What kind of bird are you?

Malisa W. Janes, Rh.D
Copyright 2002

People with hearing loss know the pain and frustration of not having access in so many places in our country. Many efforts have been made to get people involved but the effort often is not successful. Recently I was at a meeting that was called and the room was full of people who were interested in making more access. However, as I looked around the crowd I could see no excitement or desire on the faces of those in attendance. The looks were not positive. I could hear in my head the leaders bemoaning the apathy of folks with hearing loss. A thought came to me like a bolt out of the blue after listening to several folks at a meeting trying to "get others excited and involved." I suddenly realized the audience was not buying into the "advocacy dream" -- not because they were apathetic -- but because they didn't see how they fit. I stood and here's what I said:

The talk

I've been working with advocacy for many years and I know everyone in this room has at one time or another asked for access and been turned down, been belittled, been disappointed and angry because other people have so little compassion and understanding. We've also gotten the message loud and clear that we are a "pain", a trouble that others don't want to deal with most times. I can well understand that everyone in this room may be wondering, "Just how much more do I have to take, and what can I give when I failed before?"

I think the MOST important thing we need is the belief that everyone deserves access and that we are willing to work for access for everyone... all kinds ...at all times. And we share, no matter what level of loss or what method we use to communicate, in the feelings of frustration and despair.

I know I've scared many people when I talk about MY kind of advocacy - the in-your-face kind of advocacy. They think, "I can never be like her and I don't WANT to be!" And you know what, they don't NEED to be like me. That's what most folks don't seem to understand. We have to be a team, each one of us is uniquely different and we have different personalities and sensitivities.... and EACH one is needed. I'm going to use an analogy to talk about OUR FLOCK... people with hearing loss who live in my area.

To do advocacy well we need to have a HUNDRED or TWO hundred "Doves". You know if you're a Dove... you are one of those sweet wonderful people who are very sensitive and timid or shy. It is all you can do to tell folks you have a hearing loss and need access. You'd NEVER be comfortable confronting anyone... that's not in your personality. Doves are needed because they are the eyes everywhere in our area. Advocacy Leadership can help Doves make a good check list for access to look for when Doves are out and about. That is a BIG part of the advocacy job! Doves identify the omissions and lack of access, record-keep and report their findings to a local "Robin". Doves only have to have one learning session to understand their check lists and they need to be taught by other Doves, not scared to death by others whose personality is so different from theirs.

Doves in pairs going out once a week to make observation visits and report back could really make a big impact in a year. Their time demands are minimal. If they want more work there are letters to be written and postcards to be sent and TV shows to be monitored for captioning. All non-threatening things.

"Robins" are the chipper birds, "never met a stranger" folks in our flock. They are our big friend makers and love to educate and teach. They don't make people mad at them when they teach. They are non-threatening. When they get a report of a need from a Dove for access information in a certain facility or business they can, with a happy face and good attitude, give the management the information. They can check back a couple of times to see if changes have been made made. If not, they smile and encourage but never threaten or show anger. Robins need to make a rule for themselves. I call mine the, "Strike 3, you're out," rule. The personal rule may be more than 3 strikes, it is up to the Robin. A Robin's strength is their happiness and we need them to stay that way or they burn out and can't do their special work. When the Robins are beginning to feel angry because they are being discounted, that's the time when they need the help of another bird, the Eagle. The Robin reports to an Eagle that a facility continues to ignore information that would let them be accessible. Each Robin might be able to handle 10 Doves reporting to them the sites that need education and/or reporting. Sometimes they might make a phone call to that facility and send written information to them. Other times they may have to schedule appointments and meet face to face with the management. Robins' interventions many times are successful and they don't need to call on an Eagle. Robins need to spend a lot of time learning all the options and differences in needs in access for different settings. They have to know how to advise when it comes to equipment. They have to know how to "do their homework" before addressing any facility/business so that they go in with the right information in a way that the business will best use it. And Robins must be aware of the cost constraints and have alternatives that don't break the budget of the organization. Robins need at least 5 training sessions and probably need to meet monthly to compare notes and help each other learn more. Many Robins may prefer to work in teams of two. More than two might scare a facility, make them feel like they are being "teamed up on". Robins have to have good judgment in selecting their approaches... they plan ahead and don't surprise folks.

When Robins have struck out... they call on the "more aggressive birds" of our flock... the Eagles. An Eagle might have a half dozen Robins using them when the contact they've made seems futile and frustrating. Eagles know the laws (all of them). Eagles know the lawyers. Eagles KNOW how to go for the throat and have a case built that can be handed to an attorney if appropriate. They know how to access the bodies that will investigate non-compliance to the laws and rules of the organization. They know how to file a suit without an attorney if money isn't available. They are in contact with the political pressure points in the community. Eagles all need to have a "buddy Robin" who can go in after the Eagle strikes to see if that strike gets action and to bandage the wounded egos of the managers. Getting action without having to file formal complaints is much faster and MUCH preferred as it doesn't destroy good will with the organization. Ideally the manager will only be angry with the Eagle and not all people with a hearing loss. Eagles have to be fearless and free from "soft spots" that can be tapped by outside sources for social or political pressure to withdraw. They have to be able to write well in a formal manner and prepare press releases. Proficiency in documentation and strategic battle tactics are their key talents.

The Eagle's strategies might include a public show (march for access) of all birds in the area - one that would make the whole community aware of the needs of people with hearing loss. This tactic can't be used without careful consideration because it is the most powerful action when used correctly. But remember a public show is useless if the effect is not far reaching, the facility doesn't warrant it and the flock of birds doesn"t show up in large numbers. Once a march ends folks sit and wonder, "What next?" When there is no "next" rapidly and strategically placed, the marchers lose credibility and the importance of the issue wanes. Organizers of public awareness marches need to save the big guns for the big battle... and use the daily pecking away to erode the opposition.

That's my picture of our Flock in advocacy. The question I'm sure that is in everyone's mind is, "Who assigns you your bird title?" YOU and ONLY YOU! You know how you feel inside, you know what your personality type is like, you know what your time constraints are... others don't know that! That's been one of the big problems, our leadership keeps trying to get folks to do things they are not comfortable doing!

I invite you, as concerned people with a hearing loss, to pick a bird, any bird and give it a personality and role - and call or e-mail your local advocacy leadership and let them know what kind of a bird you are! Remember, we're all equal birds in the bird kingdom and we each have our own special song to sing and each one is very important!

That's the talk... and what follows is that afternoon's e-mail from the paid staff heading up the advocacy effort who was hitting the apathy and reluctance road blocks. The post is to someone I don't even know... but think it is worth sharing.

The post:

Hey D, I think the Dove, the Robin and the Eagle are excellent analogies of who we are. I've gotten several emails already of people telling me which they think they are. It's something everyone could relate to. What I did learn today is that Doves understand how other Doves think and react to things, same with Robins and Eagles. So, there are many things that you can communicate to other Doves, simply because you are one, same with Robins, and Eagles. Why? Because you can relate to their "Doveness".

We need you to talk with the other Doves, the Robins to talk to other Robins, same with Eagles. I can't wait! Can you imagine seeing flocks of Doves, Robins, and Eagles building Bird's nests TOGETHER? What an awesome sight! This is a first for the bird watchers. (smile)

Let's Fly!

Author's Postscript to the readers of this article:

What kind of a bird are you? Where's your flock? Come on.. let's fly!!!


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