Self-advocacy is an important skill, especially in today’s society, for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to The Arc, a community-based organization focused on advocating for individuals with disabilities, differently-abled people are unjustly denied opportunities to make meaningful contributions to public policy. This is an extremely discouraging reality, and it results in the communities feeling isolated or insecure.
Often, people with disabilities are deemed to not have the social skills to speak up about governmental decisions that directly affect their lives. In response to this injustice, self-advocacy support groups are not only sprouting up across the world, but are growing at great paces to ensure these communities have the resources for their voices to be heard.
According to Self Advocate Net, the first officially-recognized self-advocacy group was formed in Sweden back in 1968. Parents who met to discuss their children’s learning disabilities decided to advocate for changes to the services their children received. Fast forward to 1972 when groups were formed in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States by people with intellectual disabilities to advocate for their own community living. One of the first groups founded in the United States was People First in Portland, Oregon, in which those in the group felt as if their conditions defined them, instead of being defined as human beings.
Self Advocate Net reports, The United Nations elected to give the movement some momentum by declaring 1981 to be the International Year of the Disabled. The British Columbia Association for the Mentally Retarded (BCAMR) provided the advocates with a support system to discuss issues with the government. In the 1980’s, the self-advocates representing British Columbia spoke up about closing the mental institutions in that country. Those forced to reside in the institutions would finally have the freedom to discuss their stories of abuse. It would additionally allow people to be unsegregated from the population and live healthy lives.
In the United States, the self-advocacy movement had become so powerful by 1991 that a new organization was founded called Self Advocates Being Empowered (SABE). This group is nationally recognized and includes both local and state groups within a coalition. Its governing body is comprised of a Steering Committee with 16 representatives of self-advocates from around the United States. According to SABE, this organization has been awarded a grant from the Administration for Community Living to establish its own Self Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC). This makes it easier for S.A.B.E. to provide resources for the other groups it works with to be organized and supportive of each other in their continuing effort for equal rights. SARTAC uses social media to communicate with the communities they support. They create video blogs and webinars to tell the stories of successful people with disabilities; and they are writing a paper about the history of the self-advocacy movement.
The intellectual and developmental disability community has changed from being institutionalized to having organizations to support individuals in advocating for their own rights. Individuals with disabilities of any nature are courageous in the face of a society that has historically disadvantaged them, and self-advocacy is the driving force.
Michael Westwood is a 25 year old college graduate from Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Independent of being a contributor to Step Up, he is looking to pursue a career in professional writing of some type. His hobbies include watching professional wrestling (e.g. WWE and other promotions) and watching select TV sitcoms from today's television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs) and classic programs as well (e.g. Seinfeld, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond). He also has an ongoing online forum designed to inform people about the autism spectrum called "Ask Mike," which is part of an autism awareness group called All 4 Autism, which is based in Florence, South Carolina.