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A female youth works with a mental health professional.

Youth in Action! – Becoming a Stronger Self-Advocate

March 16, 2012 Publication
Tip Sheets

Do you ever…

  • Ask a teacher to explain something you don’t understand?
  • Talk with adults about giving you more freedom and responsibility?

If so, you’re already on your way to becoming a stronger self-advocate!

Tip: If you come across an unfamiliar word as you read this, don’t just skip over it, look it up! This will help you get the information you need AND build a strong vocabulary.

What Is a Self-Advocate?

A self-advocate is someone who speaks up for themselves. Self-advocates ask for what they need and want, and try to have as much of a say as possible in making their own life decisions.

Why Should I Become a Self-Advocate?

Until now, adults have made most of the decisions about your life for you. However, now that you are becoming an adult yourself, you should have a say in what you do, in what you want, and in where you are going. Being able to make your own decisions is important because it allows you to:

  • Live as independently as possible
  • Do the things you like
  • Pursue goals after high school
  • Get a job in the career field you want
  • Have healthy relationships
  • Control your own body and health
  • Manage your own money
  • Get the services and supports you need

Being a self-advocate is especially important if you have a disability, because you need to:

  • Understand your rights in different education settings and the workplace
  • Know how and when to ask for accommodations to do your best
  • Know how to navigate the community and access the services and supports you need
  • Advocate for friends and family members who also have disabilities

4 Steps for Becoming a Stronger Self-Advocate!

1. Get to know yourself. It helps to start by figuring out:

  • The self-advocacy skills you have, and the ones you need to work on
  • The areas of your life in which you are a strong self-advocate (ex: school, friendships)
  • The areas in which you want to speak up more and play a bigger role in decision-making

Am I Learning to Lead is a tool that can help you to do a self-assessment in the areas of learning, connecting, thriving, working, and leading.

2. Learn your rights and responsibilities.

After you decide the specific areas you want to become a stronger self-advocate in, it’s important to learn what your legal rights are in those areas, and how to responsibly advocate for those rights. For example:

  • If you have a disability, you have the right to reasonable accommodations at school and work
  • It is your responsibility to know what a reasonable accommodation is, and how to ask for one

To learn more about your rights if you have a disability, check out:

3. Speak up!

Once you know what areas you want to be a stronger self-advocate in and what your rights and responsibilities are, it’s time to start speaking up for what you need and what you want. You can start doing this by:

  • Sharing your thoughts and opinions in class, at the dinner table, at your place of worship, etc.
  • Asking questions if you don’t understand something your teacher, advisor or your doctor says
  • Talking with adults and your friends about planning your classes, activities and life after graduation
  • Standing up for your rights if you think they’re being violated
  • When appropriate, asking for accommodations at school or at work

4. Team up!

Being a strong self-advocate doesn’t mean doing everything on your own. There is strength in numbers, and most famous self-advocates, like Martin Luther King Jr. worked with others to achieve common goals.

Think about building a team of people who know you well whom you can trust to help you become a strong self-advocate. Some of these people could be:

  • Friends and older students you admire
  • Teachers, principals, and academic advisors
  • Coaches, religious leaders, counselors, and nurses who you have worked with
  • Family members who want you to be as independent as possible

You can also learn about disability history and how people teamed up to speak up for themselves:

Things to Think About

You have the power! Being a self-advocate is rarely easy, but never forget that you deserve the life you want and you have the power to make it happen. Most importantly never, EVER give up.

Balance. Being a strong self-advocate is all about balancing assertiveness and respectfulness. You have a right to speak up for what you want and need, but others are more likely to listen and work with you if you approach them as partners, not enemies.

Practice makes it easier. If you get nervous, and worry that your words won’t come out right when you have to speak up for yourself, try practicing what you will say ahead of time. Writing down what you want to say, or talking it through with a friend can help you feel more confident.

It takes time. Don’t think that you are not a strong self-advocate if you run into obstacles, or have some days when you just don’t feel like advocating. Like any other new skill, learning how to effectively gain control over your own life doesn’t happen overnight.!

Taking Action!

Now that you know:

  • What a self-advocate is,
  • Why it’s important to be one, and
  • How you can become one…

…Start becoming a stronger self-advocate today!

© 2023 NCWD/Youth