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Additional Support Services: Advocacy and Legal Supports

Tammy Reynolds, B.A., C.E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Another powerful coping strategy is advocacy. Advocacy refers to actions that are taken on behalf of someone else to promote their welfare and rights. Thus, an advocate is someone who argues or pleads for another person's cause. Advocates serve as a voice for people with intellectual disabilities who cannot easily advocate for themselves.

gavel and scales of justiceFamily members can affect the quality of care a disabled person gets. They should participate in decisions about services and not be afraid to speak up if something doesn't sound right. The more families become actively involved, the less helpless they feel. When parents become involved in their children's care, their children are less likely to require institutionalization. They are also more likely to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Political activism is another form of advocacy. It is a way for families to become actively involved. In this way, families advocate for all people with intellectual disabilities. Working to improve the lives of others provides a sense of purpose. People feel good when they make a positive contribution that benefits others. Group advocates work to improve legal protections, increase funding, and reduce social stigma.

People with intellectual disabilities have benefited from advocacy in many ways. Advocates ensured that people with intellectual disabilities got the support they need. Advocates promoted self-determination. For example, most people with disabilities can live in the community of their choice when provided adequate supports.

Advocates helped people with disabilities to exercise their rights. As citizens of the United States, they have the same rights as everyone else. They have the right vote. They have the right to manage their own money. They may need some help with complex financial transactions. They may also need help to budget their income and expenses. They have the right to marry and bear children.

Advocates made it clear that people with disabilities can work alongside people without disabilities (integrated worksites). Advocates insisted the needs and preferences of disabled workers were respected. Disabled workers are no different from other workers. They simply want meaningful and enjoyable work. They have schedule and location preferences just like everyone else.

The Arc is the nation's largest non-professional advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities. An ordinary group of parents with intellectually disabled children formed The Arc in the 1950s. It has since become a powerful political force offering many family services. Among these services, The Arc functions to educate families about intellectual disabilities. It serves as a clearinghouse for distributing information about intellectual disability. The Arc provides information about the resources available in each state. Parents can find local support groups, and access information that helps them to be their child's best advocate. The Arc also serves as a community resource for family support, political advocacy, and public education.