Frontline Initiative Self-Determination

Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE)


Tia Nelis is chair of SABE

James Meadours is co-chair of SABE

Mary Hayden is an advisor of SABE.

Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) is a national self-advocacy group that formed as a natural outgrowth of the self-advocacy movement. The mission of SABE is: “To ensure that people with disabilities are treated as equals and that they are given the same decisions, choices, rights, responsibilities, and chances to speak up to empower themselves; opportunities to make new friends; and to learn from their mistakes.” Their vision is for “supporting self-advocates to speak up to gain their independence nationwide.” 

The self-advocacy movement was started by and for people with developmental disabilities because they wanted to advocate for themselves rather than having others, such as professionals, parents and other family members, and advocates with or without other disabilities, speak for them. As part of the broader disability rights/independent living movement, the self-advocacy movement is first and foremost a civil rights movement led by and for people with developmental disabilities. As with all social activism movements, self-advocacy started at the grass-roots level where local leadership was drawn upon to organize people to stand up and speak up in order to effect social change.

In 1990, self-advocates from around the United States met in Atlanta to talk about starting a national self-advocacy organization. Discussing the need for people to meet regularly to share and plan together, they wanted a national self-advocacy organization that would be for and by people with developmental disabilities. The self-advocates decided to present their idea at the first self-advocacy conference, the North American People First Conference, hosted by Speaking for Ourselves of Colorado in the fall of 1990. People gathered after the formal conference hours, and eventually representatives from various national regions formed a steering committee to develop a proposal for implementing a national self-advocacy organization.

In September 1991, their plan was accepted by the participants of the Second National People First Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Attendees had their first elections for board members, and SABE was formed as an official organization. In July 1994, the third national self-advocacy conference occurred in Alexandria, Virginia. SABE board members released their first position paper on community living at the conference. In that and ensuing years, SABE fought for its goals on several fronts —

  • It has sought nationwide long-term care reform that promotes person-centered rather than provider-centered service system.
  • Campaign for Freedom Close the Doors was founded as an ongoing endeavor to close permanently all institutions for people with disabilities.
  • SABE developed a position statement about how self-advocates can support each other in the community.
  • They have collected the stories of those who lived in public and private institutions.
  • SABE produces a CD, RESPECT, that contains civil rights disabilities songs.

 In its effort to promote the independence of those with disabilities, SABE asked several of its representatives how DSPs could support them in living more self-determined lives. Some of their responses were —

  • Read to me, explain to me; don’t use long words. Help people speak for themselves, and let them use their own words.
  • Understand what you’re saying and understand what the person is saying to you. • Help the person get the supports they want and need.
  • Be dependable. Be on time, and let the person know when you’re not going to be able to be there.