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What is Self-Advocacy?

What is Self-Advocacy?

The term “self-advocacy” emerged from disability spaces. The Oxford English Dictionary defines this term far more succinctly than I could:

Self-advocacy is “the action or policy of representing oneself or advocating one’s own views or interests.

“Self-advocacy” has personal as well as political dimensions. Of course, the two often overlap. Depending on the context, getting your needs met at work may be considered an example of personal self-advocacy. Publishing an opinion piece on an issue connected to your needs or interests may be considered political self-advocacy.

Why is it Important?

1. Others may not be aware of your needs until you express them.

2. Not getting your needs met may negatively influence your health or work performance.

3. Your self-advocacy may benefit others.

Things to Consider

1. There are ethical concerns related to self-advocacy, especially public-facing self-advocacy. The philosopher Linda Alcoff believes that when speaking for ourselves, we inevitably speak for and about others. She believes that this happens even when we do not do so directly, and even when we offer caveats about the limitations of our perspective.

What does Alcoff mean by this? She suggests that when we advocate for our needs, we communicate something about how we live, and thereby communicate something about our (shared) identity. In this way, we add to representations — shared cultural representations and others’ internal representations – of our member groups.

That is to say, the way I represent myself may have implications for how the people who encounter me or my public-facing writing respond to other autistic people. This may not always be a good thing, considering that autistic people have vastly different needs and experiences. My self-advocacy/self-representations may also influence how other autistic people see themselves. In her essay “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Alcoff writes:

“When I speak for myself, I am constructing a possible self, a way of being in the world, and am offering that to others, whether I intend to or not, as one possible way to be.”

All of this is not to say that you should not advocate for yourself, but to say that you should do so thoughtfully.

2. I (Ally), believe that personal self-advocacy should not be considered a replacement for large-scale cultural and systemic change.

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