How to Develop Self-Advocacy Skills for Adults With Disabilities

Becoming an effective self-advocate is a critical milestone to living the life you want—and deserve. But developing self-advocacy skills isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite a challenge, especially for individuals with disabilities.

Whether it’s our need for validation, negative self-talk, or simply fear, there are many barriers that prevent people from becoming self-advocates. But when we don’t self-advocate, we open ourselves up to be taken advantage of.

Examples of this include:

  • Getting paid less than you’re worth at work
  • People dismissing your feelings and/or ideas
  • Being put in uncomfortable situations

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is the ability to speak up for yourself and for what matters to you. An effective self-advocate knows his/her rights and responsibilities, is empowered to ask for what they need, and communicate his/her feelings.

When you practice self-advocacy, you are in charge of the direction of your life. But how do you develop self-advocacy skills? Read on to discover how to develop self-advocacy skills for individuals with disabilities.

How to Develop Self-Advocacy Skills

When it comes to being a self-advocate, there are three key ingredients: self-esteem, purpose, and comprehension. Let’s unpack these one at a time.


Self-esteem and self-advocacy are birds of a feather that fly together. When you advocate for yourself, you have higher self-esteem. But how do you raise your self-esteem to become a better self-advocate?

How to increase your self-esteem:

  • Read a book. Self-esteem is an important topic that a lot of people struggle with. Therefore, there are plenty of books on the subject. Reading a book on how to raise your self-esteem may provide the insight you need to start feeling more confident.
  • Practice positive self-talk. We spend more time talking to ourselves than we do talking to anyone else. Be mindful about not filling your head with negative thoughts. In fact, the book 365 Days of Positive Self Talk by Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., offers a full year’s worth of motivational messages and positive self-talk tips to help you get started.
  • Improve your physical health. Body image has a major impact on self-esteem. Eat well-balanced meals and exercise to feel good about yourself, not as a way to control your body. Being active and eating right is just as important for our mental health as it is for our physical health.
  • Use positive affirmations. Get creative! When you brush your teeth at night, take a moment to write a happy message on your mirror with a dry-erase marker so it’s there to greet you when you wake up in the morning. A simple, “You got this!” or “Great smile!” can really put your day on a positive trajectory.
  • Surround yourself with good people. Whether we want to be or not, we are influenced by the people around us. It’s important to surround yourself with positive people who want to see you succeed.


To have purpose means to know your worth and to have goals. When people have a purpose in their lives, they are more focused, motivated, and overall happier.

How to increase your sense of purpose:

  • Get a job.  Not only is employment one of the best ways to feel accomplished, it also empowers you to take control of your life by providing income. Additionally, working alongside others strengthens your social skills and builds comradery. Here are six jobs for adults with disabilities.
  • Volunteer.  When we do good, we feel good. It’s a fact of life. Volunteering is a fantastic way to help others and build your self-esteem. Check out these volunteer opportunities at Covey!
  • Do a project.  Wherever your passion lies—gardening, arts and crafts, building—doing projects are a fun way to explore your creativity and see the results of your efforts.
  • Set goals and celebrate milestones. What do you want to master? Is it learning to ride a bicycle? Or singing in public? Saving money? Set measurable goals for yourself and give yourself a little reward each time you reach a new milestone.


Knowledge is at the core of confidence. When we know our facts—in this case, our rights, our value, and our abilities—courage comes easier.

How to be an expert at anything:

  • Seek advice. Sometimes this advice comes from a professional, and other times it comes from a trusted friend. If you are unsure of something, it’s perfectly OK to talk things through. Many times, simply talking about your challenge helps you make sense of it.
  • Hit the books. Whether your goal is to advocate for yourself in a medical situation or to get promoted at your job, odds are, there are books on the subject. Read up and educate yourself so you can construct a sound argument.
  • Consult resources. Self-advocacy is no small feat. Thankfully, there are a number of excellent national and local resources passionate about helping individuals with disabilities access information and discover their rights. For a list of organizations, check out our blog: The Three Parts of Self-Advocacy.

A Community Committed to Self-Advocacy

Covey is a non-profit organization in Oshkosh and Appleton, Wisconsin. By establishing an inclusive environment and providing individualized care, we create possibilities that foster personal growth for adults with disabilities.

If you or your loved one are interested in developing new skills, finding greater purpose, and exploring the community, contact us today!