3 Things Every Self-Advocate Does to Achieve Best Outcomes

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 27, 2020 # Lifestyle

By guest blogger Lauren Presutti

If you don’t already know this about me, I am a huge proponent of self-advocacy for people and families affected by disabilities. We live in a world that does not always understand disability, and although professionals may have training on disability-specific needs or accommodations, we cannot rely on other sources – like professionals or textbooks – to predict what exactly we need to thrive. For those of us with disabilities, it is up to us to speak for ourselves. Nobody understands our needs better than we do. Even in my professional role as an advocate and mental health counselor working with those with disabilities, the very first thing I tell my clients is that they are the experts on their own lives. My experiences as a wheelchair-user with muscular dystrophy do not equate to your experiences, even with the same diagnosis. Every individual with a disability is unique.girl in garden

Across the board, even when accounting for the type and severity of the disability, I have noticed three common things that every successful self-advocate has done to achieve the best outcomes. More often than not, successful self-advocates will develop a vision, acknowledge their obstacles, and utilize their strengths.

Develop a Vision

We cannot advocate for something if we don’t know what we are trying to accomplish. Although it sounds simple, in my experience, many people have shown a great deal of excitement to dive into a conference room meeting or make an immediate phone call without preparing for the questions they may receive on the other end of the communication. Many people are quick to advocate, but without developing a full vision for what exactly you are aiming to accomplish, many people fall short in the advocacy process.

So before jumping into self-advocacy at full speed, take some time to develop your plan. This means having a clear understanding of your objective and \having a clear rationale for why it is imperative to achieve your objective. When self-advocates have a focused vision for what they need, why they need it, why it is imperative for their accessibility, safety, quality of life, or fair treatment, they are usually more successful in accomplishing their goals.

To develop a vision, you may want to use a variety of different strategies, such as journaling some thoughts down on paper, creating a vision board with pictures of your goals, working with a professional, or talking with family and friends who know you best, among many other ways to flesh out your ideas.

Acknowledge Obstacles

Through the entire process of self-advocacy, it is critical to acknowledge obstacles. This means we must have honest, open conversations about the things that are standing in our way. When we are blinded to the obstacles we face, overcoming them becomes significantly more difficult.

For many people, acknowledging the limitations caused by a disability can be difficult and may elicit feelings of sadness, anger, or confusion. Many people shy away from openly discussing disability limitations because it can be emotionally draining. We may find ourselves wanting to sugarcoat disability limitations or put a positive spin on circumstances – this is especially true when discussing limitations with children with disabilities. However, we must recognize that ignoring our disability-related obstacles doesn’t make them go away, just like ignoring our emotions doesn’t make them go away.

As a therapist and disability advocate, I help people understand that openly acknowledging our feelings allows us to have more control over them. In the same vein, acknowledging our disability-related obstacles helps us take control over those obstacles, explore them fully, understand them inside and out, and come up with concrete ways to work around them so that we can accomplish our goals.

Utilize Strengths

Finally, strong self-advocates always utilize their strengths. Remember that you are a person that has unique strengths that can help you succeed. Regardless of any disability, every single person has inner strengths and resources that can be used to your advantage.

Sometimes it might feel challenging to know what your strengths are – especially for children, teens, or young adults. If you’re struggling to identify your strengths, you may find it to be helpful to talk with your family and friends, to reflect on feedback from a teacher or mentor, or to work with a professional to help you discover new things about yourself. By engaging in meaningful reflection, you might realize that you have strong writing or speaking skills. Or maybe you excel at adapting to situations. You may discover you’re excellent at relating to people, and you can de-escalate conflicts when they arise. Another example might be that you discover strong skills in bringing people together, spreading the word, and organizing people within a community to fight for something you need – this can go a long way in your efforts to self-advocate.

There are numerous strengths among people with disabilities, and the list goes on and on. No matter what strengths you have, you can find ways to bring them into the picture when becoming a powerful self-advocate.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.