Disability Thought Of The Week: Advocacy or Activism?

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At some point over the last couple of years, I started operating with what I think are my own definitions of the words “advocacy” and “activism” in the context of disability.

“Advocacy,” to me, is strategizing and arguing for your own individual needs and goals as a disabled person, while “Activism” involves similar activities, but in pursuit of the needs and goals of all or a portion of the disability community. This distinction is usually defined by the terms “Self-Advocacy” and “Systems Advocacy.” I just think calling them “Advocacy” and “Activism” is simpler and clearer.

And understanding the difference is hugely important! “Advocacy” and “Activism” are both valuable, even essential activities, for disabled people and for the disability community, but they aren't the same thing. They have different (though related) goals, and each calls for different (though related) approaches. In fact, I think that a lot of the problems of individual disabled people, and of the disability community. can be traced to using Activism strategies in Advocacy, and vice versa.

When do you do Advocacy, and when is it time for Activism?