Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Occupational therapists play an important role in helping people of all ages to function independently, to engage in meaningful activity, and to experience joy in life regardless of disability. In this role, we are often in a position of advocate as we aim to help people achieve their most promising outcomes. But even better than an OT swinging for the fences to help a client, are those clients that can metaphorically pick up the bat and hit it out of the park themselves.
Recently I read an article highlighting the power of self-advocacy. The article spoke of a boy named Peter who has cerebral palsy. Peter, as a result of reduced fine and gross motor control, was struggling to use the standard Play Station Controller. He took it upon himself to email Sony’s support team to ask for help. To his surprise, not only did he receive a response, but Sony’s team built and sent him a modified controller to use. That is self-advocacy at work, and kudos to Sony for working with Peter to accommodate his needs. (See the article here.)
This story provides a great example of the power of self-advocacy. Self-advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey or assert their own interests, desires, needs and rights. It’s the ability to speak up on your own behalf to ask for what you need.
Self advocacy skills can be broken down into 3 steps:
1. Understanding your individual strengths and weaknesses,
2. Knowing what supports or resources are available in order to succeed
3. Communicating these needs to other people
Why is Self-Advocacy Important?
Self-advocacy is a vital part of being human and is a great skill to harness and utilize as it helps people to:
- Create solutions for challenges that they experience
- Develop independence and self-empowerment skills
- Ask for help and clarification
- Build self confidence
- Take risks and try new things
- Learn the benefits of effective communication
- Creates a sense of ownership, power and control over their situation and needs.
How Can OT’s help?
OT’s can assist in promoting self-advocacy in multiple ways. First, OT’s recognize the importance of facilitating client independence and strive to help people to develop the confidence and skills to communicate their own needs and wants. Often we can identify where people can be successful here, and where help might be needed. We model appropriate advocacy behavior on behalf of our clients during interactions with other providers or stakeholders. Or, when necessary, we advocate on a client’s behalf until they develop the skills to do this independently.
In the end, advocacy is becoming more and more important in the climate of restricted healthcare dollars. So whether we are helping people access an important health service, to address a new problem, or sending an email to a major manufacturer about a video game console, assisting people to have a voice, or to develop a voice is a paramount part of great OT.