One of the most important skills a person with a disability can learn is how to be a self-advocate.
Being able to voice concerns, ideas and demands are critical to greater independence and reaching their goals. Each individual needs to have the ability and the confidence to speak up for their rights and life choices as much as their capabilities allow. While parents and caregivers often fill that role, no one knows the individual's ideas better than themselves. Teaching self-advocacy skills should be high on the list of priorities for every caregiver.
Learning self-advocacy should begin in childhood as caregivers encourage persons with disabilities to make their own decisions and to voice their opinions. It can begin with simple everyday requests and decisions, such as what to wear, what to eat or what activities the person prefers. Then, as they grow older and build skills, there is a world of opportunity to advocate for themselves and others on a larger scale, such as influencing policies that affect their lives and care.
But it’s never too late for any individual to learn how to speak out and live life to its fullest potential!
Important self-advocacy skills include: • Speaking up for themselves and others • Being comfortable asking for support • Demanding a voice in decision-making • Being knowledgeable about their rights as citizens • Contributing ideas and opinions on topics that affect them • Working with others towards a common goal • Continuing to grow and evolve advocacy skills
Advocacy skills can also include being an effective communicator on the phone and in writing, learning essential public speaking skills and learning how to use available resources to support ideas.
But where can young adults and adults go to learn and reinforce these skills? There are many groups and resources dedicated to self-advocacy, but it should also be a part of daily living. The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities has several advocacy resources to get someone started on their quest.
At The THRIVE Network, all our programs share the same goal: to help individuals with developmental disabilities reach their greatest potential, in their own way and their own time. Programs use a person-centered approach with an emphasis on having even the most challenged individual receive the services they want and need to reach their own goals.
Speaking out and being a self-advocate can be challenging at first, but the rewards of a person getting the life they want and helping others do the same make all the learning and hard work worthwhile.