I am an employment specialist who supports people with disabilities. The number one skill I work on with consumers is self advocacy. Self advocacy is speaking up for yourself. It means having the ability and information to get what you want or need to be successful. It’s understanding what rights you have, who can assist you and having the power to enforce those rights. Self advocacy is not only important for employment purposes but is important in every aspect of a disabled person’s life.
A person with a disability need to be their best advocate to ensure they get to live the life they choose and have the right to live. Self advocacy is needed at work, school, in the community, at home and in the medical system. Self advocating may look a little different in each of these roles, but the same actions steps can be applied in each setting.
To be a self advocate, one must set goals, understand their strengths and weaknesses, ask for help when needed, and speak up. These action steps can be difficult for people. Self advocacy is not a skill one is born with. It is a skill you gain through life experiences.
Setting goals is a vital part of self advocacy because understanding what we want to accomplish gives us starting point. It also motivates us. Without a goal, there is nothing to advocate for.
Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses
Having a clear understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses (or areas of improvement) helps us identify what options are best. More often, it is more difficult for people to identify their strengths than weaknesses. People find it easier to identify everything they cannot do, as opposed to all the things they can do. Knowing our strengths helps us identify what works for us and knowing our weaknesses help us identify what we need to improve on.
Asking For Help When Needed
Asking for help can be the hardest action step to take but everybody needs help at one point or another. People often think that seeking help in a sign of weakness. It is the opposite! Seeking help is a sign of strength. No one is expected to be good at everything and needing help from others is a part of life. Asking for help when needed ties back to understanding strengths and weaknesses. If we can use our strengths to help others, our weaknesses tell us where we need help.
When we do not get the help we need, the next step is to speak out until we get what we need. Speaking out means being persistent and not giving up. Sometimes, asking for help once is not enough. You must ask multiple times and multiple people before you get what you need. It may not come easy but if you keep pushing, you will find the right path or person to get what you need.
The best advocates are the ones who advocate for themselves first.
About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzie for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.
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