What is Self-Advocacy?

“An individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs and rights. It involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions” (VanReusen et al., 1994).

It is important as you transition into college to understand what self-advocacy is and to develop skills that will empower you as you embark on your educational process. In the past, your parents or other adults may have made decisions for you or advocated on your behalf. Now that you are in college you will need to know what your rights and responsibilities are in order to advocate for yourself.

Tips for Self-Advocacy:

Be Self-Aware

In order to advocate for yourself, you need to know yourself, including your disability. Be prepared to clearly describe your disability. This involves knowing your strengths and your weaknesses.

Know Your Needs

With a clear understanding of your disability, you can assess types of accommodations you may need in order to obtain equal access to your education. The better you know how your disability affects you, the more effective you can be in determining what assistance you need. Evaluate accommodations that you have received in the past, learn about different types of accommodations for your disability category, and assess areas in which you are having difficulty academically or otherwise accessing the campus. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm ideas with your Disability Service Coordinator.

Practice Assertiveness

 Being assertive does not mean aggressively making demands. It does mean knowing your rights and vocalizing your needs. It involves taking responsibility for your disability and not expecting others to problem solve or make decisions for you.

Develop Self-Confidence

 One of the things that can prevent a student from being a strong self-advocate is shame regarding a disability diagnosis. This causes a person to hide their disability and avoid asking for assistance that is needed. Studying about the disability civil rights movement, learning about disability from a diversity or cultural perspective, finding peer support among other students with disabilities and learning to value the strengths you have developed as a result of having a disability can all assist you in gaining self-confidence. Having a disability is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is requesting accommodations that allow you to have equal access to your education.

Utilize Support

“A person who self-advocates should not feel alone. Good self-advocates know how to ask questions and get help from other people” (Learning Disabilities Online).