As students get older they begin to assume greater responsibility for planning their future and identifying the goals and needs they have for a satisfying and fulfilling life. Developing self-determination and self-advocacy skills can help students speak up for themselves, ask for what they need and want and participate in making their own life decisions. Self-advocacy is the act of understanding one’s disability, being aware of the strengths and weaknesses resulting from the disability and being able to express the need for accommodations. Self-advocacy includes the attitudes and abilities required to act with agency and make choices and decisions regarding one’s own actions free from external influence or interference. It is the ability of an individual to set goals that are important to him or her and having the skills to achieve those goals. Self-advocacy also includes an understanding of one’s rights, the rights of their group and to a certain extent the ability to stand up for those rights, both individually and/or collectively.
Youth and young adults can use self-advocacy skills to live independently, pursue the goals and activities they like, find a job in the career field of their interest, have healthy relationships, speak on their own behalf in their relationships, manage their money and get services and supports they need. Students can also use self-advocacy skills to speak out on behalf of themselves and their peers to friends, family and their community. Youth can also play an important role in public policy, by speaking with policymakers and leaders regarding their needs and desires and by discussing the supports they may be missing in their current environments.
What is Legislative Advocacy?
- Legislative advocacy is being able to communicate about the importance of a policy issue or law to people who are in a position to change it.
- Individuals and families should use self-advocacy in communicating with their local and state level policymakers to express needs, goals or shortcomings they are experiencing in the transition process
- Identify your representatives. Look at the map below or visit openstates.org and search by your home address to identify your legislators.
- Mayors, city council members and school board members can be found on your city’s website.
- State senators and representatives can be found on the map below.
- National representatives can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate websites.
- Find your representatives’ local offices.
- Develop your outreach plan using the National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth’s Legislative Advocacy Guide.
- Visit, schedule meetings and talk to your representative about the issues you find important.
- Develop relationships with your representatives and their staff.
- Engage with local advocacy groups.
No internship opportunities for students with disabilities? Talk to your state senator about helping your state become a model employer for individuals with disabilities. If your polling location is not accessible, you can encourage changes under the requirements of the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA). These are just a few examples of how advocacy can work at the local, state and national levels.
Locate Your State Representative/Senator
Click a state to find your states, representatives, and senators.
See below for an alternate view.
United States House of Representatives
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