PROMOTING SELF ADVOCACY & SELF DETERMINATION
According to the Research & Training Center on Community Living:
Self-advocacy means advocating on one's own behalf. It is the root of all social activist movements. The self-advocacy movement was started by and for people with developmental disabilities because they wanted to be their own advocates rather than having others, such as professionals, parents and other family members, and advocates with or without other disabilities, speak about their needs and desires. As part of the broader disability rights/independent living movement, the self-advocacy movement is first and foremost a civil rights movement. As with all social activist movements, self-advocacy started at the grass-roots level where local leadership was drawn upon to organize groups of people to stand up and speak with a goal to effect social change. The national self-advocacy organization, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), has defined self-advocacy in 1991 as the following:
" [It] is about independent groups of people with disabilities working together for justice by helping each other take charge of our lives and fight discrimination. It teaches us how to make decisions and choices that affect our lives so we can be more independent. It also teaches us about our rights, but along with learning about our rights we learn responsibilities. The way we learn about advocating for ourselves is by supporting each other and helping each other gain confidence in ourselves so we can speak out for what we believe in."
Self-determination and self-advocacy are important concepts in the lives of all people, including people with intellectual and other disabilities. Self-determination and self-advocacy add to the range of life opportunities to which people with disabilities have access in the community. Experiencing a sense of self-determination and becoming a "self-advocate" through working with others for social change supports people with disabilities to have lives in the community that are personally challenging and rewarding.
Self-determination is a combination of attitudes and skills that are especially important and often more difficult to learn for young people with disabilities. For students, it means making their own choices and decisions and learning to effectively solve problems. It also means experiencing the consequences of making these choices.
The journey leading to successful transition from childhood to adulthood begins when children learn about themselves and their strengths and weaknesses. It ends when, as adults, they can take control over the choices and decisions that have an impact on their lives and take responsibility for their actions.
Parents can provide a great deal of support to their sons and daughters by giving them opportunities to make their own decisions leading to a greater likelihood that they will be able to make important choices and take responsibility for their actions. We all learn from our mistakes, and it is equally important for persons with disabilities to have the opportunity to make mistakes. It is also important for families to be prepared to accept their sons and daughters in their new adult roles and allow them to take active roles in the decisions that will help to determine their future...even if it means allowing them to make mistakes.
Self-determination skills are most effectively learned by practicing them. For that reason, students with disabilities should be given ample opportunities to use these skills in a variety of settings long before they leave high school in order to prepare themselves for adult life.