Friday, October 17, 2014

The Power of Self Advocacy

I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.
               - Maya Angelou

Growing up I was taught that I needed to speak up for myself and that if I wanted something I should go after it.  I was always encouraged to speak my mind, to advocate for what I thought was right for myself and for others.  As an adult, I seem to spend the bulk of my waking hours going to bat for my own children or my students.

As educators we know the importance of students advocating for their needs.  We want the student who came to school without their glasses because they broke to ask to sit closer to the board.  We want the student who didn't hear the directions clearly to ask for them to be repeated.  We want the student with a peanut allergy who was mistakenly given trail mix at lunch to return it and ask for an alternative.

According to an information sheet by the Pacer Center, "How You Can Help Your Child Learn to Be a Good Self Advocate", self advocacy means:

taking the responsibility for communicating one’s needs and desires in a
straightforward manner to others. It is a set of skills that includes:
• Speaking up for yourself
• Communicating your strengths, needs and wishes
• Being able to listen to the opinions of others, even when their opinions differ from yours
• Having a sense of self-respect
• Taking responsibility for yourself
• Knowing your rights
• Knowing where to get help or who to go to with a question

For the years that I taught in my own classroom, I instilled these same values of self-advocacy in my students.  For example, when a student wanted to stay after school for a club, he had to ask for an interpreter to be there with him.  When I signed something to the class, but the student was looking the other way, she had to ask for me to repeat it.  When a student decided that she only wanted to talk that day, those students who could not hear had to ask me to interpret it into sign language.  When I forgot to turn on the FM microphone, instead of the student accepting that he couldn't hear me, he had developed the self advocacy skills to speak up and ask me to turn it on.  We would practice these through discussions, role play, and any teachable moment that arose when a student brought up an issue that needed to be solved. 

Since being an itinerant teacher, though, I find that because I am not with my students all day every day, I must directly teach them how to speak up for themselves.  It is imperative that they understand their strengths, needs, and rights in order to be successful in school.   I now include self advocacy goals on IEPs.  Here are a few examples with included objective examples.  The first example is for a younger elementary aged student and the second example for a high school student.

Given information presented orally, student will effectively use her self-advocacy skills to participate in collaborative discussions with peers and adults.
  • When information is presented orally, student will locate the source of the information and face the speaker.
  • When information is presented orally, student will recognize when she missed the information and ask the speaker for repetition or clarification.

Student will use his self advocacy skills to determine his needs for accommodations and modifications on test, assignments, homework, and before and after school events will require him to need the assistance of the teacher, interpreter, and/or paraprofessional aide.
  • Student will identify and explain the appropriate supports and services he requires in different settings.
  • Student will summarize the aspects of certain laws (IDEA, ADA, Rehabilitation Act of 1973) that are applicable to his specific needs as a deaf person.
  • When presented with a before or after school activity, student will determine if he requires a sign language interpreter then will follow school procedures to request an interpreter.
  • When in a cooperative learning setting, student will use his advocacy skills to ensure full participation in the group.

How I Facilitate Self Advocacy
Every year, before the first day of school, I meet with all the teachers working with each of my students.  I provide them a mini training on teaching a child with a hearing loss.  We talk about their particular student's hearing loss, how it impacts his/her listening and communication, how the student communicates (talking, signing or both), and provide tips for working with a child with a hearing loss.  I give them a cheat sheet that includes the pertinent information about the student and his/her IEP including a list of accommodations and supplementary aids and services (SAS) the child receives. 

With the students, I give them several surveys of their likes, dislikes, strengths, needs, what they think helps them or hinders them in school, etc.  We then spend some time talking about what they think helps them be successful in school; what have they figured out they need to be successful.  I teach them about the various laws that pertain to deaf and hard of hearing individuals that affords them rights to accommodations and services.  We create spreadsheets to determine which SAS the student feel would be beneficial in each classroom, according to the teaching style (lecture vs. collaborative work), arrangement of desks, type of technology used, pace of class, etc.  Through scaffolding from modeling to eventual independence, the student learns how to approach a teacher to discuss accommodations and SAS needs for each class.  The grand finally, when I know a student has fully mastered being a self-advocate, is when he/she takes over my role and conducts the mini training with all his/her teachers with minimal support from me.

In this era, students need skills to be successful in school beyond that of academics.  By having the ability to self-advocate, their chances of being college and career ready truly soar.  My job is done when a student tells me they no longer need my help; they can advocate for themselves now.

Here are two resources I use when teaching self advocacy.
The Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing lists self determination and self-advocacy skills that are essential for DHH children to learn.

Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss includes several tools to help teachers support their students' self advocacy development.