At some point, everyone has experienced a situation they felt was unfair to them. Maybe you’ve experienced a test that covered material your class didn’t study. Maybe you were scheduled for a shift at your job on a day you told your boss you would be unavailable. Or maybe you experienced something more impactful, such as an invalidation of your identity, or a work or school assignment that was inaccessible to people with your health condition or disability. Whether you are a victim of an innocent mistake, or a significant problem with the culture in your organization, being able to advocate for yourself may be a good step to take to resolve it.
As you saw in the examples above, self-advocacy skills can be applied to a lot of situations you may encounter. But why is it important to advocate for yourself? After all, in a lot of these situations, it may be easier to just let them be. While that may seem like the easiest course of action, in some situations it will not stop the problem and may make it more likely to happen again. By contrast, when you choose to advocate for yourself, you not only make it more likely that the problem will end, you also show that you are assertive and responsible enough to recognize and counteract mistakes.
So when you decide to advocate for yourself, how do you go about it? Before you begin, it’s important to remember to be as respectful as possible throughout the process. While it may be difficult, remaining respectful makes you more likely to be listened to, and more likely to achieve your goal. Begin by making your advocacy attempts simple. For example, if your boss scheduled you for a time they knew you would be unavailable, politely remind them with an Email or text, or find an opportunity to clarify in person. If this doesn’t resolve the problem, or the problem is too significant for this solution, try making your advocacy more official. Reach out to someone who supports you, such as a parent, a trusted teacher at your school, or another supervisor at your work. Let them know what’s going on, what you are doing to stop it, and how you would like them to intervene, if at all. Also seek out the official procedure for handling your problem. Your work or school may have plans in place for investigating problems, and promoting resolutions.
Remember that self-advocacy is always meant to keep your best interests at heart. It is normal to experience some stress or frustration, but if your mental health is being more adversely impacted, it is okay to try advocating for yourself in a different way. If possible, pass the torch to your support network, or rely on the resources your supporters or organizations provide for you. For example, if your school is not providing you with effective accommodations, and your previous efforts have failed, try seeing if a person from your support network can act as your representative, and advocate on your behalf. If you are in a situation that makes advocating for yourself dangerous, do what you have to do to protect yourself. Your safety is your highest priority.
In conclusion, self-advocacy is a valuable tool you can use to solve problems. Advocating for yourself in a respectful manner encourages others to see that you are willing and able to handle problems. Taking advantage of your support network, or the tools provided by your organization, can help with your advocacy efforts. These resources can also help you if advocacy becomes too difficult to continue on your own. No matter how you do it, self-advocacy is a valuable skill that you can use in many areas of your life.