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In a narrow sense, "self-advocacy" refers to the civil rights movement for people with disabilities taking control of their own lives without undue influence or control by others. The movement seeks to reduce the isolation of people with disabilities and give them tools and experience to take greater control over their own lives and make life decisions.

In a broader sense, every time people speak up for themselves to resolve a problem, they are practicing self-advocacy. Individuals know their own situations best—they can often be the best advocates for themselves.

The need for self-advocacy arises in situations like these:

  • People or organizations have an obligation to you that they are not fulfilling.
  • Your rights are being ignored or violated.
  • You have a responsibility that is particularly difficult for you to carry out.
  • You are being misunderstood or are having trouble understanding others.

Self-advocacy includes any verbal or written expression of a problem you are encountering—whether with an individual, an institution or a company—to create interest and action by others to help with a solution. It helps if you can describe the problem clearly and listen to the responses. Speak clearly, especially on the phone. Stick to the facts and be specific. Remain calm and confident. If you don’t understand something about your situation, treatment or options, ask questions. The simple act of asking questions and fully understanding what’s going on is an act of self-advocacy.

Here are some other tips for successful self-advocacy:

  • Set specific goals and stay focused on them.
  • Ask about the policy and procedures for complaint resolution if appropriate. Organizations differ in the way they accept complaints; some accept them only in writing.
  • Keep any relevant records and documents and make notes of phone calls (names, dates, times, and topics). Make sure you are familiar with any information you may have and are prepared before you speak to anyone. If you need help with record keeping, ask for it.
  • If you aren't happy with the response you receive, ask to speak with someone higher up such as a manager or supervisor. If you can’t speak with someone higher up at that time, ask their name, when they will be in the office and if they can return your call. That way you can call back or write a letter if they don’t return your call.
  • Don’t give up. There is usually more than one way to solve a problem. You may have to do some more research or ask someone for some assistance. Maybe some outside agency can help if your issue is not being resolved. If you aren’t told, ask whether there is a third party that might be able to help you.

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