Canadians with Disabilities Put Self-advocacy In Action
Isn’t it discouraging to be declined services and benefits based on how others perceive your ability level? In times such as this, it is necessary that you know how to be an advocate for yourself.
What is Self-advocacy?
Advocating for yourself is the number one tool you have to reach for your dreams and achieve your goals. As a person with disabilities, you may experience “closed doors” throughout life. Learning how to be a self-advocate is a way to open these doors (or kick them down if necessary).
Oxford dictionaries define self-advocacy as “The action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests.” The Pacer Center, a U.S. nonprofit that supports parents who advocate for their children, defines self-advocacy by saying this:
Being your own advocate means that you ask for what you need while respecting the needs of others… Self-advocacy is asking for what you need in a direct, respectful manner.
Self-advocacy Leads to Accommodation
People who do not live with disabilities are often unaware of how to best accommodate people with physical and mental challenges. However, proper accommodations are essential for people with disabilities to adapt and function in the world. Therefore, it is often the responsibility of the person with a disability to speak up for his or her personal needs and the needs of the disability community at large. Sometimes, people are unaware that they are prohibiting the inclusion of people with disabilities and are happy to accommodate everyone best they can.
Self-advocacy in Action
Having a disability does not define you. In fact, living with a physical or mental impairment may mean you have a heightened sense of acuity in another skillset. Leveraging your strengths can be the best way to gain credibility and plead an effective case for accommodation.
Here are a few personal tools that every self-advocate needs:
Knowledge – Have you heard the phrase, “Knowledge is power”? This is especially true in the case of disability advocacy. You need to know a lot about yourself, the disability diagnosis or diagnoses you have, and ways people can best accommodate you and those like you.
Communication – The more you know about your disability, the better you can communicate its effects and limitations to others. For those who have the ability to communicate through common language, having a conversation about your disability may entail these steps:
1. Recognize the action, situation or barrier that contradicts your ability. Be sure you can succinctly identify the reason why this conflicts with your physical or mental capacities.
For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may say, “At the mall, there is no button to open the door automatically. It will be hard for me to open the door while rolling myself inside.”
2. Locate the person, people, or organization who can remedy this problem.
Perhaps mall offices have a manager whom you can speak with. To find out who this person might be, ask the information desk or write a letter to the administration.
3. Ask for proper accommodation.
In a written letter or face-to-face conversation, express how the absence of an automatic door button prohibits you from entering the mall easily. Then, ask that they install this type of button at each entrance.
When advocating for yourself, it is wise to give the other person or people benefit of the doubt. Graciously accept that they do not know what barriers you face each and every day. Self-advocates take it upon themselves to educate others and, in effect, empower the disability community by understanding their disabilities, informing others of their abilities and requesting that their needs be fulfilled.
Self-advocacy is important for every person, especially those with disabilities. How have you advocated for yourself recently?