We hear the term “self-advocate” a lot, but what does it
really mean to be a self-advocate? At the most basic level, being a
self-advocate means speaking for yourself and what is important to you. It
means you have a voice of your own, and you use it.
Everyone can be a self-advocate, but for people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities, becoming a self-advocate is even
more important. People with disabilities have unique needs, challenges,
strengths and abilities. Self-advocates speak up about those challenges to
drive positive change in their lives and the lives of others with disabilities.
Traits of Self-advocates
Self-advocates speak for themselves: Being a
self-advocate at its most basic level means that you speak for yourself. You
don’t let others speak for you on your behalf unless you ask them to.
Self-advocates speak for others: Not only do
self-advocates speak for themselves, they speak for others who may not be able
to speak up for themselves.
Self-advocates know their rights: In order to speak
up for yourselves and others as a self-advocate, you should know your rights
under the law so you can speak out and stand up for them.
Self-advocates control their own lives: Being a
self-advocate means you control your own life. That does not mean you should
not ask for help when needed. Self-advocates understand that asking for help
when needed is a personal choice and is part of taking control of their own
But what does self-advocacy actually look like? How can you
put your self-advocacy skills into practice? We’d like you to meet two of our
very own advocates here at Bethesda to give you an idea of what self-advocacy
is all about.
– Disability Advocate for Bethesda
Kurt Rutzen is a Disability Advocate for Bethesda. In his
role, Kurt works throughout the states where Bethesda operates and helps the
people we support build self-advocacy skills. Kurt, who has a disability
himself, has a deep understanding of the political issues facing people with
disabilities and works with our operations team to help assess state
intellectual and developmental disability supports systems and identify
opportunities for advancing public policy affecting people with disabilities.
Kurt is more than a self-advocate. Kurt is a passionate
advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Too many people still have the idea that people with
disabilities can’t be and shouldn’t be part of society, or if they can be part
of society they should only hang out on the sidelines,” explains Kurt. “People
with disabilities are real people too and deserve all the rights that everyone
Prior to joining Bethesda, Rutzen served as a public policy
volunteer for The Arc Minnesota and worked in a part-time capacity at the
Institute on Community Integration (University Center for Excellence in
Developmental Disabilities) at the University of Minnesota.
Jordan – A fierce advocate for people with disabilities
Jordan’s childhood was often marked by being teased for his
“I have actually been teased growing up, because people didn’t know how to deal with it,” Jordan recalls. “It made me feel bad.” Today, Jordan is an independent man and the definition of a self-advocate. But make no mistake: Jordan doesn’t just advocate for himself. He is a fierce advocate for the entire disability community. “I’m proud of my disability community and being a part of it,” adds Jordan.