Independence is being completely in charge of our own lives. The more we can do on our own and be less dependent on others, the less vulnerable we are as adults. Parents eventually pass away which means family members or others may need to care for the person in the family with a disability. Some people need to be more dependent on others, but many times, we are not given or do not take opportunities to become more independent.
Independence means, to the extent possible, independently and with minimum support moving around the community, participating in recreation, managing transportation needs, deciding on living arrangements, facilitating health care, being employed, and more. To become independent, individuals must learn to self-advocate and be self-determined. Self-advocacy falls within self-determination and basically means knowing yourself, what you need for support or accommodations, how to get what you need, who to ask for help, knowing your rights under the law (the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if you have a disability), self-management and taking responsibility for your actions, and being in charge of you. Self-advocacy skills are built over time and take practice and often assistance from others.
Working on self-advocacy skills can start very early in life and requires help initially from parents or caregivers. Parents can raise expectations for their children with disabilities by having them take part in household responsibilities, being actively involved in health care appointments and decisions, volunteering and getting work experiences, participating in and leading individualized education program (IEPs) while in school, and much more. Educators can also promote self-advocacy by keeping expectations high at school by giving choices, presuming competence and capability, and increasing expectations as skills are mastered.
Self-advocacy skills are developed in steps. Start with small steps and add to them to increase skills. For example, if a young child starts by clearing their plate from the dinner table, the next step can be clearing the table of their parents, then other items on the table, then washing a few dishes, and so on. This is where it starts and can lead to greater independence. For more information and tools, see the Self-Advocacy section of the Resources page.
Watch this individual's description of Self-Advocacy and how its impact on her