​Twin Pillars for Success: Disability Self-Advocacy and Self-Awareness

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 20, 2020 # Lifestyle

By guest blogger Lauren Presutti

Will the classroom be accessible for me? Will insurance cover this medical need? How can I plan for barrier-free travel? What should my employer know about my disability?

For many people with disabilities, there are a lot of things we have to figure out. We have come a long way in making the world more accessible, but many people still misunderstand the needs of those with disabilities. As a result, people and families affected by disabilities commonly experience the need to advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy is about communicating our needs to access needed services or accommodations, being able to achieve equal opportunities, having our voice heard, and empowering ourselves to achieve success – rather than settling for less on the sidelines.woman in wheelchair reading

Self-advocacy is a key strategy for people with disabilities to thrive in their success, but there is one other critical skill – self-awareness – that must be paired with self-advocacy for efforts to pay off. Self-awareness is the ability to understand yourself clearly and objectively through internal reflection and acceptance of what makes up your whole self. Self-awareness involves knowing who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you like and dislike, how you communicate best with people, what makes you happy, and so much more – all of these things about yourself tie into your self-awareness.F

Understanding who we are as people, and authentically accepting all parts of what make up our whole integrated selves, is a lifelong process. It is common for teens and young adults to be particularly focused on exploring their identity – but we naturally begin learning about ourselves in childhood and continue learning about ourselves throughout the entire lifespan. It is important to recognize that developing self-awareness is not a time-limited process.

Why is self-awareness critical for self-advocacy?

To be a strong self-advocate, we must clearly articulate our needs to other people. If we approach people to obtain needed services or accommodations but fail to communicate our needs due to a lack of self-awareness effectively, we won’t receive adequate responses. We cannot rely on other sources to predict our needs, whether they are professionals, textbook recommendations, or what others with disabilities say. We can use those resources to help inform our self-awareness, but we ultimately must rely on our own lived experiences and intuition to determine what we need.

Being a strong self-advocate also requires initiative. Self-awareness helps us determine how we can most effectively take the initiative. Do you have strong writing skills, or are you better at verbalizing information? Do you like having one-on-one meetings, or would you prefer setting up group meetings? How do you like to organize information? Being self-aware about these preferences can help you strengthen your self-advocacy skills because it positions you in the driver’s seat. You get to decide how to use your strengths and preferences to your advantage when self-advocating.

Self-awareness is also directly paired with self-advocacy when planning future goals. Whether during a K-12 school IEP meeting, during a college advising session, or a yearly review with a supervisor, people with disabilities are planning for their futures just like any other non-disabled person. The difference is that people with disabilities may have certain disability-related considerations to factor into their plans. If disability-related needs are ignored when creating future goals – whether due to a lack of self-awareness, denial, misinformed guidance, or other information gaps – there are bound to be significant barriers ahead. In contrast, being self-aware of one’s disability and how disability-related needs can be met through the planning process will directly contribute to the success of plans.

Building Self-Awareness on Disability Considerations

Ask yourself the following questions to strengthen your self-awareness:

  • What exactly are my disability-related needs?
  • How do my needs change in different settings?
  • What do I need at home? In school? In college? At work? In my community?
  • Will my needs change in the future? In what ways?
  • What resources can I use to have my needs met?
  • How do I advocate about my disability?
  • Have I had experience advocating before? What has been successful?
  • In what ways do I like communicating? What are my strengths?
  • In what ways do I struggle to communicate about my needs?
  • How can I improve or practice articulating my disability-related needs?
  • What does my disability mean to me? How do I identify with a disability?
  • What are my beliefs about inclusion for people with disabilities? What are my values?
  • How do I relate or not relate to stereotypes about people with disabilities?
  • How much or how little does my disability impact who I am as a whole person?

Take some time to reflect on these questions. You may want to try journaling about your answers, or sometimes drawing pictures about your needs can be helpful. What feelings are coming up as you respond to these questions? If you find yourself needing help to do this, or if the process brings up a lot of negative feelings, working with a professional may be a good option for safely exploring these things.

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.