While brain injury associations and other groups work to advocate at the municipal, provincial and federal level, it is important the voices and needs of those living with the effects of acquired brain injury are heard. Individuals with acquired brain injury often need to become an advocate for themselves to communities, organizations, and governments. Self-advocacy is an important part of making sure you – and other individuals with brain injury – have the resources to meet your needs and are not discriminated against because of impairments or disability.

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There are many ways to become an effective self-advocate, and anyone can do it.  Before you start, clearly identify the issue you want to address. Examples include:

  • Discrimination
  • Employment
  • Health care needs
  • Housing needs
  • More services and supports

It’s important to educate yourself on the issue and the specific challenges your facing. Understanding your rights related to the issue will help you be a strong self-advocate. Once you understand your rights and identify the issue, you’re ready to create a self-advocacy plan.

Creating a strategic self-advocacy plan

A self-advocacy plan will help you stay organized and keep track of progress you make. Some tips for creating a strategic plan include:

Asking for support from friends and family

Just because your self-advocating doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. The support of family and friends can go a long way. They can help by making calls, contributing advocacy ideas, and giving feedback.

Expressing yourself in a clear, calm manner

Talking about the challenges you face can be overwhelming. It can also make some people feel anger or frustration. Advocacy is difficult, which can also lead to frustration. But if you’re communicating using angry words or a frustrated tone of voice, you won’t be as effective as a self-advocate. Practice what you’re going to say to whomever you’re speaking to and ask someone to listen and provide feedback. Remember, try not to take the feedback personally. If you’re sending a letter or email, ask someone to read it for you before you send it. If you don’t have someone to read it, you can use spell check on your computer to make sure all the spelling and grammar is correct.

Identify who you need to contact about the issue

You need to advocate to the right people. This could include:

Take notes and keep good records

The best way to track your progress and the responses you receive is to keep accurate records. You can do this by:

  • Save all emails and letters on your computer or in a file folder
  • Taking notes as you speak
  • Use the voice recorder on your phone when speaking with someone in person. There are even ways to record phone calls on smart phones. Just make sure that you tell the person the call is being recorded for accurate record keeping

The last part of a strong self-advocacy plan is to believe in yourself and what you are doing. Self-advocacy takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged by the answers you get, and most importantly, don’t give up!