Steps towards self-determination and self-advocacy

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Why should you do this exercise?

Here you can learn: How are my individual assistance needs connected with self-advocacy?

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What can be the role of a Peer-Trainer with intellectual disability?

This exercise a peer supporter should study carefully with the trainer. This will help later on in talks as a peer supporter.

What is the objective of the exercise?

To be able recognizing rights and responsibilities in the context of wishes, individual assistance needs and individual limitations.

To recognize the common ground which is important for acting in concert.
To go the step from „I“ to „we“.
What does that mean: representation of interests?

What is the method to be used?

This exercise consists of thinking, reflecting and developing your ideas together with others. This you can do at best in a small group. But it will work, too, if you are only two.
It is recommended to do this exercise after you did “Know your Rights” (No. 39).
But it will also work the other way round:
You can start with a reflection about: What really does restrict you?
Then you will study your rights.
And then you may turn to the question, how to change something.

So you can start like this:
What really is my disability? Who or what disables me?
What are the evident impairments of my body?
What can be moderated or surmounted with aids (walking-sticks, wheel-chairs, transfer-service, pictures in addition to texts, glasses …)?
Which individual aid and assistance do I need?
Do I get this?
Which limitations do I get by my environment, by other people and institutions?

After discussing such questions often the next step is the step from the „I“ to the „we“.
Which rights do I, do we have in deed?
After that you may think over about ways to a better situation.
Often you can recognize:
There are also other people in a quite similar situation.
These people can unite.
And if you will think further on, you may reach the point:
We as people with disabilities do really have some similar wishes or interests.
Interests are those things you are interested in.
If you have the interest to support your common rights:
Then it will not be enough to know these rights.
Then you should do something.
About that you should talk with others.
There exist circles of people to represent the interests of greater groups of people.
For instance (in Germany) there are Councils in the sheltered workshops and in the homes.
You can go to this councils and tell them your wishes and your interests.
You should do this to get bigger chances of change.
And you can think over with peer supporters,
whether it would be good to join together as a group.
If you join together to get a goal in common,
this would always be more successful instead of trying it alone.

Some ideas
Again and again you can witness this:
People with disabilities are astonished, if they realize which rights they do have.
Often you can hear:
“I did not know that I have the same rights as other people.”

Discuss with your peers:
Why people with disabilities seem to have more rights in the law as in everyday life?
You may imagine that some people say:
Some do not know very much about their rights.
Therefore they cannot really demand them.
Some people without disabilities only think about themselves. They are egoists.
From those you must be able to demand your own rights.

Some institutions for people with disabilities are rather old fashioned,
so that they do not support very well wishes and rights of people with disabilities.
That is one thing.
And this is a different thing:
As a woman or a man with a disability I need help and assistance.
I have to rely on others.
If I get the best assistance, I can do many things I cannot do alone.
On the other hand this is also true:
Everybody has his own limitations.
As a wheel chair user, I would not be able to make a career as a flight captain.
So we can learn:
For all people it is important knowing the own limitations.
Or to learn to know.
Some limitations simply are part of us, of our body and our skills.
But in most skills we are able to extend limitations and so to get more freedom:
At first by learning. Afterwards we know more and have extended skills.
Second by the assistance of people in our environment.
Some kind of handicap this way may disappear.
An example here is the wheel chair ramp.

Third: We can get more freedom if we accept and respect some of our own limits.
That we respect those limitations which are consequences of our disability and which we cannot overcome through learning or with assistance.
Here an example for this:
If I would have the idea to climb up on the Matterhorn and I would have only one leg, it would be more meaningful to look after an alternative and more feasible destination.
For instance I could use a cableway to come on a high mountain and I could enjoy the view.
Or: If I would have a strong metal allergy, it would be good not to work as a motor mechanic.
Or: If I at singing simply cannot hear myself quite good, then it may happen that I sing rather out of tune. Then a chorus will say: May be it would better if you would do something different instead of singing.
So it is good to know: Never all people are able to do everything. It is good to know his own limits boundaries.
Then it is much easier to do what is important:
To recognize which boundaries are unjustified set up by other people,
to overcome them and to enable own free decisions.
As for example house rules which do not respect individual decisions.
Another thought: The boundaries of your own freedom are determined through the fact that the others have the right to be free, too.
Where ever people live together they have to respect each other and to obey the rules of living together.
An example for this: Young people are used to test limits. Therefore they sometimes seem to be ruthless.
Then, sometimes, people get annoyed at those “rowdies”.
Normally this ruthlessness disappears if adolescents become adults. When they learned not only to use their body but also their brain.

Tips for the trainers/additional information

This exercise idea shall inspire to reflect over the things and processes which restrict you.
It is quite possible to conduct such or similar reflection rounds from time to time.
To avoid too long sessions you may discuss this subject in smaller parts, with extending the horizon from session to session.
So within a group you may use ca. 30 – 45 minutes for this once a week.
In this case it is very useful to have fixed the results.
Minutes will help to consolidate the learned things and to remember.