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Welcome to Indiana Disability Rights New Monthly Blog Series!

IDR's Monthly Blog Series is written by our staff and guest writers each month. The blog posts discuss different initiatives, cases, or information related to disability rights.

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Nothing About Us Without Us: What Self-Advocacy Means to Me

  

July 9, 2019

 By Courtney Clark, Self-advocate

When I was 19, I met Betty Williams during a Building Leadership Training Program at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. Betty was leading a session on how to speak up for yourself. She talked about the importance of speaking up for yourself and what you need and want so that others don’t take over your life. She had us create our own megaphones to encourage us to be confident and say what we need. This was my first introduction to self-advocacy.

Betty later called me up and invited me to join Self-Advocates of Indiana. Betty’s message and her leadership helped me become more confident in my ability to speak up for myself and ultimately become a stronger voice for others. She taught me to be a self-advocate.

Self-advocacy is speaking up for what you want and need, standing up for rights, knowing who you are and what you want, taking control of your life, and gathering information so you can make important decisions.

The self-advocacy movement in Indiana started in 1990 when Darcus Nims, a self-advocate from Indianapolis, kicked all of the staff, parents, and drivers out of a meeting so she could talk specifically to the people with disabilities in the room about what they wanted for their lives without the input of everyone else. She encouraged them to go back to their communities and keep meeting and talking about important issues they were facing. This is how the first self-advocacy groups were started and how Self-Advocates of Indiana got its start with Darcus Nims as the very first SAI President.

Learning to be a self-advocate is important for people with disabilities because if decisions about things involving us and our care are being made and we don’t show that we have voices too, our identity will get lost in the shadows.  We are more than a number, we are a face with a name and thoughts, opinions, and goals and we deserve to be treated just like everyone else.

We are the expert in our own lives and our own care. The self-advocacy motto is Nothing About Us Without and means that no decision about my life should be made without me. I’m the one living my life so I know what’s best.

In my everyday life, self-advocacy helps me have more freedom when it comes to making decisions. Self-Advocacy has helped me understand that I have a choice in how I am treated and how I get cared for. It helps me show people what I am capable of. It also means knowing that I can ask for help when I need it.

It’s important that people with disabilities are at the forefront of the disability rights movement. Our voice needs to be heard above everyone else’s. In Self-Advocates of Indiana, we try to empower people to speak up and not be afraid to say what they need. Laws that are being passed have direct impact on our lives. We need self-advocates to share what is important to them, or other people will make those decisions. The decisions might have the wrong impact or even hurt people with disabilities if they aren’t listening to us. Our lives are the ones impacted by the decision’s legislators make.

For example, I use a service dog and a wheelchair, so I need to use my voice to speak about laws or issues that involve accessibility or service dogs.

We need to stay informed about the laws and issues that affect us and take the opportunity to speak to our legislators. They need to hear from us the most.

I am grateful that Betty called me that day 12 years ago, because I don’t know where I would be if she hadn’t called. Becoming a self-advocate has allowed me to speak up for what I want and stand up for my rights and help me raise my voice about issues that are important to me.