Personal responsibility and self-advocacy

I receive a lot of requests from people with disabilities for free help with advocacy problems. Because I have a day job and only so much energy, I have to turn down most of these requests.

Some of the people who ask for the help of an advocate really don’t need one. Their issues can result from one of two situations:

1. There are ways for them to self advocate with a referral to information or
2. They are not taking personal responsibility for some of their choices which has resulted in the situation created.

The first situation is easy to deal with. I can give them a direction to go in and most people are able and willing to help themselves. But the second group of folks is very hard to deal with.

They simply do not recognize that their problems are of their own making. These are the people who , even if I took their cases on, would probably not cooperate with me when I tried to help them out. If I asked for information, they would fail to document things or accurately report things. If I needed a paper signed they would lose it. If I suggested they talk or not talk to someone about the case, they would call me a week later and mention that they had to go against my advice and they hoped it didn’t “hurt my case”.

Which, in the end, is why I’ve learned that personal responsibility is key when dealing with advocacy situations. It’s never good to battle against a situation where one person isn’t perceiving things realistically and it’s even worse to do so when that person won’t accept responsibility and help himself.

My Scottish grandmother told me when I was little that when it rained a person who had to go out in it could react in one of two ways: She could complain about the rain or bring an umbrella. Basic personal responsibility runs along the same lines: sometimes you can’t change a situation right then and there and there are always going to be things you can’t control, but you do what you can to help yourself.

I can’t help people who throw up their arms and moan about getting wet. If that’s their choice, no matter how many times I tell them where to buy an umbrella, how to open an umbrella or even if I lend them an umbrella , I can’t make them use it.

I believe in the end that people with disabilities all have to do some self advocacy. Checking to make sure that we’ve acted in a responsible way before we lament about the rain is the best advice I can give to anyone as a starting point.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

2 responses to “Personal responsibility and self-advocacy

  1. retiredwaif

    I always enjoy your posts. I’m wondering something after reading this one, though, namely:

    In your opinion, does the responsibility for self-advocacy trump the right to privacy (by which I’m not really talking legalese “right to privacy” but more the individual’s comfort level with having to parade his or her disabilities in front of various judges in order to receive a reasonable accomodation)? I mention in a recent post on my blog that I’d like to just be able to say “fine” when professors at my school ask how I’m feeling, rather than have to catalogue the entire MS horrorshow–I do find, however, that when I’m reticent people are less likely to think I “deserve” the accomodations I ask for, even when properly documented. It’s almost as though there’s a requirement to let the viewer in on the struggle, to show a bit of pain as it were, so that “reasonable accomodation” becomes “helping the poor disabled lady.”

    Some of us with a poor self-advocacy just want to be left alone, but don’t feel we should have to sacrifice all accomodations in order for that to happen. I know that isn’t what you wrote about, but it is a pretty common situation… thoughts?

  2. I always enjoy your thoughtful comments 🙂

    In a situation where you have documented your request for accommodations, you have a right to set a boundary in some of these situations. For example, if a professor is asking questions about how an accommodation is working for you or it’s related to your request or even if you’ve asked for an extension and they are trying to ascertain how your health/energy level is, then their questions are more pertinent. But you’re under no obligation to play the role you describe. There are valid reasons for the response you have of not cataloging the “entire MS horrorshow” – that saps your emotional/physical energy and you’re wise to honor that. The choices we have to make about disclosing facts about our disability to get accommodations – that’s a painful one sometimes. Once people know , we do have to learn skills about setting boundaries – and use them!

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