Everyone knows that “adulting” is hard; the good news is that learning to become a self-advocate now makes the transition to adulthood easier and builds key strengths that will help you to be successful as a student, an employee, and in your personal life.

Why is Self-Advocacy Important for Youth with Disabilities?

The truth is that stigma associated with people with disabilities is real and it creates barriers to personal and professional fulfillment. You will face discrimination in your life and may even be dealing with these barriers now. Discrimination and stigma can be present in the home, in the classroom, and in companies across the globe. People with disabilities are often treated with pity, left out, and passed over. As a young person with a disability, you are among one of the most likely groups to be targeted for school bullying in America. According to Autism Speaks, one study shows that 60% of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly, compared to 25% of all students. All of this can be discouraging and difficult to deal with; over the years I have learned that closing your eyes to stigma and discrimination, hoping your parents, teachers or employers will find a solution, or just ignoring it and waiting for a better tomorrow is not the solution. You must find your voice and fight to be heard or things will not change for the better.

Learning to self-advocate will help you to feel empowered to speak out against injustice and have the confidence to overcome the obstacles you will encounter throughout your life, due to stigma and discrimination. By challenging yourself to be a self-advocate you will also gain key life skills, such as reliability, initiative, and leadership skills, that will make the transition to ‘adulting’ easier and will improve your life now.

Take the Bender Self-Advocacy Challenge in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Join the Bender Lead On Team on Facebook.

Taking the first step is the easiest thing you can do and the hardest step to take.

The Bender Lead On Team allows you to connect with other young people with disabilities, disability advocates, and business leaders. Talk to others about the barriers you face in your life and support others who are facing similar issues.

You can be a self-advocate no matter how young, or old you are. So many young people tell me they want to make a difference but think they can’t do that until they are adults. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my life and the lives of others are the young people I have mentored through our Bender Leadership Academy.

Joining the Bender Lead On Team gives you a platform to talk about self-advocacy, ask for advice and share what has worked for you.

Step 2: Post three things you like about yourself.

Treat yourself with generosity of thought.

One of the things people struggle with the most when self-advocating is feeling as if they don’t deserve to be heard, or if their needs are a burden on others. It is important to remember what is good about you.

If someone is bullying you, there is nothing you did to warrant them behaving in this manner. Their inappropriate behavior is not about you; it is about them doing the wrong thing. Believing people who tell you that you are less is punishing yourself for something you did not do and giving away your power to people who do not have your best interests at heart.

The same thing is true of teachers who do not provide accommodations in the classroom; you deserve to be educated and there are rules and laws in place that your teacher and school need to follow. Your disability does not make you a bad student and providing accommodations is not a hardship.

By saying something positive about yourself, you are reminding yourself that you are deserving of being treated the same as everybody else. Never forget that you are not less; knowing your self-worth is the foundation of being a successful self-advocate.

Step 3: Tell us what you did this month to take control.

You can’t control others, but you can take control of you.

Taking control is the cornerstone of self-advocacy and independence. Many people think that control is all or nothing, but this is not true. There will always be things that are out of your control. Sometimes those things are environmental, such as the weather. Other times those things are people, such as parents or classmates. But, no matter what others do, you have control over your actions and reactions.

For example, you can’t control the weather, but you can look online at the weather forecast and know if you should wear shorts or mittens. The same is true when dealing with people. You can’t control if your teacher will give you a big project to do, but you can control when you start that project. You decide if you are going to spend a month complaining about the assignment and delaying action needed to get it done, or if you get started right away and work your hardest to get a good grade. You may not be able to convince your parents to extend your curfew, but you can control if you get home on time or late.

The thing about control is that the more you take control over your own actions and reactions in a positive way, the more control that adults will give you to make decisions for yourself. Start small and work your way up. That could mean setting your own alarm and getting ready for school without relying on your parents to tell you to get up, blocking someone from bullying you on social media, asking for tutoring or assistance with a tough project at school so that you can get the best grade possible, or simply not allowing someone else’s actions to cause you to behave in a negative manner.

Keep us up to date on Facebook about the steps you are taking and the changes you notice – remember, changes won’t happen overnight. You need to take control with consistency to see real change.

Step 4: Change one no to a yes.

Success is found when failure is ignored.

Self-advocacy requires commitment. You have to break through barriers rooted in stigma and discrimination, which often means revisiting the same item more than once until the issue is resolved. If you believe something is right, you can’t let go of that conviction just because one person told you no. You must take steps after that first negative response to find success; you can’t give up easily.

Being a strong self-advocate does not mean that you cannot ask others for help. People make this mistake often and miss out on opportunities to make a difference because they are afraid to ask for help or embarrassed that they need help. Sometimes you can resolve things on your own by learning more about the issue and becoming educated so that you have all the facts, then going back to the person who told you no; other times you may need to get help from somebody else who has your best interests at heart, like your parents or someone at your school to help the person to understand or by gaining the services of an expert in that area.

Share with fellow Bender Lead On Team members what obstacles you are encountering, get advice and keep working to ensure that ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes.’

Step 5: Name one thing Justin Dart did to help people with disabilities.

“The revolution of empowerment will go on.” – Justin Dart

One of the best ways to become a self-advocate is to learn lessons from those who have come before us in the fight for disability civil rights. The Bender Lead On Team is named for Justin Dart, the father of the disability rights movement in America. To finish this challenge post about one thing that Justin Dart did to help advocate for the disability community.

I look forward to congratulating all of you who complete the Bender Self-Advocacy Challenge.

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