Personal Story

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

What Self-Advocacy Means to Me


Melissa Southall is a Self-Advocate Coordinator at People First of West Virginia. She may be reached at

Illustration of Melissa Southall, with long, blonde hair, smiling

Self-advocacy is important to every part of my life. It has allowed me to take better control of my life regarding housing, finances, medical care, relationships, and employment. It has made me a better parent. Professionally, I have been able to work on behalf of people with disabilities through People First of West Virginia. I was also fortunate to receive a fellowship from the Self Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center. The fellowship allowed me to advocate for better transportation for people with disabilities in West Virginia. It has allowed me to collaborate with other people and agencies in my community and to form lasting relationships. Self-advocacy has also permitted me to meet with state and federal representatives to share important information. Most important, self-advocacy has given me lifelong friends who I am proud to work alongside.