Visiting your Public Official
(Tips and Templates Below)
Reaching out to your public officials, visiting their district offices, or just sending a letter can be effective. Itís easy. You can influence disability issues, while staying close to home. Use the following tips and template materials to help.
Reasons to reach out to your legislators: As their constituent, your public officials want to hear from you. Scheduling a visit in their local office is an easy first step. Use the meeting to introduce yourself as someone living in their district.
Share your story and talk about issues that are impacting you. It can be casual and brief. Then you can start to build an individual relationship with your legislators and key decision makers. By simply reaching out, you can advance disability issues.
Ideal times to visit. You can (and should communicate with your federal, state, or community officials at any time through their district office. Many state legislators hold regular office hours, inviting their constituents to stop by. During a recess or work period, federal and state legislators often host town halls or listening sessions in their districts. Feel free to stand up and ask question. If the legislator is not available in the office; speaking with staff at any time can be just as effective.
Calling to schedule a visit. We recommend scheduling an in-person meeting with the legislator in the office. Be sure to call and schedule your meeting in advance, as offices are not always fully staffed. It is best set up the meeting at least two to three weeks prior to when youíd like to visit. See tips and sample scheduling call script below.
When you visit. Be prepared. Practice what you want to say beforehand. Remember to bring a camera and take photos, even if you are meeting with staff. Review additional tips below.
Share your personal story. The best way to start a conversation with your public official is to simply share your story. You are the expert on your story and how issues impact your life. But if you donít know the answer to a question, itís OK to follow up later. See tips below on starting a conversation and sharing your personal story.
When you leave. Be sure to provide a packet of information and include your contact information and information sheets.
A personalized letter to the legislator. This will serve as a quick reference for the office about your personal story and your top issues. See tips and template letters below.
A position paper on each issue or piece of legislation with bill numbers and your personal concerns.
A story page that summarizes your personal story on one page.
After the visit. Follow up with a thank you note or a call. See tips and sample follow-up call script below.
Build the relationship. You can continue to build the relationship, by extending your conversation with the legislator. Send letters or postcards as issues develop or your story changes. Call if youíre concerned about another issue. Or invite them to your self-help group, to join your walk or bike team, or to another event. You can do this any time throughout the year. When a legislator receives five or six constituent contacts about an issue, it elevates that issue and can really create change.
Tips for Visiting with Your Legislator
Get to know the legislator before you visit. Visit his or her web site, read their bio, and do a news search.
Is he or she a Republican, Democrat or Independent?
What committee(s) does he or she serve?
Is he or she the author of any recent, significant legislation?
Does he or she share a common perspective regarding an issue important to you?
Arrive on time, but be prepared to wait. Day-to-day business can delay legislator or staff.
Identify yourself as your legislatorís constituent. Provide your address and telephone number.
Donít be surprised if your meeting with the legislator turns into a meeting with staff. Meeting with staff and building that relationship can be just as effective.
Oftentimes, the legislator is a generalist, who relies upon staff for issue expertise.
Rest assured that you are the credible expert on the effects of disabilities. Even if you donít know the specifics of an issue or piece of legislation, your personal story is most important. Relate your real-life experiences to the reasons why you support or oppose the issue.
Rehearse your key points in advance and practice telling your story. If others are joining you, determine who will say what and when.
Keep your conversation simple, concise, and clear. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Refrain from making assumptions. Do not presume those you visit with are versed in the issue important to you.
Be clear about whether you intend for the legislator to support a bill or oppose a bill. If so, what is the specific bill number? Explain what specific action you would like your legislator to take.
Preserve your credibility. If you do not know the answer to a specific question, say so and offer to follow up later.
To conclude your meeting, thank him or her for visiting with you, provide your leave behind materials, and leave contact information.
Tips for Starting a Conversation and Sharing Your Personal Story
First, introduce yourself and mention where you live. This will break the ice, and make sure they know you are a constituent.
Thank the legislator or staff for their time.
Then, share your personal story about what government services benefit you or the constituency you serve. For example: ďLet me start by telling you a little about myself. Are you familiar with††† __________ (your disability)?Ē
Then transition into one or two issues that are important to you. Explain your experience with the health care system. Talk about your access to local health care or community resources. Or explain how your life has been impacted by prescription drug costs, disability rights, or another issue.
If it helps, use one of these transition phrases:
As a person with a disability, Iím most concerned aboutÖ
Iím sure you can understand why I feel strongly about services. The most important thing to remember isÖ
Living with a ________ (your disability), I face many challenges, but if I could ask you to change one thing, it would beÖ
At the end, ask if you can answer any questions. Then conclude the conversation by thanking the legislator or staff again for their time.
Tips for Writing a Letter to Your Legislator
At your visit, it will be beneficial to include a thoughtful letter with your leave behind materials. If youíre writing before or after your visit, you can use email, fax, or snail mail. The sample letters below can help.
Whether youíre mailing or emailing your letter, the format is the same. Address your letter to the highest official who has responsibility for the issueóyour senator, the mayor, an executive, or a state agency director. Share your personal story and how the issue impacts you. Clearly state the action you want at the beginning of the letter. Remember to thank the legislator. And close with your full name and address.
E-mail is timely and less formal, but it is more common and oftentimes preferred by legislators. A brief, hand-written, hard-copy letter is more personal and can catch the attention of legislators and staff.
Issue Specific Letter
The Honorable NAME
STATE LEGISLATIVE BODY
STATE CAPITAL CITY, STATE, ZIP
Dear TITLE AND LAST NAME:
As a constituent and a disability activist, I urge you to remember the most vulnerable citizens of our state as you have budget discussions this year. We understand the current fiscal situation and ask for sensible decisions that protect services that people living with disabilities rely on every day. [At the beginning, clearly state the specific request you want from the official.]
You can help address the challenges each person faces through increased services, disability rights, access to quality health care, long-term care resources, and accessible, affordable insurance. Thank you for your time and attention regarding the issues that are important to me and the disability community. [At the end, re-state the request and thank the official.]
PHONE NUMBER (OPTIONAL)
Tips for Calling Your Legislatorís Office
Before making a call, write out what you want to say. A phone call can be timely and informal. It also can offer immediate answers to questions. Know the issue and the bill number, if one is available. Be prepared so you can confidently tell your story and ask for the change you want. A legislative staffer will answer the phone and will most likely ask if you are a constituent of the district. If you are not a constituent, be prepared to explain why you are calling and how the issue impacts you.
Sample Scheduling Call Script
Scheduling a In-District Office Visit
YOU:† Hello, my name is NAME from CITY in the Senatorís district. Iím calling as a constituent and a disability activist and Iíd like to schedule a visit.
Staffer:† How may I help you?
YOU:† Do you know when the Senator might be available to talk with me about issues that are most important to us as constituents this year?
Staffer:† The Senator is very busy. Are you looking at any particular day?
YOU:† Our target date is Wednesday, February 23, 2011.
Staffer:† Great. Letís schedule a visit on Ö
YOU:† Thank you for your time. I am looking forward to it. If you need to reach me you can call me at PHONE or email me at EMAIL.
†(Summarized from AZDAC Packet:
Day at the Capitol)