Personal Story

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

What Self-Advocacy Means to Me


Robert Baums is Vice President of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State, Inc. He lives in Binghamton, New York.

Illustration of self-advocate Robert Baums, a Black man, shows him with a slight smile.

Self-advocacy is about speaking up for myself and others. I enjoy doing this, because people with developmental disabilities should have the same rights as everyone else. Everyone has a voice that needs to be heard and respected, whether it’s about community housing, service funding, or just making sure people have rights. In today's America, race is still an issue that affects us all, and as self-advocates, we should not only help to speak up for the rights of people with disabilities, but also to help speak up for the rights of people who may deal with racial discrimination. These two things go hand in hand and date back to the Civil Rights Movement. When people started advocating for the rights of people of all races, people also started advocating with the rights of people with disabilities. Even today, people will see a person as their color before they see them as a person. This is something as a society we need to work on and try to change. People with disabilities may not be aware that they are being discriminated against due to their disability, race, or a combination of both, so it is important to make them aware of their overall rights as human beings. I can relate to this myself. A few years ago, while I was at work, I was called a hurtful racial slur by a man for no rhyme or reason. It hurt me a lot to know that people still think this way and have no shame in expressing this in a community setting for others to hear. This shows that racism still very much exists and that if some people are willing to express it blatantly to someone like me in the community, imagine what people are saying or doing behind closed doors, when no one can hear them. These are the types of issues in society that we need to change. Through self advocacy, I want to help my community change so that people can truly have equal rights.