Sometimes, parents join with other families to advocate on behalf of their children with disabilities. This may happen through existing disability organizations (such as the Association for Community Living) or may happen more informally as parents decide to act together to achieve their objectives. Group advocacy can be helpful when parents identify that their sons and daughters are facing similar issues or have similar needs to be addressed.
Group advocacy has the advantage of working with others to achieve your goals. Sometimes, having many voices advocating on the same issue can be more effective than advocating by yourself. Group advocacy also allows people to share the workload. As advocacy efforts can take some time, being part of a group can provide you with some much needed support and motivation to continue your efforts.
For people with disabilities, self advocacy involves making decisions for themselves and standing up for their rights. Self advocacy is also about people helping themselves to get what they need and or want. It often very powerful and satisfying when people are able to have their voices heard and accomplish positive change on their own behalf.
As parents you can assist your sons and daughters with disabilities to develop their self advocacy awareness and skills. Click here to review the audio version of this advocacy module that has been designed for people with intellectual and other disabilities. You may want to assist your family member review the information and to go through the short exercises.
One of the best things that you can do for your family member is to encourage them to make decisions. Often, parents of children with disabilities are tempted to make all decisions for their child. Encouraging of the ability to make decisions will mean that your child will have better opportunities, as they grow older. In considering your child’s ability or potential ability to make decisions, remember the following:
- Your child may be able to make more decisions then you presume. Ask yourself how you will help to encourage your child to make his or her own decisions now and in the future. Most people develop their decision-making barriers by making small decisions first.
- People with disabilities sometimes communicate in different ways (for example, sign language, other gestures, picture boards, etc.). Decisions are often expressed in ways people may not understand. Listen to your own child’s choices and help others understand the way in which he or she communicates. The way in which you communicate with your child will be an important lesson for others.
- Making decisions sometimes involves taking risks. Allow your child the chance to make decisions even if some risk is involved.
- It is typical for all of us to ask others for help and opinions when we make decisions. Your child can also benefit from the help and support from other people in the same way.
- Do not expect perfection from your child when he or she is making decisions or choices. We all make mistakes from time to time. Remember, every decision or choice has consequences, some good and some bad. Everyone, whether or not they have a disability, has to learn this.
The NBACL publication, Friendships, Feelings and Futures: Relating to Myself and Otherscontains a module designed to help people with disabilities learn to make decisions. The module is entitled Making Choices for Myself and my Future. Please contact NBACL for further information.
Encouraging the development of self advocacy skills also means that your child will need to practice speaking up for him or herself. This will obviously be more of a challenge if your child does not communicate with words. Your child’s ability to speak for him or herself will be particularly important during times that you and your child are engaged in planning for the future and setting goals. As much as possible, your child should be present and participating in meetings or discussions that involve making decisions or plans about his or her future. In addition, try to use opportunities to encourage your child to speak up for him or herself. There may be many different opportunities for this to happen (for example, while shopping, signing up for or becoming involved in community activities, social gatherings, and so on).