Teaching kids with special needs to self-advocate

Standing up, speaking out

SouthStar's Self-Advocates
 
 

By Liz DeCarlo

Senior Editor

Raymond Jiggetts wants his own apartment. At 31, that should be a given, but because Jiggetts has an intellectual disability, the path to independence isn't as straightforward.

But as a member of the Ray of Hope Self-Advocates at SouthStar Services in Chicago, one of the biggest things Jiggetts has learned is to speak up about his dreams.
"I say what I want to do in my life. I spoke up about moving to an apartment," Jiggetts says. "They put me first on the list."
As Jiggetts waits for his apartment to be assigned, he is continuing his efforts to advocate for himself and others with disabilities.
In recent years, the self-advocates have joined state committees in Springfield and spoken to local high school students about how to advocate for themselves.
"We try to promote personal, local, statewide and now national self-advocacy," says Leanne Roth, director of employment and advocacy for SouthStar. "It gives them the power to have some control over their lives, with support and to the best of their ability. ...Everyone involved has grown more independent and that's because of what we do in self-advocacy."
Part of SouthStar's curriculum is Dare to Dream, which teaches people with disabilities how to get a vision for their lives, the first step to advocating toward that dream.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a nurse, so I got a little nurse's kit," Roth says. "When a child with disabilities says 'I want to be a nurse,' they have the whole IEP team sitting around talking about why they can't. In Dare to Dream, we try to help them figure out what they want out of life and then how to advocate to get that."
Roth says the advocacy group has completely changed the organization. "The self-advocates here are involved in decisions on every level," Roth says. "They're on the safety committee, staff development, anything we do we get input."
And the self-advocacy has made a difference in the lives of the group members outside of SouthStar.
Melissa Regan travels around Illinois talking about advocacy and was chosen to be a quality analyst for the state of Illinois. She worked with two other advocates from the state to survey other people with disabilities and create a paper on the topic.
"I've become a lot stronger with this," Regan says. "It's important, so we can tell others about being a self-advocate."
Another SouthStar advocate, Cindy Toll, found a lifelong wish realized once she learned to self-advocate.
"I have had one dream come true, to be in a movie. I put it on my collage that we did in Dare to Dream and then started working towards it," Toll says. A local director of the film "Tower Phi" was filming in Frankfort and cast Toll as an extra after hearing about her dream.
Brian Denton, another member of the self-advocates, became a photographer after learning to tell others what he would like to do. He now works alongside a professional photographer taking pictures at SouthStar events. His goal is to encourage other people with disabilities to go after what they want as well.
"I speak up for myself to help other people do the same thing."

Raymond Jiggetts wants his own apartment. At 31, that should be a given, but because Jiggetts has an intellectual disability, the path to independence isn't as straightforward.

But as a member of the Ray of Hope Self-Advocates at SouthStar Services in Chicago, one of the biggest things Jiggetts has learned is to speak up about his dreams.

"I say what I want to do in my life. I spoke up about moving to an apartment," Jiggetts says. "They put me first on the list."

As Jiggetts waits for his apartment to be assigned, he is continuing his efforts to advocate for himself and others with disabilities.

In recent years, the self-advocates have joined state committees in Springfield and spoken to local high school students about how to advocate for themselves.

"We try to promote personal, local, statewide and now national self-advocacy," says Leanne Roth, director of employment and advocacy for SouthStar. "It gives them the power to have some control over their lives, with support and to the best of their ability. ...Everyone involved has grown more independent and that's because of what we do in self-advocacy."

Part of SouthStar's curriculum is Dare to Dream, which teaches people with disabilities how to get a vision for their lives, the first step to advocating toward that dream.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a nurse, so I got a little nurse's kit," Roth says. "When a child with disabilities says 'I want to be a nurse,' they have the whole IEP team sitting around talking about why they can't. In Dare to Dream, we try to help them figure out what they want out of life and then how to advocate to get that."

Roth says the advocacy group has completely changed the organization. "The self-advocates here are involved in decisions on every level," Roth says. "They're on the safety committee, staff development, anything we do we get input."

And the self-advocacy has made a difference in the lives of the group members outside of SouthStar.

Melissa Regan travels around Illinois talking about advocacy and was chosen to be a quality analyst for the state of Illinois. She worked with two other advocates from the state to survey other people with disabilities and create a paper on the topic.

"I've become a lot stronger with this," Regan says. "It's important, so we can tell others about being a self-advocate."

Another SouthStar advocate, Cindy Toll, found a lifelong wish realized once she learned to self-advocate.

"I have had one dream come true, to be in a movie. I put it on my collage that we did in Dare to Dream and then started working towards it," Toll says. A local director of the film "Tower Phi" was filming in Frankfort and cast Toll as an extra after hearing about her dream.

Brian Denton, another member of the self-advocates, became a photographer after learning to tell others what he would like to do. He now works alongside a professional photographer taking pictures at SouthStar events. His goal is to encourage other people with disabilities to go after what they want as well.

"I speak up for myself to help other people do the same thing."

 

 

 
 





 
 
 
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