Self advocacy is the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests. This includes: learning how to speak up for yourself, make your own decisions, pursue your interests, find the people who will support you, know your rights and responsibilities, problem-solve, listen to others, and express agreement and disagreement in a calm manner.
Self advocacy helps you to:
- Obtain what you need
- Make your own choices
- Learn to say no without feeling guilty
- Express disagreements respectfully
How to be a self-advocate
Believe in Yourself
The first step of self advocacy is believing in yourself. That also means believing in your strengths. Know that your worthy and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to care for yourself. Many people with disabilities struggle with self-esteem and motivation. You have to find out what makes you happy, learn something you enjoy and be good at it.
It is often hard for people with disabilities to ask for what they want when they are treated poorly; I know from experience. This makes it difficult to practice self advocacy.
It is time to invest in yourself and your self-worth. Make it a point to believe in yourself daily: whether it’s looking in the mirror and saying “I’m a terrific, a great person,” or writing a post it on the wall to remind yourself how good you are, or a reflection letter with all of your strengths and obstacles you have overcome.
Assess: On a scale of 1 to 10 rate how you are feeling that day. If it’s a zero, then find a way to make yourself feel better; if it’s a ten, then keep doing what makes you happy. When you can’t decide, give yourself a 5 and remind yourself: “what can I do to make things better?”
Appreciate: Give yourself credit when credit is due. It’s hard to believe in yourself and give yourself credit because you feel you can do better or feel as if you not doing your best. We can be our own worst enemies. Practice forgiving yourself when you’re sad or hurt.
Give yourself credit for everything you do that is great, even if it’s small, like getting out of bed when you are depressed.
Support: What do you do to support yourself and your wellbeing? Write those things down: whether it be exercising, walking, eating healthy or having fun. Write those things down and continue to strive in those things.
Improve: Think of something you would like to improve your wellbeing. It can be something small like doing something that makes you happy or something that you would want to stop doing, such as making healthier eating habits or getting out of bed on time. Deciding what to do is hard but making a small step by step goal is easy to help yourself identify ways to improve.
Implement ways to raise your self esteem: I too suffer from low self-esteem, but I learned a tactic that helps me. I like to write a letter to myself that outlines my accomplishments and things that I have overcome in my life. I encourage you to do the same. Keep that letter in your wallet, on the wall or somewhere in a place that is easy to get to and where you can see it every day. Self advocacy is much easier with higher self esteem!
Read a book on how to raise your self-esteem. Read over an affirmation like: “I’m a terrific, great person, I’m worthy.”
Lastly, volunteer in the community: Volunteering at a nursing home or at a shelter gives back time to the community and offers a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Think of a way that you would enjoy giving back or doing something for someone else.
If all else fails, talk to a trusted friend or seek help from a mental health professional.
Understand the law
You are entitled under the law to have the same equal rights as everyone else. Sometimes those with mental health issues may feel that they do not have the same rights as others. The law can protect you and help you to understand what your rights are as a person with a disability. If you have trouble understanding the law, then refer to an expert in the subject and ask them to explain it to you in a way you can understand.
Know what you need and what you want
Always clarify what you need and want as an advocate. This will help you to articulate the things you need and want with small goals and actions steps to get to those goals.
For example: you need to have extended time on your exam in school, but it’s a substitute teacher. The substitute teacher does not know this because your teacher forgot to mention it to them. This will be an opportunity for you to say how you feel about the situation and express your thoughts clearly about the exam and that you have accommodations to take the exam in a quiet area.
Obtain the facts
When you are speaking up for yourself, it’s important that you get the facts and know what you are talking about. Prepare the day before you have to speak about your issue. Give yourself enough time to prepare and come up with a good defense for your issue.
For example, if you need to be off on Sunday at your job, you need to prepare how you are going to convey that to your supervisor.
Another example would be to ask someone who is an expert in the area you are working on. For instance, if you are working on getting back into school, talk to a disability college success staff, college advisor, or a student support group. Once you have the information, either write it down or makes copies to keep in a safe place so you can refer to it daily. Use your best judgment to decide if the information is legit or not, ask a trusted individual to help you understand if the information is clear or not.
Plan out your strategy
What do you think your strategy for self advocacy should be to achieve your goals? You may want to set a timeline of small goals with a date of completion. Ask someone to look over your goals and provide you with feedback on those goals with ways on how you can improve and achieve them.
