Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Working again

When first diagnosed with a disability, Cliff Franklin, now employed in the advocacy division of RCIL, was told that in order to keep his government funding, he couldn’t ever get a job. “After being active my whole life, I couldn’t bear to hear that I couldn’t work again,” he said. That misleading message, he continued, was what motivates him to advocate so strongly for his consumers today.

“You probably haven’t gotten a clear definition of what we do in here the advocacy department,” he smiled wryly. I don’t know if a clear definition exists.” Day to day, Franklin works to help ensure the system’s integrity, so that those involved understand their options and can receive the services they have access to. For instance, when assisting people to find affordable housing, he advises that they take photos of any disrepair to ensure that the landlord doesn’t falsely accuse them of causing damage.

Franklin’s particularly dedicated to helping consumers navigate the system of social security, disability benefits, or the government programs available to help save money or receive help for substance abuse.That process involves conversations with consumers, many phone calls and inevitably, hours that extend past closing time on Friday night. To teach them, Franklin noted, “I take them by the hand and walk them through the process.” But Franklin can fully relate to the frustrations faced by consumers. 

“I had to go through those things myself,” he said. “I spent time in law libraries and talking to people, knocking my head against the wall” before figuring out all the paperwork. After being referred by someone to RCIL in 2005, he was hired as an employment specialist and has worked at the agency ever since. “As for advocacy, we’re all insane here,” he joked. “Every day’s a learning experience and something new pops up.”

However, despite long hours and challenging negotiations with the at-times-inefficient bureaucracy of government agencies, Franklin maintains his allegiance to the consumer; teaching them to advocate for their own rights and to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.  He said, “There’s the old saying, ‘When one door closes, another opens.’ Sometimes people just need help seeing the open door.”

- Katie J.