Self-advocacy is the ability to speak-up for yourself and the things that are important to you. Self-advocacy means you are able to ask for what you need and want and tell people about your thoughts and feelings. Self-advocacy means you know your rights and responsibilities, you speak-up for your rights, and you are able to make choices and decisions that affect your life.
The goal of self-advocacy is for YOU to decide what you want then develop and carry out a plan to help you get it. It does not mean you can’t get help if you need or want it, it just means that you are making the choices and you have to be responsible for the choices you make.
It is important to learn self-advocacy skills because it helps you decide what you want and what is possible for you to expect. When you have good self-advocacy skills you can have more control and make the life decisions that are best for you. Self-advocacy helps to empower you, to speak-up for yourself and make decisions about your life.
- When you want to be listened to
- When you are being assessed
- When you are making a complaint
- When you are developing or reviewing a care plan
There are many places that you might want to speak-up for yourself or ask for what you want such as:
- At home
- At work
- At school
- At the hospital
- At the doctor
- At the shops
- On the bus
and many more places. If you are not happy with the way something is done then it is up to you to help change it. Nobody else knows how you feel or what you think- YOU need to tell people if you are not happy or you want something to change.
- Someone who says what they think and feel
- Someone who speaks-up for things they believe in
- Someone who knows and understands their rights and responsibilities
- Someone who takes responsibility for their own life
- Someone who makes decisions that affect their life
- Someone who helps to improve their life
- Someone who tries to change the way things are done
- You need to decide what you want to speak-up about
- You need to plan how you are going to speak-up
- You need to speak-up for yourself
- You need the freedom to be able to make basic choices about your life.
- You need to be given the authority to be the expert on your life; you are the one who has to live your life so you should be able to make decisions which affect you.
- You need to have support to make and achieve your goals, the final decision should be yours but it is good to have other people to help you
- You need to be responsible for your decisions. You need to try to make the best choices and fix those that did not work.
- You need to believe you are able to do the things in your life that are not working and work towards the things that are important to you.
Self advocacy is about people with intellectual disabilities:
- Speaking up for themselves
- Making their own decisions
- They speak up for themselves
- They speak up for others
- They ask for support when they need it
- They make sure they have a say in decisions that affect them
- They ask questions and learn new skills
People can support self advocates by:
- Using information that makes sense to the self advocate
- Making sure that self advocates get to have a say
- Involve them in decisions and listen to what they have to say
- Give self advocates time to make decisions
- Understand that it’s okay for self advocates to make mistakes and support them to learn from them
- Listening to what self advocates have to say
- Making sure that their goals and projects supports self advocates
- Supporting self advocates from all over India to meet together and talk about issues that are important to them
- Supporting self advocates to be leaders in issues that affect people with intellectual disability in India.
- ‘Speaking for yourself’
Self-advocacy, or having a voice of your own, is fundamental to both asserting yourself and exploring yourself. This is important because it is directly linked to building confidence and self-esteem. It is important to have the possibility of talking about your life and your experiences so that who you are can be validated by others. In this way having a voice of your own has the power to construct your identity.
- ‘I’ve got a voice and even without a voice I can communicate in other ways’
It is important to emphasize that having a voice of your own does not necessarily mean having a literal voice. People who are non-verbal are able to communicate themselves, their likes and dislikes, their wants and needs, in ways other than words. For example, taking a person by the hand to show them where they want to go, pointing to pictures, symbols or photographs. This is important because self-advocacy is sometimes criticized for only being relevant to people who have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. It is necessary to acknowledge that all people, even those with severe intellectual disabilities, can communicate and express themselves.
- ‘It means Yes and No’
Having a voice is important as a means by which you can communicate to others who you are, what you like, what you don’t like, etc. It is important because it means you can make choices about your life and about what is important to you. This is especially important for people with intellectual disabilities who have traditionally been seen as incapable, as not having their own opinions, desires and wishes, and as being dependent on those who look after them. In this way having a voice of your own gives you power.
- ‘People must listen to me’
Self-advocacy is important because people can speak out publicly. If people have a voice of their own they can comment on the services they use, can define how they want to be known- as people with intellectual disabilities rather than ‘handicapped’, can campaign for issues which are important to them, for example the closure of institutions or how money is spent in day services, can advise on the creation of new policies and services, etc.
- ‘I can take a risk, I can have a relationship’
Self-advocacy is partly about knowing your rights as a human being. This is vitally important in a society which still discriminates against people, who have the label of intellectual disability, owning their own home, falling in love, getting married, having children and working in ordinary workplaces. If you have a voice of your own you can assert the right to take a risk, to choose again and to learn from your mistakes
- ‘I can think for myself’
One of the most important consequences of having a voice of your own is that it has the power to challenge how people with intellectual disabilities are thought about in society. They have traditionally been seen as a group who were incapable of thought, of action, of being able to live their lives as others do. This has led to their discrimination, segregation and isolation. If this perception is challenged, then people with intellectual disabilities will be nearer to being included and treated as equals in our society.
- ‘I can go to the shop with support and if I need help, people can help me’
Finally, having a voice of your own is important because people with intellectual disabilities have traditionally been dependant on carers, professionals, and parents, for knowing what was best for them. If people have a voice of their own then the power relationship is significantly altered. It does not deny that people with intellectual disabilities need help and support, but emphasizes that they can define what kind of help they need, when they need it and for how long. It is thus acknowledged that all people have strengths and weaknesses and that no one individual can be either totally ‘capable’ or ‘incapable’.
- For many people with intellectual disability, the lack of self advocacy skills limits their development as confident, effective individuals. Somewhere between being a Self Advocate and not being a Self Advocate, there is the process of becoming a Self Advocate. That’s probably where most of us are at. We are constantly refining our skills, practising our strategies, trying to acquire increased control over our own lives, and trying to achieve the things we want from life. People with intellectual disability are also engaged in this life-long journey, from not being to being in control of the decisions which affect them, from not having to having influence over their own lives.
- Many people in the world are not Self Advocates. You don’t have to have an intellectual disability to have a poor self-image or to be open to abuse or discrimination. It is a fact, however, that people with intellectual disability are more likely than others – as a result of the mixed consequences of social stigma, prejudice, community attitudes and the handicapping effects of disability – to go through life not as self advocates, but as victims, pawns, or as objects of other people’s discretion and will.
- Identify concerns and problems
- Know who to speak to and how, and
- Be confident enough to speak up
- Enhance Self confidence and self esteem
- Have independent control over your own life
- Have dignity and self respect
- Have the strength to guard against exploitation and abuse
- Have power as an individual with rights