People with disabilities have been fighting for their right to be heard, both in their own lives as well as in the greater community. This fight continues to this day, and I want to bring their voices and needs to the forefront. Having direct input in one’s life has a clear effect on overall health, wellbeing and quality of life. Learn how you can have an impact on the enhancement of individual lives and the community.
What does being an ally and reducing ableism look like?
Being an ally looks like fighting against bullies, creating awareness, being assertive and getting your point across effectively. It is one way of amplifying community voices. State their case like it is your case.
A disabled substitute teacher says: “It is important to be able to speak up and explain our physical challenges to co-workers and others around us. As a substitute teacher, I just talk to my students and co-workers about my challenges and explain what my life is like as someone who uses crutches. I have found that people are much less likely to have ‘ableist’ opinions if I share my story first.”
Ableism literally kills!
How did we get there and what should reducing ableism look like?
Don’t be a sceptic. Ask questions. Never assume. Think before you speak. Don’t judge by appearance. Be friendly. Get social workers, carers, nurses, doctors and family involved.
Disability Reframed is a collaborative online learning community built out of a need for societal re-education on disability. View its site at http://linktr.ee/disabilityreframed.
Self-advocacy is helping you to speak up for yourself and your rights. Sometimes you just must make them listen! In part, this is about listening to the voices of those with disability and chronic illness because they are the experts of their experiences.
When advocating for yourself, be assertive, be direct, be intentional, be accurate. This is especially important when speaking about your health, emotional or social needs, or your desire to relocate or change your present situation.
Self-advocacy in goal-setting
Effectively address self-advocacy in learning or therapy programmes. Self-advocacy is a learnt skill. However, there are several unintentional ways to discourage advocacy that everyone should be aware of.
Bribing is one way to discourage self-advocacy in childhood. Masking is another way to discourage self-advocacy in adolescents. This can contribute to loss of identity, suicidal thoughts, stress and anxiety.
Hand-controlling techniques? This makes them feel helpless. This raises concerns about consent. Statistics show that people with disabilities are more vulnerable to victimisation than people without disabilities. Self-advocacy is a life-saving skill.
How can we support self-advocacy?
No means no! Respect the “No”. This may also look like someone pulling their hand away, shaking their head, or giving other non-verbal cues. Communication is key. Sign language also works.
Follow their passions using a strengths-based approach. Instead of asking “What's wrong?”, ask “What's working already?”
Make space for them to be a decision-maker.
Set goals related to boundaries and emotional regulation.
Set up meetings for accountability when promises are made. This includes the education system. This includes integration in the mainstream education system instead of special schools.
Special schools have their place in society, but integration is better for the sake of fairness and inclusion. It is all about empowering yourself. I remember as a college student complaining to the directorate of the college about discrimination. The learning support department did not seem very efficient to me. Individual Education Plan meetings can also be a pain. This also encourages disability representation.
Speak with me not for me. Some people think we are irrelevant and treat us as though we are invisible — especially us wheelchair users.
Support self-advocacy for loved ones. Individuals with intellectual disabilities deserve a seat at the table! Just because someone can’t talk does not mean they don’t have anything to say. Freedom of speech or expression should not be a challenge. Advocacy includes speaking up on other people’s behalf. This could also cover unemployment among people with disabilities.
Other tools that may be used to encourage self-advocacy include:
• Behavioural support plans
• Person-centred passports
Services that support you include recruitment policies, inclusive culture and structure of an organisation, and consultation processes with people with disabilities. Even a partnership board co-chaired by someone with a disability can help to change policy.
Seniors and self-advocacy
Encourage seniors to think about their needs and wants to advocate. Seniors can be or feel marginalised. This includes refugees. It raises consciousness and helps to organise seniors and local communities. Goals of advocacy should effect change in attitudes, policies, services and actions. Their needs may include access to healthcare, welfare or they may want to work beyond retirement age or become an entrepreneur. Visit the Charter of Rights for seniors to learn more.
Tips for advocacy
• Be persistent
• Build effective coalitions
Advocacy usually includes petitions, protests, lobbying, placards, propaganda, elections, party politics and pressure groups. Being an advocate makes you an agent for change.
• Daniella-Jade Lowe is a university graduate with a BA degree focused on history and politics from the University of Bradford in England. Journalism and politics are her passion. She had spina bifida and hydrocephalus diagnosed at birth, and as a result uses a wheelchair for mobility. She has represented Bermuda at the London 2012 Paralympic Games as a reporter for Paralympian Jessica Lewis. During the Games, she also assessed the level of wheelchair accessibility