Individual or Self Advocacy

What is individual or self advocacy?

Individual-advocacy literally means to advocate for oneself or another person.  Advocacy means to speak out or argue for a cause. So an individual-advocate speaks out for a cause they feel is important in the life of a person with a disability and the lives of people with disabilities in general. 

The Disability Achievement Center places a high priority on assisting individual-advocates in their efforts. The team is trained through a support system to provide coaching and support to consumers who are or want to advocate for themselves or others.

Individual-advocacy has come to mean speaking out about the way people with disabilities are treated at the personal level and the way the person's life is affected by systems and services. For most individual-advocate's it begins with an issue that they see is affecting themselves or another individual personally that may or may not be able to advocate for themselves.

This movement is becoming stronger and stronger as more people have the courage to speak out, and realize they are not alone. Individual-advocates can and do deal with any issue that affects themselves or another person with a disability; however, they tend to focus on the main issues of having choice and control in a person's life. Related to this are choices about where to live, learn, work, and play.

Some individual-advocates have advocated on behalf of another in Washington DC or in their State government, some within departments that serve people with disabilities, some with agencies that serve people with disabilities, and some with the storekeeper down the block. Wherever they are and whatever the issue, an individual-advocate's work is important.

One of the biggest parts of advocacy is communication. This means that if we want others to know about our situation we must tell them in a way they can understand. If we want them to change or do something different we must also communicate what we want them to do. This is a new responsibility for some and very familiar for others, either way it can be very satisfying to know that you can speak up and let others know what is important to you and other individuals with disabilities.

An individual-advocate seeks to introduce and influence short term changes to ensure the rights of a person with a disability is attained and upheld to positively affect the quality of their life in the long run.

An individual-advocate seeks to influence positive changes in how a person’s care givers, friends and service providers take the individuals needs, wants and desires into account. They work to raise and promote the awareness and education of disability issues within the person's support system.

An individual-advocate ensures that the views of care givers, friends and service providers incorporate and meet the individual needs, preferences and goals of the person with a disability.

Individual-advocates strengthen the capacity of the person with a disability to speak for themselves, by actively supporting and encouraging others to self-advocate. An individual-advocate ensures that the rights of the person with a disability to privacy, dignity and confidentiality are recognized and upheld.

An individual-advocate fosters tactical alliances with individuals and organizations, to develop capacity to identify and respond to the needs of the person with a disability.

The self or individual-advocate tailors their activities to meet the particular needs of the person with a disability,  including a focus on geographic and disability factors. Often it is easier for a person to relate to someone who has experience with the same type of disability.

An individual-advocate should be informed by an evidence base of the needs, wants and desires of the person they are working with. They should work in an accountable and transparent manner.

An individual-advocate should plan and deliver actions/activities in a coordinated manner. All activities should support communication between the person with a disability and disability advocacy support, specialists, disability services, mainstream services and government programs.

An individual-advocate should promote education and awareness of issues that affect the person they are working with that positively contributes to practice that will support the agreed outcomes.

 An individual-advocate's work can be ongoing or time-limited (e.g. one specific event or issue).

An individual-advocate can cover a single-issue, or range of issues. In general it is easier to achieve success if you have a small number of focused objectives.

An individual-advocate's approach can vary from abolition to reform. Abolition is when you try to stop an unpopular policy. Reform is where you seek incremental improvements. Abolition is likely to be more confrontational (and publicly critical of the existing ideology), whereas reform is usually viewed as more collaborative and/or practical.

An individual-advocate can direct their efforts at a number of objectives; housing, healthcare, caregivers, or community conditions. The range of issues is totally dependent on the needs, wants and desires of the person they are working with. When advocating for another individual, one must be especially careful not to substitute their beliefs, needs, wants, and desires for that of the person with a disability that they are working on behalf of; and must never act without the knowledge or consent of the person with a disability they are concerned about, or the agreement of that persons legal guardian.