In an election year, consumers like you have real, tangible power. Elected officials want to hear from constituents like you, and they also know that if you’re voicing your concerns to them, you’re also bending the ears of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. So your voice can be powerful, indeed. But how can you make the most of it?
John Gallagher and Seth Johnson work with local, state and national officials to protect the rights of people who use mobility and rehab equipment. Here’s what they had to say about how you can make your voice heard.
Q: What’s the best way to contact my Senator or Congressperson? Fax? E-mail? Letters?
Johnson: If you have your legislator’s health-care assistant’s e-mail address, that is probably best, but if you do not have a specific person’s e-mail, calling is the best method.
There are a number of online resources available to make it easier than ever before to communicate with elected officials. Pride has set up a legislative resource center on the home page of our consumer Web site, www.pridemobility.com. There are links to help consumers identify who their legislators are and how to contact them, an overview of the legislation that needs their support, and form letters that can be sent to their legislators.
Gallagher: Letters, if they go to D.C., go through anthrax screening. It takes anywhere from six to eight weeks, if it makes it through that process. So letters aren’t as good as one, the phone call and two, the fax.
Q: What vital information or content should my letter or phone call include?
Gallagher: Keep it very simple and to the point; don’t get lost in the forest, but stay on message. Keep it to one, two or three main issues. Support those issues, and then the key thing is what is your ask-for? The ask-for should be the main thing: Here’s what we need you to do. I need you to sign on to this bill. Or we need you to step and introduce legislation. You need to keep it simple, and not just say, “You need to stop cutting payments to Medicare.” Give exactly what you want, not a generality. If you can keep your letter to one page, all the better; try not to go more than two.
Johnson: It is important to start out by providing a brief personal introduction. From there it is important to provide the impact an issue will have on your life if passed into law and what the long-term effects of that law will be. The more personal these messages are, the better.
The messages that are best received are also those that present common-sense solutions that can be backed up by facts. It is important to close by providing your complete contact information: name, address, phone and e-mail. Elected officials tend to respond to their constituents, so focus on your own legislators first.
Q: Legislators get a lot of calls and letters. How can I make mine stand out so they pay attention?
Gallagher: If you’re an advocate for a cause, you should get together with like-minded folks, so when you call, you can say you’re calling on behalf of a larger group….Establish that relationship with a staff member, because that’s where the work is done. So when you need things or you call, they understand where you’re coming from. In particular if you’re the parent of a child with disability needs, it’s good that they have a face with the name, and they know who your child is.
Johnson: Election years are a time when your elected officials can be particularly responsive to your calls, letters and visits. During this time an elected official is expected to show their constituencies that they are hard at work for the people they serve. One way to demonstrate this is by taking action during this time with the hopes that voters will remember them when it comes time to pull that lever in the first week of November. It does not mean that an elected official will do anything you ask for in an election year, but it will in many cases yield a more sympathetic ear and some action on your behalf.
Q: When communicating with legislators, what should I NOT do?
Gallagher: If you can attend (local functions that legislators attend), great. You don’t want to be the pest. You want to have the member of Congress see you and say, “Oh, Tony, how are you?” “Great, Congressman, great to see you. I sent some information to your staff, we look forward to hearing back from you.” If they hold a town hall meeting, try to attend. Don’t try to monopolize the time. Once you’ve established your relationship with the Congressmen, they’re going to know what your issue is. They’ll come to you after the meeting.
Johnson: The old adage proves true. You get more flies with honey than vinegar – always try to keep your message positive and never angry or threatening. In addition, it is very important to stay focused on the issue or issues at hand, and not other subjects outside the scope. It is very important to be direct and prepared with talking points and data to support the position you are requesting the legislator support.
Lastly, be respectful of their time and ask if they have any questions or need any additional information to support the recommendation articulated.
Remember the importance of the rights you are fighting for. Ensured access to equipment that is medically necessary, the right to choose a provider that you are comfortable with, or the enactment of legislation that protects the disabled are all positive outcomes that can be brought about by effective communication with your House members and Senators.
John Gallagher is VP of Government Affairs for The VGM Group, Waterloo, Iowa.
Seth Johnson is VP of Government Affairs for Pride Mobility Products, Exeter, Penn.