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People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities must be able to act as self-advocates; that is, to excercise their rights of basic personhood and citizenship by speaking and standing up for themselves. This means people must have a voice in decision-making in all areas of their daily life and in public policy decisions affecting them. (Courtesy of The Arc)
Tips for Developing Self-Advocacy Skills:
Know Yourself & Believe in Yourself!
It is important that you are aware of your strengths and needs in order to learn a new task or learn new information. It is also important to know strategies that can help you succeed; accommodations that you may need, and the type of environment that you learn best in.
In self-advocacy, your attitude and the belief in yourself are critical! Self-advocacy requires you to believe that you are worth fighting for. Many individuals with disabilities have used the power of positive thinking to achieve many of their goals and dreams.
A critical piece of self-advocacy is knowing how to communicate your abilities and your learning process to others. You need to be clear in your requests and be prepared to explain yourself. Refer to the "Effective Communication" page to learn more!
It's important for everyone to have a circle of support around them. This circle can include parents, friends, relatives, teachers, counselors, mentors, tutors, and anyone else that plays an important role in your life. It is a comforting feeling to know that you have people to turn to for help if you need it.
Developing a circle of support will help you manage the stresses of life and celebrate your accomplishments as well.
Meet with Teachers
School, especially high school is a wonderful place to practice communication with teachers and other school staff. Don't be afraid to set up meetings with your teachers to discuss the areas that you are doing well in and the areas that you need additional help with. Teachers should be able to provide you with valuable feedback, and help you work out a plan to do better.
Know Your Rights
There are several federal laws in place that you should know about:
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an education law guaranteeing special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a disability in programs that receive federal monies.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accomodations.
Participate, Be Active & Plan Your Future!
One way to build self-advocacy skills is for you to attend and participate in meetings to develop your Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If you are no longer in school, make sure you attend your Person Centered Planning meetings. These meetings are where you can share your dreams and goals and communcate what you want to do and also what you might need to reach your goals.
Don't be afraid to also ask for additional support at these meetings. You can ask someone for your circle of support to come with you. With others present, these meetings can be a safe place for discussing your strengths, interests, talents, and needs. Start making a list of schools (colleges) you would like to attend and jobs you would like to maybe have and ask someone from your circle of support to help you explore those schools and/or jobs. Try to begin learning skills that will help you become employed.
There may be times where you may have to educate others about your disability. Students may ask questions about accomodations you may have at school. Teachers unfamiliar with your needs must be taught more about how your learn. Be honest and don't be afraid to communicate with other students and teachers about your disability. Remember the more you know yourself, the better you will be at communication your needs.
At work, you may require a specific work-related accommodation or you may have to have a job-coach for a little while. At times, these situations may feel uneasy or uncomfortable for you. But the more self-knowledge you have, the better you will be at advocating for yourself and standing up for your rights.
By becoming a good self-advocate, you will be able to develop the skills that are necessary for success in learning and life. You should take time to regularly reflect on what's going well for you and what isn't. Making a list of "positives" on the left side of a piece of paper and "things to improve upon" on the right side can help you understand what you need to work on and what you need to prioritize.
If something isn't going right, you can decide what action to take next. Often times, self-evaluation is where the greatest learning takes place.