Self-advocacy involves people with disabilities speaking out for themselves, expressing their own needs and representing their own interests. If you’re interested in developing your self-advocacy skills, then Life Unlimited Community Liaison Officer John McIntosh has some tips for getting started.
Everybody wants to be able to live their life the way that they choose. People with disabilities might need different kinds of help in order to do the things we want. This help is often referred to as supports. Self-advocacy allows people with disabilities to get the type of supports needed to live life to the fullest.
How do I start? Gather information
Finding individuals or organisations to provide the information you need to effectively self-advocate for the life you want may seem difficult or even scary. There is help available in most communities. Connecting with resources and building relationships in your community is a good start.
A couple of good places to find resources are Citizens Advice Bureau, your local district health board or the Health and Disability Commissioner. Most information can be found on the internet, but you should still expect to have to make phone calls to get the exact information that suits your unique needs.
Communicating your needs
When you self-advocate, it’s important that you communicate the things you need to live your life the way you want. You will have to think about how to:
- identify who you need to speak with and how you should speak with them
- develop the confidence to speak up for yourself
- clearly outline your concerns, issues or problems
- clearly identify the solution or what you think you need
No one knows you better than you
For many people with a disability, a lack of self-advocacy skills may limit confidence. But, it’s easier than you think. Start small and build your confidence gradually. That way you’ll get to constantly develop new skills and practise communication strategies so you can negotiate for the things you need. The key is to make yourself heard the best way you can, because no one knows you better than you.
Self-advocacy allows you to achieve the things you want from life. Being a self-advocate means you will:
- improve your self-confidence and self-esteem
- gain dignity and self-respect
- have the strength to guard against exploitation and abuse
- have power as an individual with rights
As a person with a disability, this is a life-long journey that will enable you to have influence over the decisions that affect you and greater control over your life.