Being a self advocate is a skill that every individual should master. Ultimately, the person who will look out for your interests above anything else is yourself. Learning to become your own advocate might come easily to some people and be challenging for others. So what is Self Advocacy?
What is Self Advocacy?
In the simplest terms, self advocacy definition is:
- asking for what you need while respecting the needs of others
- Identifying your personal goals
- Knowing and understanding your legal rights and responsibilities
- Communicating your knowledge to others
- Knowing how to solve problems and negotiate with others
Effective self advocacy allows you to:
- Confidently make your own choices
- Say no without experiencing feelings of guilt
- Respectfully express your views and opinions during disagreements
When is Self Advocacy Necessary?
Self advocacy is necessary in a number of situations and scenarios. Perhaps the most common and notable is when dealing with medical and health matters, including any disabilities you may have physically, mentally, or cognitively.
For example, a child with dyslexia might need to practice self advocacy at school to communicate to their teacher that they need an alternative method of learning a lesson or extra time or information.
How Can You Become a Strong Self Advocate?
Becoming a strong self advocate is just like any other skill; it must be learned and developed. In order to be able to define yourself as a self advocate, there are a few factors that are essential:
- You must feel and display confidence
- You must believe that you are worth advocating for
- You must be able to make informed decisions about your own well-being
- You must be willing to stand up for yourself and defend your position to others
- You must not be afraid to voice your concerns and ask questions
- You must educate yourself on whatever you are advocating for
Keep in mind that the entire purpose of self advocacy is to make sure that you get what you need from a particular situation. The key to self advocacy is remaining calm, patient, and having a clear vision of what you need the final outcome of any situation or conversation to be.
It is impossible to advocate for yourself when you don’t really know what it is that you ultimately want. While you are practicing and refining your skills, avoid entering into any situation that would call for you to self advocate unless you are prepared and have a goal in mind.
Tips for Starting Out:
Practice deep breathing or other relaxation exercises – Deep breathing allows you to calm yourself down and think more clearly
Think before reacting – As you are about to enter into any situation that requires self advocacy, take a moment to recall whatever prompted you to want to take action. Decide if it is actually a problem you need to address.
Here’s an example of a situation that doesn’t call for self advocacy and one that does.
A.) You are walking down a hallway on your way to a doctors appointment. A man decides to go around you and bumps into you on the way past. Do you confront the man? Normally this type of incident would not require self advocacy. Odds are the man was in a hurry to be somewhere and unintentionally bumped into you.
B.) You have been waiting in your doctor’s office for nearly an hour. You were on time for your appointment, yet you’ve still had to wait an excessive amount of time. If you aren’t called back soon, you will have to leave so that you can get to work on time. What should you do? In this scenario self advocacy is a must! You are entitled to your reserved time with the doctor, and you shouldn’t have to miss another commitment when you have held up your end of the agreement by arriving on time. You should definitely speak to the receptionist or nurse and voice your concerns.
Activities For Practicing Self Advocacy:
- Set personal goals for yourself and formulate action steps to help you attain these goals
- Develop power statements to help you take charge in any situation; these should state what is most important to you. They may also include what you are willing to do to fulfill your need
- Observe situations and interactions around you, learn by watching others as they advocate for themselves
- Keep a journal documenting your experiences. Use these as practice examples where you can evaluate how you handled any given situation, what you did well and what you can improve upon for the next time you must be your own advocate.
- Make a list of your strengths, include all of the items that you are most proud of and that you feel are special about you
- Make a list of your challenges; what can you improve upon? Do you need to be better organized or display more patience? Compile these and then include action steps for how you will work toward making these positive changes.
- Interview people that are highly effective self advocates. Write questions out ahead of time and get their insight on what skills they use for advocacy and how they developed those skills
- Draft practice letters or speeches regarding the subjects you are most likely to need to self advocate for
- Role play with a friend or family member so you can practice verbalizing your needs and expectations
- Practice by yourself, you can verbalize your needs even if no one is there to talk to
- Research books and websites about effective communication so that you can practice your skills and learn methods to help you deliver your message in the best way possible.
Problem solving is also an essential skill for any self advocate. The basics of problem solving start with these five steps:
- Relax – take a deep breath, count to town, get up and stretch your legs, anything that can give you a moment to pause and collect yourself
- Tell yourself something positive – recite an affirmation to yourself “I can do this” or “I’ve solved harder problems that this before.” Give yourself a motivator, “Once I finish this I can go treat myself to a cup of coffee” whatever gives you a little extra momentum to tackle the problem at hand
- Identify the problem – Look at the problem from all sides, determine why it became a problem, what about it is causing the most trouble, and what factors are involved in it
- Think of solutions – brainstorm and come up with different ideas of how you can solve the problem in the most efficient and practical manner possible. Make sure
- Choose the best solution and implement it – determine which of your ideas is the most feasible, easiest to implement, and will be the most effective in solving the problem at hand.
You can search the internet for resources and information on problem solving, helpful keywords include: conflict, resolution, mediation.
If you practice these skills and work to become more aware of your individual needs, strengths and challenges you will be well on your way to attaining your goal of being the most effective self advocate that you can possibly be.
In conclusion, famous people need to work toward self advocacy too, these quotes should inspire you to get started today!
Maya Angelou – “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, and advocate for myself and others like me.”
Coco Chanel – “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Anne Frank – “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Dr. Seuss from “Oh All the Places You’ll Go” “Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”
Learn by example, voice your needs and concerns, and be your own cheerleader. Self advocacy is the only way to ensure that your needs are being considered.