‘What We Can Learn From Self-Advocates’

By Carolyn Vallese, CRVI Director of Public Relations

One of the goals of any caring and successful agency that provides support, training and educational services to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities is to provide every one of these individuals with the tools that can and will enable them to lead self-directed lives.  That means fostering their growth, developing their independence and maximizing their participation in whatever it is they choose to be a part of.

The self-advocacy movement is about helping individuals take control of their lives. It’s about providing resources which incorporate a core network of support.  It’s about empowerment through entitlement, having the right to make life decisions, having the right to be treated like everyone else but most important, it’s about learning to speaking up for oneself.

Individuals with disabilities can be self-advocates by making their own choices, standing up for what they feel passionate about and by challenging the status quo. Person-centered thinking is a tool that has been evolving in the human services field for several years now. It’s a philosophy that’s been the driving force in creating better, happier, healthier lives for individuals who require daily support. This life planning model is used to help individuals reach their personal goals, encourage self-determination and improve their independence.Through this process, they have come a long way toward helping themselves achieve the freedom they need to live their lives to the fullest. In collaboration with each other they gain the strength to thrive as individuals.

During monthly meetings, advocates train and educate new members. They discover new problem-solving skills, find out how to get information and support needed to make the best decisions and they learn about their rights and responsibilities. They partner on new approaches that will lead them to opportunities toward choosing their own paths and achieving their highest levels of self-fulfillment.

So why don’t we follow this philosophy in our own daily lives? What can we learn from self-advocates? A lot! Making good decisions, expressing ourselves in positive, constructive ways we too can gain better control of our lives and lead more fulfilling work and life existences. How many times does something bother us and we let it fester? Afraid to confront the situation at hand, nervous that we might make a mistake, or make matters worse.  We experience the same emotions, but fear for our own failures. Regardless of who you are, everyone has challenges; everyone has limitations; quandaries are a part of everyone’s existence. We are all the same in that respect.

We’re adept at informing individuals about what’s important to and important for them, but often dispense with our own advice. Whether at work, at play or in any social setting, don’t let fear of the unknown consume you. Take the bull by the horns and make sure your voice is heard. We should all be self-advocates.

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