As the term pertains to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, self-advocacy inherently calls for people supported through AHRC New York City’s programs to speak up about issues that are important to them. In some cases, to effectively communicate their needs, they may benefit from the organization and mentoring provided by direct support staff members.

On Wednesday, June 13, 2016, AHRC NYC staff from programs across the city gathered at AHRC NYC Headquarters for a Self-Advocacy Advisor Workshop, conducted by Nick Legowski, Self-Advocacy Advisor, Department of Individualized Supports.

This is a very unusual and progressive group,” said Nick, welcoming staff to the meeting. “We are at the cutting edge of everything agencies like ours have been thinking about for decades,” Nick said he has high expectations for what self-advocacy can mean going forward. “We’re going to fulfill the promises of the post-Willowbrook era,” he said.

Modeled on previous staff support/training group sessions, the workshop was a series of brainstorming activities, brief presentations, and open discussions about ways to empower people with disabilities to speak up for the things that matter to them and how to improve self-advocacy groups within individual AHRC NYC program locations. The ensuing discussions that took place allowed staff to engage with peers who could offer new perspectives, as group members rotated from one meeting table to the next to continue their dialogues.

Among the common questions that were brought up were:

– How can self-advocates become more involved in daily program activities?
– What’s the best size for self-advocacy groups?
– How can self-advocacy groups be made more democratic?
– What are some ways to make self-advocates less dependent on staff leaders?
– What are the challenges in supporting self-advocates?

Staff Perspectives

During the discussions, several staff members provided comments about the importance of supporting people with disabilities as they learn to speak for themselves. “My program didn’t have a self-advocacy group. It’s so important for them to have one and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Dante Bolden, Community Support Professional, Brooklyn Day Habilitation.

I’m hoping to motivate our self-advocates to go and speak more often,” said Anganita Odle, Community Support Professional, of the William F. May Day Center, located in the Bronx. “They need the consistency of a constant staff member with them.”

As often as is possible, AHRC NYC programs feature individualized schedules that allow people with disabilities to engage with people in their local communities, preparing them as they learn how to make their own desires known, and as they make choices about how they can become active participants in community activities.  “I’ve been involved in self-advocacy for a while now,” said Juan-Pablo Villa, Community Support Professional, who supports people through a Day Hab Without Walls program in Queens. “It’s a sense of responsibility to continue the mission of self-advocacy for all people.”