Self Advocacy is a rights movement led by people who have been labelled as having a developmental disability. It’s about having a voice and speaking up for your rights and for the rights of others.
BC has a strong network of self advocacy leaders working across the province to promote equality and full inclusion for all people with diverse abilities. Many folks have also become mentors for others, helping them to recognize their strengths, learn new things and get connected in their community.
There are a handful of Community Living agencies around BC that have realized the importance of this leadership and have created a paid position known as the Self Advocate Liaison or Peer Advisor. Shawn Spear is a Self Advocate Liaison and works at Milieu Family Services in Surrey. Shawn says his job is important because, “I help other people who live with diverse abilities by being there for them. I listen and learn what they want to know and try to help them with answers I know of. No one is 100% perfect. We all have our strengths and weakness. The most important thing about helping people is you feel good and it shows other people you can make a positive impact in many people lives.”
Self Advocate Liaisons recognize a common experience in the lives of people with disabilities and are working to empower and connect the stories and expertise of self-advocates across BC. Shelley DeCoste works as a Self Advocate Liaison for Pathways in Kelowna. She describes her role below.
“I believe everybody has a right to understand what’s going on. They need to feel safe enough to speak up when something is wrong. I help Pathways make sure information is accessible and that people can read about their rights and responsibilities. Starting next month I’m going to run a self advocacy meeting where only self advocates are invited to learn about what it means to speak up for yourself. This job gives me an opportunity to strengthen my leadership and show others the possibility of what they can do.”
Jerry Laidlaw is a Self Advocate Peer Advisor in the Fraser Valley and Penny Soderena-Sutton has held a similar role at AimHi in Prince George for nearly 10 years. Although job descriptions vary from community to community, Self Advocate Liaisons share goals in making sure people who live with the label of a developmental disability understand their rights and have access to important information, respectful supports and community connections.
“I assist in bringing self advocates together to share and gather information that is interesting to them,” says Penny. “I provide support to the self advocacy caucus and to others in their advocacy work. I develop and put on workshops and assist in making sure self advocates sit on committees and have a say. I provide a place for people to go where they can trust and share and feel safe and not be put down.”
If you would like to learn more about the role or to get in touch with a Self Advocate Liaison please contact one of the following leaders:
Shawn Spear firstname.lastname@example.org
Shelley DeCoste email@example.com
Penny Soderena-Sutton firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry Laidlaw email@example.com