as I said, more about lobbying next week. Remember that CILs must advocate. It is a required service. And SILCs may advocate if they have included language about advocacy in their State Plan for Independent Living.
Developed as part of the IL-NET, an ILRU/NCIL/APRIL National Training and Technical Assistance Program. For more information visit
ILRU Technical Assistance