Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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2 Self-advocacy and getting to know your rights

Exercising your rights is not always easy, especially for people with learning disabilities. This is because information about people’s rights is not always made available to them in ways that are accessible. Sometimes information about rights is deliberately withheld from people to stop them asking difficult questions, or challenging things.

To exercise your rights, two things need to happen:

  • you need to know what your rights are
  • you need to feel confident or empowered to assert your rights.

Having the knowledge and confidence to talk about rights can be difficult for people with learning disabilities. This is where self-advocacy comes in. Self-advocacy is about speaking up for yourself. It is also about people with learning disabilities coming together to have more power and to make changes.

Activity 3 The beginnings of self-advocacy

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch this video to learn more about how self-advocacy started and what it means to people with learning disabilities, then answer the questions below.

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Video 4
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  1. How did UPIAS help sow the seed for self-advocacy?
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Answer

UPIAS said that people were not disabled by their bodies or minds, but by how they were treated by society. They said it was time for disabled people to start talking about what they wanted and needed, and that society needed to listen.

  1. Why was Gary Bourlet so excited about self-advocacy when he visited the People First conference in Washington in 1984?
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Answer

Gary talked about his surprise at how confident people were, how they were speaking out for themselves. He wanted to be like that and was inspired to set up a People First Group in London when he got back.

  1. What were some of the early challenges for self-advocacy?
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Answer

There seemed to be some concern – even from parents – about people speaking up for themselves. Some people suggested that Gary and John’s group was somehow ‘special’ or ‘unusual’ and other people would not be able to do what they were doing.

It took a while for self-advocacy to get off the ground in the UK. But those early sceptics were eventually proved wrong. By the 1990s self-advocacy groups were set up all over the country, in all different types of places, by a range of different people. The numbers and power of self-advocacy groups has ebbed and flowed over the years, often due to policy and funding issues and in recent years many self-advocacy groups in the UK have seen their funding cut.

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