Self-Advocacy: What It Means and Why It Matters
Who can be a self-advocate? To answer this question, it is important to first define what self-advocacy means.
The textbook definition is: “speaking up for oneself and one’s interests.” But for a self-advocate, it goes so much farther than that. Self-advocacy cannot have just one singular definition because the term represents something different for each individual. We talked to several self-advocates to get their perspective on what self-advocacy means to them.
For Wesley, being a self-advocate is something that encompasses his entire life, from advocating for school to advocating for housing, employment, and relationships. “With self-advocacy and the things that you want, everybody is different, everyone thinks differently. What might apply to you may not apply to me, or vice versa,” says Wesley. He emphasizes how being a self-advocate means standing up and speaking up for what you want regardless of other’s opinions. But everyone has a responsibility towards self-advocacy, according to Wesley.
“With self-advocacy and the things that you want, everybody is different, everyone thinks differently. What might apply to you may not apply to me, or vice versa,” – Wesley
Grace always looks for opportunities where anyone can be a self-advocate, such as going on walks at the park for Autism Acceptance Month or speaking at rallies. “What it means to me to be a self-advocate is doing what’s right,” Grace states. Becoming involved in self-advocacy is a great way for her to voice her own opinions, and she believes that speaking up for disability rights is an integral part of self-advocacy.
Jonathan’s experience with self-advocacy centers around employment. An important part of being a self-advocate to Jonathan is “a willingness to talk with people I report to, even if it is to raise a concern about myself or someone I work with.” There are many opportunities that Jonathan notices where he can be a self-advocate, and that is usually when he can talk with his boss and coworkers frequently.
Much of the support and encouragement Wesley, Grace, and Jonathan receive for self-advocacy stems from the Open Advocacy Forum at Jay Nolan Community Services. This group and the individuals within it collectively work to improve each other’s self-esteem, develop skills in teamwork, and build relationships in all aspects of life. This group is always accepting of new individuals and are excited to support a self-advocate in their journey.
Being a self-advocate is something that can be done every day in any situation where someone has the chance to vocalize what it is they want. It can be as simple as choosing somewhere to eat or as life changing as advocating for disability rights. The most important factor is that absolutely anyone can be a self-advocate.
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