By Jill Maginnity

“Nothing about us, without us”. This empowering statement emerged from the disability rights movement and it absolutely reminds all of us at Afford that client advocacy is one of the key areas of our commitment to being a human rights-based organisation.

It’s not just a catchy set of inspirational words.

It really does mean that if policies and decisions are being made about people, the people those policies and decisions impact should be a part of that process. For us at Afford, this is about informed choices for our clients, supporting them to make the decisions that are right for them and providing easy ways to do this , and ensuring that our clients feel safe to speak up.

A culture for client advocacy

Hopefully you’re lucky enough that if you’ve ever been reliant on someone to support you that they did so without making you feel powerless. Or that if you didn’t like how support was given to you and asked for something to change, that you weren’t treated badly, or worried about the impact that speaking up might have on your safety or choices.

Historically speaking that hasn’t been the case for people living with disability. It used to be that people living with disability were not listened to, as though their choices didn’t matter, and as though others knew better. People were not given  choice. Decisions were made on people’s behalf and without consultation. It was a case of put up and shut up and if you complained or tried to speak up, you were labelled as difficult or badly behaved.

Think about being reliant on another person for your personal care, and quality of life. Think about how important trust in this relationship is. Consider how careful you are about this relationship, and how aware of the power difference and potential abuse of power this dynamic can create.

With this context in mind, do you think it is important that you feel you can say what you want and need in this relationship without fear of being treated differently or badly? Is it important that you feel that you are safe, respected and heard?

Of course it is.

The foundation for client advocacy in disability services is having a culture where human rights and choice is supported and understood. Client advocacy is about open and inclusive feedback, it is also about what you stop, start or continue doing. It is about coming back to our clients to say that you have taken action according to feedback – and to ask if that action has produced the desired and effective outcome. It is about doing this respectfully, openly, with dignity and integrity.

We have embraced this culture at Afford over the past 18 months. We support client advocacy and rights of our clients to speak up, be heard and have choices and decisions

Client advocacy means acknowledging that we do not want history to repeat itself

Client advocacy embraces the idea that the feedback won’t always be good – and it’s important to be open about that. We lean into this, because with human-centred care the reality is that there will be subtleties and specific things that every individual wants and needs.

We need to be honest about the history of institutionalised disability care, where generic solutions were applied to personal needs – often resulting in compromised privacy, dignity and choice. The result of this was no avenue for the voice of clients and no control over decisions that directly impacted individuals’ lives. We are talking about a sector with a horrible history of abuse, violence and exploitation.

How are we making client advocacy happen?

Today at Afford, client advocacy means that people can speak up, that they know they will be heard and they know action will be taken – and we’ll check with them that the action was the right action.

We’re shifting from a place of others advocating on behalf of clients to clients advocating for themselves – and we work with our clients to find the best way to support that.

We work with the belief that clients have the ability to be involved in decision making, and that when we say the word ‘client’ we really do mean the person we are supporting – not their family, friends or guardians. It is the person living with disability making choices and communicating those choices for themselves.

We support this in every way we can, including through:

  • Ensuring communications and resources are developed in EasyRead format.
  • Protected social content sharing apps.
  • Forums for clients, families, guardians and carers.
  • More assisted technology.

We have a policy for, and also provide the space and time for, supported decision making, and we are very close to having a framework for this. We are 100 percent committed to putting client advocacy into everyday practice across the organisation.

We are also interested in what else we can do to continuously improve our client advocacy – so if you have ideas, please get in touch.

Was this page helpful?

Is there anything missing on this page? Please let us know

Is there anything missing on this page? Please let us know

Skip to content