How to Start and Support a Local Self-Advocacy Group

It has been agreed upon by participants at a previous International Self-Advocacy Leadership Conference, that the most important thing to remember when you start a local self-advocacy group is to be sure that the members have control and power right from the beginning.

They decided that control and power mean that the members must be able to decide and determine when and where the group meets, who the advisor is, and what goes on in the meetings. The presenters and participants came up with the following ideas on how to start a local self-advocacy group.

  1. Write to any of the conference co-sponsors who can help you get started.
  2. Get another self-advocacy group in your area to help you get started.
  3. Find an accessible place to meet that is close to the bus lines. Try and find a place to meet that is not where the members live or work.
  4. Talk with your friends about what self-advocacy is and encourage them to meet with your group.
  5. Make sure the day and time you meet is good for everyone. Make sure the day and time you meet is not the same day and time when people are already involved in other things.
  6. Make up a “flyer” or meeting notice and put these up in group homes, workshops and other places. Put the bus number and a picture of how to get to the meeting on the flyer. Put the phone number of someone to call for more information on the flyer.
  7. If your group is going to have an advisor, make sure the members vote to approve the advisor and make sure the advisor knows what they are supposed to do.
  8. Use a film (People First; Board and Care; Feeling Good—Feeling Proud; Rights Now), or a videotape (Speaking for Ourselves; Don’t Think I don’t Think), as a way of introducing self-advocacy to new members. Have people from other self advocacy groups talk about what self-advocacy means to them.
  9. Have refreshments and a “social time” at the end of the meetings.
  10. Don’t elect officers for two or three meetings. This gives everyone a chance to speak and get to know the other members before you vote. When you do elect officers, have the people running for office give a speech and put pictures of the people who are running for office on the ballot box. This makes it easier for people to decide who to vote for.
  11. As a group, make rules for how the group will work. Examples of rules include: Only one person speaks at a time, how to will vote to decide on things, etc. Make sure everyone understands before you vote on things.
  12.  If you want, you can set up an “organizing committee” to get the group going. The organizing committee can be responsible for finding a place to meet, making up meeting notices, calling people to remind them of the meetings, doing refreshments, etc.
  13. Use easy to understand words and pictures during the meetings to make sure everyone understands what is going on.
  14. Set realistic goals for your group. It is important for your group to have success right at the very beginning so everyone will feel good about the group and themselves.
  15. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak and participate during the meeting. It is important to share power so that everyone feels like an important and equal member. Get everyone involved in the group.
  16. Do some fun things together as a group. Make people feel good about coming to the meetings.
  17. Always than everyone for coming to the meeting and make sure they know then the next meeting is before you adjourn the meeting. Hand out calendars so everyone will know when the next meeting is.

References
Norsman, A. (n.d.). Patterns for Participation. Madison, W.I.: Wisconsin Association for Developmental Disabilities.
Reinforce. (Producer) (video-tape) (n.d.) Don’t Think I Don’t Think. Melbourne, Australia.
Rhoades, C. (Producer) (1985). Speaking for Ourselves: A video-tape series on how to start up and run self-advocacy groups for persons with developmental disabilities. Owings Mills, MD: Hallmark Films and Recordings

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