Self-Advocacy Online Blog

Advocating for Yourself


Cliff Poetz was a founding member of People First Minnesota and a Community Liaison with the Institute on Community Integration.

[Cliff Poetz passed away on March 25, 2021. He prepared a series of posts to run through the year on Self-Advocacy Online, a website he co-founded.]


People with developmental disabilities have a right to advocate for themselves. Some people might be afraid to be “self-advocates” and feel they are doing something wrong. When you advocate for yourself, you are standing up for your basic human rights. You are not doing anything wrong by expressing your wants and needs. If there were no self-advocates, we would not be where we are today. 

One way to advocate for yourself is through government policy. By advocating for yourself in this way, you can tell your story and share your concerns which can help lawmakers and policymakers make the changes needed to support people with disabilities better. Self-advocates can get involved by going to county board meetings or by sharing concerns at hearings. Everyone should get to know their state representative and their state senator. Research candidates, their policies, and the decisions they have made in the past. This relationship is very important. If there is a problem, self-advocates can contact them to improve a policy or make suggestions and adjustments. Write a letter or email them, call them on the phone, visit them at their office, or invite them to visit places in your community. Building this relationship gives policymakers a chance to get to know the communities they serve and helps them learn how to better support people with disabilities. 

Self-advocacy has changed things by helping close institutions. I believe it is better to invest and develop better mental health services in the community instead of opening more institutions. Staff of mental health services often receive better training and are able to provide individualized care to people.  Mental health services focus on an individual’s needs by providing choice in their psychiatrist, access to medication documents and reasoning for these medications, record of meals and transportation, and personal nurses. These choices in support and access to information provide self-advocates with the proper services and save money.

When you advocate for what you need and want at home, with staff and social workers, with family, and with policymakers, changes can be made. We are free to live in the community, do what we want to do, go where we want to go, and sometimes we have to advocate for ourselves to live the life we want.