Goal: Lose weight
To be achieved in 3 months
Objectives to meet the goal:
- Walk and run for 30 minutes a day
- Get a gym membership
- Incorporate fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food items in your diet
- Buy gym clothes
- Drink plenty of water
- Develop a workout regime
- Find a trainer
It is easier and more effective to work on getting the things you want and need for yourself when you have the support of your trusted friends and family. You may want to start or join a group such as a peer support group or a self-help group of people with similar issues.
A good supporter is someone:
- You like, respect, and trust, and who likes, respects, and trusts you
- Allows you the space to change, grow, make decisions, and especially make mistakes
- Listens to you and shares with you, both the good and the bad
- Respects your need for confidentiality so you can tell them anything
- Lets you freely express your feelings and emotions without judging, teasing, or criticizing
- Gives you good advice when you want and ask for it, assists you in taking action that will help you feel better, and works with you to figure out what to do next in difficult situations
- Accepts help from you when they need it
- You want to be with, but don’t desperately need to be with
- Doesn’t ever take advantage of you
Know that not everyone is a good friend. It is important to continue to look for a good friend and know the qualities that make one.
Keep track of your effort
Know the point of contact or organization you need to deal with to get results on the issue. It may take a while to find that right person but keep searching, and you will find. When finding out which person to talk to and once you discovered who that person or agency is, reward yourself for your efforts.
Once you found what you are inquiring about, celebrate your accomplishments because you are being a self advocate and learning how to trust yourself.
Remember: you are a valuable and talented person, and your time is significant. Once you find that right person, celebrate your accomplishments and your diligence in finding that person or agency.
Be calm and clear when speaking
I have trouble speaking clearly because I often stutter or stammer in my dialogue, which makes it harder for the person to listen to what I’m saying. Never lash out or lose your temper when talking to someone, always have a passionate and calm manner when speaking to someone about an issue.
When asking for a request, a need or want, be brief and stick to the point. Don’t waste your time rambling on other points or being redundant. The only time you want to repeat your needs is when you feel you cannot accomplish a specific goal. Keep on repeating the message until they give in, help you out or find someone who can assist you better, or give you what you need. Never allow them to walk all over you or put you down. Self advocacy means knowignt hat your time is worthy and valuable.
Be persistent and do not give up
Remember, do not give up. Keep going after what you want and do not rest until you have accomplished that goal. Always follow through on what you are say and dedicate yourself to whatever it is that you need for. Be a firm and persistent advocate for yourself.
Self Advocacy with a Disability
- Take a deep breath before responding: Deep breaths give your body a lot of oxygen. This helps you feel calmer and think more clearly.
- Think about what you want to be different: Look at your life and see what you would like to change. Maybe you want to be treated differently in a positive way, or respected more. Find out what it is you want and work towards that goal.
- Speak slowly and clearly: Express your needs and wants in a slow and clear manner. For example: “I would like to talk to you about something, I have a situation I need to address with you.” Address the situation in a calm manner.
- Let the other person respond: Being an advocate does not mean you do all of the talking; it means you have to allow the other person to respond as well to the situation. If you respect that person, you will allow them to respond without interjecting or interrupting them.
- Don’t expect immediate results in responses: Change is not always instant. It may take many conversations to get what you want or changes to be made. You may even need to remind that person more than one time.
- Ask someone to help: You and the other person you convey the message to may not agree with what you are saying. You may feel that the other person is being unreasonable. One thing about being a self advocate that is a plus is that you don’t need to solve all the problems on your own. You can always ask for help. Asking for help is being wise, not weak.
- Understand your disability: Once you fulfilled the requirements of being a self advocate, you need to understand your disability. No one is going to understand your disability better than you. You are the master of your disability because you live with it every day. In school and job situations, you will need to express your disability with them along with the needs of your disability. Remember, having a disability does not make you unqualified, it makes you qualified and certified because you have the potential for executing tasks just like anyone else can. You need extra assistance and time, and there is nothing wrong with that, you are just wise enough to express your needs.
By Maverick Crawford III
Maverick Crawford was selected out of 1500 students as the Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student in the College of Public Policy at UTSA. He graduated from UTSA as Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Public Administration and a Minor in Civic Engagement. Maverick has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and is one of our most popular bloggers as he shares his experiences with our Aspergers101 audience.