Advocacy 101: What is Advocacy, what are Advocacy Types & why is this important?

Written by PDA’s VIC Director, Tim Harte

Speaking up for others or oneself is the elementary definition of advocacy. Crucially ‘speaking up’ is a variable course of action in the pursuit of achieving a specific outcome. Different forms of advocacy are characterised through the process of ‘speaking up’ and the scope of the advocacy’s aims. 

Individual/case-based advocacy aims to achieve a specific outcome for an individual. An NDIS appeal that advocated for provision of physiotherapy as an early intervention support in my NDIS plan is an example of individual/case-based advocacy. 

Systemic advocacy aims to achieve outcomes for the benefit of a population of people through modification of policy, procedure, legislation, or practice. A civil class action against a government body for non-compliance of bus stops with relevant disability discrimination is an example of systemic advocacy.

Within the scope of individual/case-based advocacy is: 

• citizen advocacy, involving individuals receiving support from volunteers;

• self-advocacy, where individuals advocate for themselves;

• professional advocacy, where professionals advocate on behalf of an individual;

• and carer/peer advocacy, where carers or peers advocate on behalf of an individual.

The literature base on advocacy in Australia states that professional advocacy is the primary advocacy type operating within the scope of systemic advocacy, however, systemic advocacy, in recent decades, is increasingly utilising knowledge from individual cases to contribute to the collective systemic advocacy case for policy, legislation, or practice change. Collective systemic self-advocacy coordinated by Disabled People’s Organisations, like Physical Disability Australia, conducts perpetual systemic advocacy work, utilising the individual experiences of People with Disabilities to understand flaws in system in order to work with Government in advising and advocating for solutions to reduce barriers and improve the experiences of People with Disabilities as they navigate society.1-4  

Why is advocacy important? 

Human rights are attained and realised through advocacy.5 Considerable historical background validates that advocacy, in various forms, has been successfully used to rectify discrimination and inequity experienced by vulnerable and marginalised groups. Examples of direct action, collective action and movement building by people with disabilities date back over a century, in 1920 the National League of the Blind in the United Kingdom successfully conducted mass protests about working conditions and poverty experienced by the disability community. In recent years, in Australia, the #LetHerSpeak advocacy campaign, founded by Grace Tame and Nina Funnell, successfully employed various key areas of campaigning to achieve legislative reform, amending the Criminal Code Amendment (Sexual Abuse Terminology) Act 2020 (Tas) s 5 to uphold freedom of expression rights for child sexual abuse survivors.6-9

Physical Disability Australia works to ensure the rights of all People with Disabilities are realised. As a Disabled People’s Organisations, Physical Disability Australia, mission is centred by the lived-experience of our members. Systemic advocacy is the process of us (PDA) speaking up and elevating the voices of People with Disabilities to ensure decision makers know what barriers our community encounters and what solutions are available to resolve and overcome these barriers.


1. Dalrymple, J., & Boylan, J. (2013). Effective advocacy in social work. Sage. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473957718

2. Dunning, A. (1995). Citizen advocacy with older people: a code of good practice. Centre for Policy on Ageing.

3. Forbat, L., & Atkinson, D. (2005). Advocacy in practice: The troubled position of advocates in adult services. British Journal of Social Work, 35(3), 321-335. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bch184

4. Rossetti, Z., Burke, M. M., Rios, K., Tovar, J. A., Schraml-Block, K., Rivera, J. I., Cruz, J. & Lee, J. D. (2021). From individual to systemic advocacy: Parents as change agents. Exceptionality, 29(3), 232-247. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362835.2020.1850456

5. Brolan, C. E., Boyle, F. M., Dean, J. H., Taylor Gomez, M., Ware, R. S., & Lennox, N. G. (2012). Health advocacy: a vital step in attaining human rights for adults with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56(11), 1087-1097. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2788.2012.01637.x

6. Assembly, U. G. (1966). International covenant on civil and political rights. United Nations, Treaty Series, 999, 171. https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/ccpr.pdf

7. Dallaston, E., & Mathews, B. (2022). Reforming Australian criminal laws against persistent child sexual abuse. Sydney L. Rev., 44, 77. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.500121913977664

8. French, S. (2017). Visual impairment and work: Experiences of visually impaired people. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315569536

9. Nash, A. (2001). People. dot. community: A resource for effective community activism. Villamanta Legal Service.

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