The Path To Self-Advocacy
Jane's story about how she learned to speak up and advocate for herself.
Jane Britt is currently working at Blind Citizens Australia in the role of Policy Officer. Jane has previously worked in the role of Business Transformation Graduate at Vision Australia. Jane completed her Honours in Psychology at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2014, with previous study in psychology at the ANU and the University of Queensland. She was also a student at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, majoring in Classical Piano.
Self-advocacy was not necessarily a tool I was equipped with from the beginning of my education. During my earlier years of Primary and Secondary schooling, my parents and external advocates where heavily involved in discussions with classroom teachers.
My voice began to be included in late in my schooling when I began to articulate my needs to Disability Support Staff who would translate the information to my teachers.
True self-advocacy however, did not emerge for me until I started University, where I quickly learnt that the fastest path to having my needs met was through directly articulating my disabilities.
I would discuss my requirements with course lecturers and tutors after liaising with Student Services to build a plan for reasonable adjustments I could ask for to meet my needs. Reasonable adjustments are made when a student is disadvantaged by the course requirements in some way and need to have adequate alternate provisions put in place for them to complete coursework. For example, I have vision loss so I need print material to be produced with a font size of 16 or greater to enable me to be able to independently read the material.
Throughout my time at university, I would met with my Disability Advisors regularly to talk about whether my reasonable adjustments for coursework and examinations were adequately meeting my needs or whether they needed altering and sometimes they did. For example, the contrast and text size on online resources often need to be changed so that I could read them.
I would always be proactive in taking up my concerns with lecturers or tutors where my required accommodations were not being met. These discussions would either take place via email, face-to-face or a combination of both methods.
If I had to commit to a face-to-face meeting where I was nervous about presenting my case, I would take along a support person to bolster my confidence in articulating my needs.
During my postgraduate education, I was involved in writing a self-advocacy toolkit for education with Vision Australia. Some of the key lessons I took away from this experience included:
- Being aware of the basic principles of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and your rights because of it.
- Find out early about how reasonable adjustments are implemented at your study institution and be organised in following up to set up your adjustments for classes and exams.
- Document everything you do, dates you spoke to people, emails (if you sent any) or details of conversations you had and who you spoke to, in case you need to refer to it later on if something does not go to plan.
- If you have meetings, ask to bring along a support person for yourself.
I would say that overall you will learn as you go how self-advocacy works for yourself. Be courageous in stepping up and speaking up for yourself, even if you feel nervous doing it. Always remember, if you want a support person there, always take them along, and ask your peers and friends for support too.