2002 Conference Proceedings

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Taymour Ravandi
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 235N
Sacramento, CA 95825
phone (916)488-9950
fax (916)488-9960
e-mail: taymour@pai-ca.org

There are laws and rules that public agencies must follow. If you believe you are entitled to assistive technology benefits, but the agency refuses to provide them for you, you can speak up and fight for your rights. This is advocacy.

Common sense is a good guide to being an advocate. Here are some tips.

Gather all the facts. You can get facts by looking at all the documents about the dispute that are in your file at the agency.

Learn the rules. Educate yourself about the standard the agency used to deny your request. Use that standard to develop your argument for why the agency should change its decision.

Keep a diary or log. List everything that you and other people say in a telephone conversation or a meeting. Include a list of who was at the meeting and who said what. It will help to remind you later of what happened.

Keep records. Keep all the papers concerning your case together in a file.

Be prepared. Before going to a meeting, review your case file. Be sure you know what you want, and the reasons you want it. Make a list of questions you want answered.

Ask questions about anything you do not understand. You have the right to have all of your questions answered in a way you can understand and in a language you understand.

Be a good listener. It is important to listen to arguments by the other side. Each side should be talking about the same issues. What facts does the other side have or say it has? You should try to argue about only those things that are important for this dispute.

Share information. Your opinions are valuable. You know your needs at least as well as the professionals who conducted the evaluations. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion.

Be assertive. You don't need to be angry, but you do need to speak up for yourself.

Get help when you need it. If you feel uncomfortable about going to a meeting alone, don't go alone. You always have the right to take someone with you.

You will find the laws and rules that apply to different agencies in a variety of places. Both federal and state statutes govern most agencies. Federal and state regulations, which are also law, must be consistent with the governing statutes. Finally, some agencies have established policies. Agency staff sometimes pay more attention to policies than to statutes and regulations. However, these policies do not have the force of law. They are secondary to statutes and regulations, and cannot conflict with them.

You can request a hearing or file a complaint against most decisions you disagree with as long as you meet the deadlines. The laws, and sometimes agency policies, create different deadlines. You need to ask what they are.

In most agency appeals, you have a right to get copies of the documents the agency intends to introduce, a list of the witnesses they expect to call, and a statement about the nature of their testimony several days before the hearing.

Essentially, all the meetings you have with the agency involve negotiation. Negotiation is simply the effort of two parties to reach an agreement. It generally includes discussion, offers or proposals, and give and take.

To identify the person you need to begin negotiating with, look for the authority closest to the problem.

Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the agency's position.

Identify the stated reasons and what you believe to be any other unstated reasons for the agency's opposition. Make two separate lists. These are the agency's stated and unstated interests.

Plan and carry out your strategy.

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