Self-Advocacy, Best Buddies, and You!
The following was written by Lindsey Eaton, a senior at Chaparral High School who serves as a YLC member on the Friendship Walks committee:
As a person who is getting ready to transition out of high school on May 22, 2014, I have a very important topic to share with you. It’s self-advocacy: why it’s important, what Best Buddies does to help you become a self-advocate, and what life will be like right after school. What captivated this blog post idea was a guest speaker, named Ms. Leanne from Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) who came to speak to my class about self-advocacy. As she spoke, I sat there thinking to myself “Who can I tell what I just learned” and the YLC blog audience came to mind since you all need to advocate for yourselves at one point or another.
The definition of self-advocacy is the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests. People with disabilities, like autism and Down Syndrome, and those without disabilities have to advocate for themselves every day at school and work. I can personally say I used to struggle with advocating for myself when I transitioned to Chaparral High School as a freshman. Nowadays, I do nearly 100% of the advocating on my own, whether it’s e-mailing my teachers if I will miss school and want to know what I’m missing assignment wise or if I need help on a test. I’ve even convinced my mom to allow me to email my teachers about things she would have to since it shows them that I can advocate for myself independently.
Self-advocacy is important for everyone in society since it helps them stand up for themselves and gain the independence they need to navigate the real-world situations that await them like a full-time job or taking part in community college classes. Best Buddies helps prepare people with and without disabilities to become self-advocates in their schools and communities through their 8 formal programs- Best Buddies Middle Schools, Best Buddies High Schools, Best Buddies Colleges, Best Buddies Promoters Best Buddies Ambassadors, Best Buddies Citizens and eBuddies. Through being leaders in Best Buddies chapters, students with and without IDD learn how to be effective members of society and how to knock down negative stereotypes that people place in front of them. Recently, I was chosen to speak during Chaparral High School’s commencement ceremony as a result of my efforts to advocate for students in our Life Skills Center (LSC) special education program. My teachers remember how shy I used to be and now they have a hard time believing I advocate for my peers everyday as a peer leader in a Life Skills class.
As you can imagine, like any parents who have a son or daughter graduating from high school, my parents are both nervous about what my life will be like after high school graduation since I’ve had so many amazing times and experiences at Chaparral High School! They are helping me pursue every opportunity possible whether it’s Project SEARCH or Vocational Rehabilitation- my parents are helping me prepare for the future.
4 tips for becoming an effective self-advocate
1. Know what you’re concerned about and THINK about who and how to express your concern
In order to advocate for yourself. you must first know what you want to advocate for yourself about and who to express your concern too. Do you have a supportive teacher who allows you to talk to them without getting frustrated? If you have a supportive teacher, talk to him or her about your concern. Once you think about whom to express your concern to, assess how you’re going to say your concern to the teacher in a polite way.
2. If you are have a disability, know your disability and accommodations!
Do you wear glasses? Do you need to sit up front at a desk in a classroom? Do you need to use a computer to type your work? Do you need extended time to complete tests? Those are all types of accommodations that people with disabilities might have to utilize! Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) contain accommodations that students use, so it’s VERY important that parents keep IEPs around the house in a folder in case their son or daughter needs them for anything.
Even though parents know what disability their child has been diagnosed with, it’s extremely important that people know what their disability is so their children can stand up for themselves. Autism is the most prominent disability right now since more and more individuals keep being diagnosed with autism. As my teacher, Mrs. Meyer has shared multiple times: we’re all different. It’d be boring if there multiple clones of us walking around Chaparral and in the world. We all have some sort of disability.
3. If you are on the job and you can’t do one task in particular, tell your boss
Bosses would rather have an employee tell them that there is something in a job description that they can’t complete early on rather than giving the employee the job and having them sit around and not do it and potentially lose their job. If you know you can’t lift 20 pounds of paper, tell your boss.
4. Know there are organizations like Best Buddies and the Council for Exceptional Children and other disability organizations out there to help you out.
There are multiple organizations to tap into for self-advocacy resources. A few include the Council for Exceptional Children, Autism Speaks and Best Buddies! The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is a professional association that aims to improve the educational success of children and youth with disabilities, while Best Buddies aims to pair people with disabilities in one-to-one friendships with their peers without disabilities. Both organizations aim to create advocacy for people with disabilities and to make a world a better place for them. Best Buddies and the CEC both host conferences. This summer, their conferences are weeks apart from each other but in different parts of the world. Best Buddies’ conference is in Bloomington, Indiana while CEC’s professional development trip is in Braga, Portugal.
CEC: July 14-18
Best Buddies: July 25-28