“What is Self-Advocacy?” by www.selfadvocacyonline.org at the Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, 2015.

Self-Advocacy is:

A woman outside speaking into a microphone.

A civil rights movement for people with intellectual disabilities

Young man in green shirt holding a microphone.

People speaking-up for what they think is important

A person using a handheld typing device.

Something everyone is capable of

Man kissing a woman on the cheek while she smiles and they link arms.

Making your case and negotiating for what you want

Five friends with their arms around each other.

Realizing you are not alone, joining a self-advocacy group

Man sitting at a keyboard and smiling at the camera.

Knowing your strengths, being proud and feeling strong

Woman writing at a desk and smiling at the camera.

Taking risks, trying new things

A woman reaching for a star above her.

Going after your dreams

A man thinking about his choice with the word bubbles "yes" and "no" above his head.

Making decisions

A woman putting her hand to her face.

Making mistakes and learning from them

A woman working at a restaurant cash register and smiling.

Being part of your community

A woman with her hands together in front of her.

Managing your emotions so others can hear what you have to say

A man smiling and pointing up as if to say, "I've got it!"

Being curious and asking questions

Self-Advocacy is NOT:


A program


People sitting around and complaining


Only for people who can talk.


Keeping everything the same


Keeping to yourself


Putting yourself down


Playing it safe, doing the same stuff


Sleeping through your dreams


Other people making decisions for you


Not taking any chances


Staying home


Staying angry


Being questioned

In the United States, there are more than 1200 local self-advocacy groups. Groups are run by people with intellectual disabilities. People join groups to connect with their peers. Self-advocates give and get advice.  People feel free to say what is on their mind. They feel supported.

“Self-Advocacy” by the National Gateway to Self-Determination, 2011

Just like other civil rights movements, we need allies. In the self-advocacy movement, allies are people without disabilities. Allies take on the beliefs of the self-advocacy movement and support the movement.

History of Self-Advocacy

The beginning of the self-advocacy movement dates back to the 1960’s. Visit Parallels in Time: A History of Developmental Disabilities by the Minnesota Department of Administration Council on Developmental Disabilities to read a timeline of self-advocacy and the people first movements.

Watch the People First film (1976, 34 minutes) published with permission of James Stanfield Film Company. The film shows the first state conference of People First of Oregon. The conference was chaired by Valerie Sharf. The conference is considered the beginning of the self-advocacy movement in the United States.