Four challenges that people with disabilities face are those relating to physical barriers, legal issues, educational issues, and perception and discrimination. Advocacy organizations focus most often on these challenges. While some organizations focus on a specific disability, such as blindness, other organizations are more holistic in focus, and encourage recognition and accommodation to numerous challenges that may affect the same individual or class of people.
Physical challenges include issues of accessibility, such as buildings without ramps or elevators, or public transportation without lifts. Legal issues include the need for updated local and state legislation, which account for rights recognized at the federal level under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and governmental failure to prosecute business, employers, or establishments for discrimination. Issues in education include, at all levels, the lack of accommodations for students and teachers and the lack of trained teachers, as well as accessibility matters in schools related to the physical challenges just mentioned. Issues in public perception may be discriminatory in a wide range of ways, including denying membership or participation in an activity, the use of derogatory language or inappropriate terminology, or the association of a disability with a particular group or activity.
Specific physical disabilities that affect millions of U.S. residents are blindness and deafness. As of 2018, in the United States there are an estimated 7 million blind adults and 700,000 blind children. The oldest and largest advocacy organization in the United States is the National Federation of the Blind (https://nfb.org/). The NFB advocates especially for blind people, people who are losing vision, and parents of blind children. Their efforts include: crafting a legislative agenda changed annually; conducting the Washington Seminar for members to learn about and conduct advocacy; issuing policy statements and letters; and making available numerous federal, state, and self-advocacy resources (https://nfb.org/programs-services/advocacy/advocacy-resources).
The National Association for the Deaf is the “premier civil rights organization of, by, and for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals” in the U.S. (https://www.nad.org/). The activities of their Law and Advocacy Center include; educating, advocating, and litigating on behalf of and for the empowerment of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Their advocacy activities include addressing relevant legislative and public policy issues, especially on the national level. These efforts are often done collaboratively with other national organizations. The NAD provides numerous online resources, including examples of how to draft a letter requesting American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters (https://www.nad.org/resources/advocacy-letters/).
Among the organizations that work with populations likely to have multiple disabilities is the Disabled American Veterans (https://www.dav.org/learn-more/about-dav/mission-statement/). The DAV is dedicated to empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. They endeavor to do so by ensuring that veterans and their families have access to the full range of resources available and fighting for the veterans’ interests in Congress as well as in public education. One primary way they conduct advocacy is through legislation-related activity, including grassroots campaigns, that keep public and political leaders informed about disabled veterans’ challenges in returning to normal life.