Self-Advocacy – A Journey Through Life

by Tayler Sykora

“Self-advocacy is about speaking up for myself and helping others speak up for themselves,” says Katie McDermott, a passionate self-advocate, active member of several self-advocacy groups and organizations in the twin cities area (including Advocating Change Together, Self-Advocates Minnesota, and Shooting Stars), and renowned community leader, “And more than that, it is a journey through life”.

Too often, people forget how truly special they are. They forget how much they have to offer and all the stories they have to share, and questioning their own worth, they hide their greatness from the rest of the world, but by becoming a self-advocate, an individual is able to overcome their self-doubt and show the world to all they are capable of. Self-advocacy is a journey that allows individuals to reach the peak of their potential, and with every step they take, they leave behind a lasting imprint of who they are and all they have done.

Paving a Personalized Path

Like all great expeditions, the journey to becoming a self-advocate begins with a single step. However, instead taking a step forward, self-advocacy encourages individuals to begin their journey by taking a leap inward. By first exploring themselves and the things that are important to them, the individual is supplied with a better understanding of who they are and what their purpose is as well as being equipped with the confidence, the courage, and the determination they need to complete their journey. With these tools, the individual can begin to establish goals and develop a personalized path for themselves by which these goals can be reached – a route that best suits their personality, needs, and desires – and at a pace that is comfortable for them. “Before self-advocacy, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, but it has since given me a new meaning to life,” says Katie, “Self-advocacy has gotten me through many struggles and has made me who I am today”.

By taking this first step, Katie and so many others like her, were able to fully realize their potential and the differences they could make in their own lives as well as their community by becoming a self-advocate and sharing their experiences with others. This empowering journey of self-advocacy is also one of self-discovery and helps individuals to see themselves from a more positive perspective in which they are witness to their own potential, to see themselves for all that they are and all they are capable of. Self-advocacy provides individuals with a clearer sense of their own abilities and strengths, and helps to achieve a healthy self-esteem that, in turn, helps them to seize the opportunities that await them on their journey – opportunities to get involved in their community, to offer support to others in similar situations, and to be all that they can be. With their passion as their vehicle and their heart as their compass, the possibilities are boundless; there are no limits to the roads they will travel, the places they will go, or the trails they will leave behind.

Setting the Stones for Success

With a destination in mind and a map in hand, the next step on the journey towards self-advocacy is to venture outwards, to begin laying the foundation for a path that will lead to better life not only for oneself, but for others who follow. With every action taken – every moment of courage, every thought shared, every word spoken – another stone is laid before their feet, paving the way to opportunity and self-fulfillment. By getting involved and actively engaging in public conversation, an individual is able to increase awareness, create change in the community, and break down any barriers that may be blocking their path.

Self-advocacy provides individuals with the confidence and the courage to continue their journey and overcome the obstacles in their life, including: limited access to resources, how others see them, or even how they see themselves. Rather than allowing these obstacles to determine how they will live and where they will go, self-advocacy encourages individuals to become actively involved in the construction of their own path by speaking out on topics that are important to them, serving and sharing their opinion on boards and committees, and making presentations at workshops and conferences – each action a stepping stone on a path to a better, more independent life. These actions pave the way for numerous opportunities for not only the individual, but for those who follow, including: career opportunities, access to resources, and an overall improvement in wellbeing. “Some people are looking for numbers,” says Katie, “I am just looking for peace”.

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

In addition to helping individuals create their own personalized pathway to achieving their goals and aspirations for the future, the actions of a self-advocate also provide millions of others with the inspiration and the incentive to begin their own journey. As a model for their followers and an everyday hero in their community, a self-advocate spreads hope and support and lets others know they are not alone. “My goal as a self-advocate is to make a difference in someone’s life and to give them the courage to speak out for themselves,” says Katie, “I don’t just advocate for myself. I advocate for all of us”.

Self-advocacy brings people together – creating a network of individuals working as one to make a difference in their community. Together, their actions form a strong, concrete pathway bound together with passion and cemented in their devotion. It is these bonds, these relationships, that make the journey, no matter how difficult, possible.

“Self-advocacy has taught me to live for the positive,” says Katie, and by advocating on topics that are important to them, an individual can begin to create a more positive, inclusive community where people of all types are treated with kindness and respect, a community where everyone has a voice, and with that voice, the right to speak up for themselves and others. Through self-advocacy, every individual – no matter their circumstance - has the power to make a difference, and as they journey down their path, they leave behind a set of footprints, each print as unique as the person who left it.

To learn more about self-advocacy and how to get involved, contact: Katie McDermott at katiemariemcd@gmail.com

For more information about self-advocacy groups and organizations near you, visit Self-Advoacy Online.

About the author:  Tayler Sykora is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls majoring in marketing communications with a minor in professional writing. Tayler's articles written for ConnectWC focus on disability-related topics of interest to individuals with special needs, their families and the community.
Email: tayler.sykora@my.uwrf.edu
Phone: 715-338-6150