When I was sent away to a private institution, I didn’t know how to speak up to my parents, or other people for what I wanted to do in my life. I just did what my mom and dad told me to. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I kept on saying, to my friends, “Well, my parents are the boss, and I need to listen to them.” Until one day, I got really upset about where I was living. I got frustrated, so I asked my friend if she could talk to my parents for me. She told me, “no.” We were in a parking lot, and I cried, “You are my counselor, it’s your job to help me, why can’t you?” She said, “It’s not my life, you are the one who doesn’t like living here, so you should tell them that.” However she did say, “I’ll help you, but you are the one who needs to do the talking.” I remember getting upset and running around like a kid. I felt like my friend wasn’t helping.
After thinking about it and calming down, I thought that I should listen to my friend’s advice. So, I asked my friend if she could help me learn how to stand up for my rights. She told me about a group called, “People First”. I had no idea what she was talking about. Matter of fact, I thought it was a political group. I told her, “how can a political group help me stand up to my parents?” She told me, “it’s not a political group, rather, it’s a self- advocacy group.” So we went to the meeting together. I was very scared and nervous, however soon I learned that there was nothing to be afraid of because guess what, I learned that my friend was right. It is my life, and I should be the one who’s speaking for myself. Today, I know she gave me the “greatest gift” that day when she refused to speak for me.
Another friend asked me one day, why are you using “self” in the term self -advocacy if you are advocating for others? For a couple of years, I have thought a lot about that discussion. So I looked up the word “self” in the dictionary, it says, a person or thing referred to with respect to complete individuality: one’s own self.
That got me thinking, am I a self-advocate or an advocate? Well, I can be both. So when I say “self” advocate, I talk to my family or my friends or even my colleagues about what I need or want. For example, when I talk to my husband about what I want for dinner or even to my colleagues what I need or want in my job. I think everyone is a self-advocate for themselves, whether they have a disability or not because we as U.S. citizens have rights and we want to advocate for ourselves. But, I am also an advocate when I advocate for my friends, and others at a meeting or an event.
When I hear people saying “those self- advocates.” I wonder if they are using a nicer word than the “R” word. Or are they really talking about a group of people who speak for themselves and others.
The bottom line is I am tired of being treated special, therefore I don’t want a different title than my colleagues. I want to be the same. I am Liz Weintraub, Senior Advocacy Specialist.