Personal Story

Feature Issue on Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Community Organizing: Step By Step


Marie Malinowski was a 2017-18 SARTAC fellow. She lives in Buffalo, N.Y. and may be reached at

As a self-advocate, and member of self-advocacy groups, I became a community organizer after I got involved with a local organization, VOICE Buffalo, around issues with cuts to public transportation. I was trained by them, and became a trainer with them. I trained people on how to do One to Ones and Effective Meetings. I also did One to Ones with other self-advocates to learn who they are. That’s how I got to know who should be on the VOICE Buffalo Accessibility Task Force, which I help lead.

I hope that other self-advocates will look at the resources I made and learn about community organizing.

When I learned about the option to be a SARTAC Fellow and get some money for my work, I chose community organizing because I wanted to show people how it can be done. 

For my fellowship, I interviewed community organizers and agency directors. Together with my team, we put together a packet on One to Ones and Effective Meetings. These are plain-language guides with tips on preparing for and running more effective meetings and building professional relationships. We also edited videos of the interviews I did and made some brief how-to videos. I also did presentations on how and why we did all this. The project was called A Path to Power: Self Advocates as Community Organizers to Enhance Human Rights.

I think it made some impact. At the least, people know more about what I do as a leader and what we had to do to put this project together. More self-advocates and some of our allies in the disability community became familiar with networking by doing One to Ones. We built better relationships to support each other, to advocate together, and to accomplish more during our meetings. We won some advocacy victories in our community. I hope that other self-advocates will look at the resources I made and learn about community organizing.

I learned how hard it can be to put a project like this together. The next time I do something like this I want to learn more about what steps to do first. I would make it more accessible for my style of communicating. I learned that I speak from the heart best, and not from a teleprompter! I also learned about choosing a project with the right time frame.

Remember, it’s okay to struggle with projects like this as long as you have support to get you through it. I had the knowledge, but needed support with the technical parts. I think people could learn community organizing as long as they had guidelines in plain language. Just get out of your head and do it!