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4.4. Tips and Strategies for Self-Advocacy
Self-knowledge is the first step towards advocating for your rights. You need to know your strengths, needs, and interests before you can begin to advocate.
Basic tips for self-advocacy:
- Know and understand your rights and responsibilities
- Learn all you can about your disability, needs, strengths, and limitations
- Know what accommodations you need as well as why you need them
- Know how to effectively/assertively communicate your needs and preferences
- Find out who the key people are and how to contact them if necessary
- Be willing to ask questions when something is unclear or you need clarification
Self-advocacy isn't a skill you learn overnight. They are skills that are developed and nurtured over time and with lots of practice. Here are some ideas you can use as you start to develop a solid sense of what it will take to hone your self-advocacy skills and why they are necessary.
- Learn to talk about your military work experiences without acronyms so that others can understand what you did. You will probably need to practice this because it isn't going to be an easy thing to do. Highlight skills that translate to your civilian employer. For example, the planning that goes into a patrol means that you have the capacity to plan ahead, garner necessary logistics and supplies, establish primary and secondary objectives, plan contingencies for when things don't go according to plan, and work through obstacles to get a job done.
- Learn more about your specific disability or injury, how it might impact you at work or at school. Focus on your abilities and the supports and/or accommodations you may need to be as productive as possible.
- Educate yourself on reasonable accommodations and the process for requesting accommodations. Reasonable accommodations often referred to as productivity tools can range from flexible schedules to using technology to help you keep track of appointments, take notes, read, or write.
- Seek out resources. At school, get involved in a student veterans group or create one. Locate the office for disability services and find out what they have to offer. At work, get involved in a veterans/military employee resource group; offer to mentor a newly hired veteran if you have been on the job for a while; help your employer become an active supporter of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
- Research and understand the laws that might impact you as a student or an employee, or those that impact a caregiver in your family. These include: the ADA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act to name a few.
- Don't wait for feedback . . . ask for it. If you are in school and aren't sure about a paper you are writing, make an appointment to meet with the professor. If you are on the job and need to know if you are performing to the expectations of those in charge, ask for a meeting. Be proactive! This means not waiting until things are spiraling out of control before asking for help.
- Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild TBI if not for you, for a fellow veteran. While most veterans are returning from combat and able to reintegrate into society with little trouble, about one-third of the military population is working through some challenges related to stress, depression, and head injury. Recognizing the signs and symptoms in yourself or someone else and knowing where to get help are two pieces of information every veteran should know. Check out About Face, a resource from the National Center on PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/aboutface/ This resource is designed to help you learn about PTSD from veterans who live with it every day and discover how treatment turned their lives around.
- Know where to find the resources you need . . . and/or know who can help you find them. Keep a log of people, places, and resources and share these resources with others.