NANCY WARD: WHAT SELF-ADVOCACY MEANS TO ME
I didn't see myself as a person because of all the labels that were placed on me. Now I see myself as a person. People First taught me how to say "Yes, I have a disability and that's okay." People First wants people to say "person who has a disability" so people see us as a person first and our disabilities second. Until I got into People First, I didn't know how to direct my feelings.
They had this commercial on TV for Special Olympics where they paraded kids across the stage. The image they portrayed was, "Pity us because we have a disability." This made me mad so I yelled at the TV. A lot of good it does to yell at the TV! This is when my friends talked to me about joining People First of Lincoln. There I learned how to direct my feelings in a positive way.
An example of this is when we wrote to the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, which sponsors Special Olympics, about how we feel about having people pity us. This is the worst thing people can do to people who have a disability because it doesn't give us an opportunity to grow. The commercial was taken off TV, perhaps because a lot of people wrote letters like ours. Now I do a lot of public speaking but it took me five years to get confidence in myself to do it. And this is why my self-advocacy skills are so important to me.
Nancy Ward is the self-advocacy organizer with People First of Nebraska, and a founding member of the national self-advocacy organization Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered.
Bernard Carabello said, "Self-advocacy should not even exist. But society makes it exist." Society has turned disabilities into handicaps and created barriers to full inclusion in society. Self-advocacy has helped thousands of people with disabilities develop strong personal identities by removing barriers and building a strong social movement. Individually and collectively, self-advocates are moving beyond just speaking for themselves. What they say, and what they choose to be called, they will tell us.