4) Self-Advocacy Without Singling Out Students

How to encourage self-advocacy without singling out students in the classroom:

  • Create a suitable environment in which students can feel empowered to self-advocate, without feeling singled out from their peers.
  •  Implement a universal design for learning and differentiated instruction within the classroom. All students would then have access to quality teaching through curriculum that is inherently designed to address varying needs and learning styles (universal design for learning). As well, each student’s individual learning profile would be considered so that the student can acquire and integrate new learning (differentiated instruction).
  • Using a multi-modality approach during instructional periods usually benefits all students, because within each classroom there is a large range of learning styles.
  • Try to develop a sensitivity towards disabilities. Note that it is the human-created environment that creates disabilities (EFTO Voice, December 2010). Teachers need to become aware of any barriers (physical, psychological or emotional), which are inherent within their classrooms and schools and might be impinging on the rights of a student with a disability.
  • Lessons at any grade level can help students learn the importance of accessibility and treating all persons with respect and dignity.
  •    Role-playing is a powerful tool for those needing to learn how to self-advocate, as well as those learning how to listen to, understand and appropriately respond to another’s need.
  •  Research the specific disabilities that impact upon your students’ learning.
  • Speak with family or community professionals to increase understanding and decrease assumptions and preconceived ideas about particular disabilities.
  • Provide students with worksheets to help them learn how to describe their disability, to determine the impact of the disability on their ability to learn and function within a classroom, and to identify which strategies enhance their success (Test et. al, 2005).
  •  Try to develop a personal communication style and level of empathy that encourages trusting relationships and positive communication with all students.
  • Model positive communication skills. Students need to experience trust, understanding and openness before they will feel comfortable asking for accommodations and/or modifications.
  • Schedule individual and consistent conferencing times in order to maintain a trusting relationship and to glean insight into the ongoing challenges being faced by a student.
  • Being flexible in approach encourages students to self-advocate because they know their voice will be heard, without singling them out or reprimanding them. Allowing students to negotiate some aspects of academic assignments and to have some control over problem solving and decision-making is very important to helping them learn the skills of autonomy and self-advocacy (Browder et al., 2001).
  • Motivate, challenge and provide opportunities for students to make decisions, take risks and either pay for or be rewarded for the consequences, just as any other student.
  •    Encourage all students to use effective strategies to help with learning.
  •     Offer certain accommodations to all students. When students with disabilities do not feel they are always at a disadvantage to their peers, they will be more prone to self-advocate for the few remaining accommodations that will help them learn and demonstrate their potential.
  •    Model effective ways of requesting and negotiating changes.
  •  Develop and implement a specific program for explicitly teaching self-advocacy skills. Research has indicated, “Students need deliberate instruction in self-advocacy and self-determination” (Test et al., 2005).
  • Teach effective communication skills. Areas to be considered include the skills of: assertiveness (vs. aggressiveness), negotiation, articulation, body language, listening, persuasion, and compromise. Students may also need advice, training, encouragement and practice to use assistive technology as an effective means to convey their message (Test et al., 2005).
  • Explicitly teach students with disabilities their rights so that they are aware of the requests they could reasonably make to their school/community (Test et al., 2005).
  • Teachers and administrators need to honour and respect the process of self-advocacy. The responses that students receive help them learn that their opinions count and that appropriately stated requests would be considered.
  •   At a school level, opportunities can be created for all students to learn the importance of inclusion and accessibility.
  •   In the article, A Conceptual Framework of Self-Advocacy for Students with Disabilities, the authors state that research has emphasized the importance of teaching self-advocacy skills to students at an early age so that they can more successfully transition through the various and more complex stages of education and on into adult life (Test et al., 2005). Teaching them how to develop effective personal communication skills is an asset to all students. “All students need to be effective advocates for their interests, needs, and rights.” (Test et al., 2005). If the training for self-advocacy is extended to all students, then those with a disability are not singled out.
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