Content Provided by: Helen Rader and Jenifer Simpson
The key to making the most out of every phone call is to keep good notes. Start by printing out our Contact Sheet. It will help you keep track of what questions you want to ask on the call as well as the answers you receive during the call. The first thing you’ll want to write down is the question or questions you’d like to have answered before you even pick up the phone. Be sure to leave space for the answers that you’ll get. Also record the phone number you’re calling along with the date and the time.
Now you’re ready to make your call. Once you’re on the phone write down the name of the person you’re speaking with and his or her title. A phone call can be forgotten or denied, your detailed notes will help ensure that people are accountable for what they say.
When you’re calling government agencies or other large organizations it’s common to get bounced around between multiple people within the organization. Try to talk to decision makers and information holders. These are the people who have the critical information you want. It may take a while to get to the person who has the authority to state policy so persist in trying to reach a person of authority. Call an agency and say, “Who is the person responsible for putting together the IEP team?” “May I speak with the policy expert on the Medicaid state plan?” “Who is it who determines the transportation schedule for school buses?” “Who is the expert on assistive technology funding in our school district?”
When you make a call, leave pleading and begging behind. Simply say, “Hello. This is Jane Doe calling for Mr. Sampson.” Period. You can say, “My son can’t see very well and has cerebral palsy. What are the steps I must take to get him enrolled in an extended school year program?” or “How and where do I apply for Social Security for my disabled son?” Be as direct as you can with your initial request.
You do not need to explain your story or request in detail to everyone. You don’t have to give the medical terminology for your child’s disability. Just keep it simple and straightforward. And keep it to the facts. It is easy to begin to explain the ins and outs of what you’ve been through, but resist that temptation. Deal with administrators and service delivery people in a businesslike manner.
If the person is not available, simply say, “Please ask Ms. Claims Supervisor to return my call. My number is –.” If a message is requested, and you may volunteer to leave one as well, make it strong and to the point. “I am calling about the bus picking the kids up an hour early each day” or “I’m calling about the teacher who called my daughter ‘retarded’,” or “I’m calling about my son’s application into the summer recreation program.”
Ask when you can expect a return call. Write that down. If you don’t get a return call when you should have, call back.
Call back if you don’t succeed in reaching the right person the first time. Ask, “Who should I be talking to, then?” If they seem unhelpful or to be avoiding you, write it down. Keep a record of these referrals and if they are passing the buck, say so: “Look, I’m getting annoyed. Mr. Blank referred me to Ms. Specialist who referred me to you and now you’re referring me to Mr. Blank!”
If you are given approval over the phone, be sure to say thank you and ask for written confirmation to be sent to you the next day. File this with your other documentation.
Have questions about advocacy and how to get started?
Visit the My Child Without Limits support community and talk to fellow parents and caregivers about their experiences.
Use these resources to learn more about advocacy in your area.