The back-to-school season is in full swing, and with Halloween candy hitting the shelves, I think we need to be blunt about an extremely important subject for everyone — but especially people with a chronic illness: advocacy, particularly self-advocacy. People who live with a chronic illness still want to do all of the things that their able-bodied peers can do, but sometimes we need accommodations. Following are some tips about how to ask for help.
- Know your rights. One of the biggest tools you can armor yourself with is knowledge. Know the law and the services and accommodations you’re eligible to receive.
- Remain confident. Asking for services and resources can be tough. But they are designed to help you excel in your school or place of work, and you deserve to have them! So, speak up and stand firm.
- Find out what your school offers. Every school, regardless of your education level at the time of your reading this, has a system and people in place to meet the needs of students who require accommodations. Go into the office and ask someone about the help they could offer you. Then use it to your advantage.
- Have proof. Sometimes getting accommodations means jumping through hoops and contacting multiple people. Keep a record of who you spoke with and when. Learn this skill as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary gray hair and stress. If you can, whenever you can, send an email or have some kind of documented proof in writing.
- Find support. This can be friends, family, a partner, your pet, clubs at school, a teacher, or a staff member you trust. Gather as much support around you as you can — you never know when you’ll need somebody to lean on.
- Stay calm and consistent. Sometimes you’ll need to repeat your needs over and over again to multiple people while trying to request your accommodations. Stay calm. It can often be hard to remember at the moment, but try to keep a clear head.
- Know yourself. Colorado State University created a self-advocacy handbook for college students with disabilities to help students leaving high school to navigate the college landscape. One of the first things the handbook suggests is knowing yourself. Know your strengths, your challenges, how it all fits into your life right now, and know what you want for your future. Knowledge is powerful; the more you’re open and honest about your needs and wants, the more people will be able to help you turn your dreams into realities.
- Practice. Being a good self-advocate is a skill! Start small. Ask a friend to help you step down a curb when you would normally struggle to do it yourself, or write a note to a teacher about something you didn’t understand in class if you’re too shy to talk to them. Remember that small steps can lead to big things; these are big hurdles you’ve overcome so far!
- Communicate and be proactive. No one can help you if you stay silent and bottle up all your fears and emotions until the last minute. Be open, direct, and honest about your needs in a situation early on — get it out of the way!
- Be positive and don’t give up. Remember that self-advocacy (and advocacy in general) is always a process. You can and will get your needs met, even if it takes time. You deserve to have what you need to thrive in your environment. So keep trying, be positive, and never, ever give up until you get what you need.
You are empowering.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.