Saturday, May 19, 2007

Personal responsibility and self advocacy

I receive a lot of requests from people with disabilities for free help with advocacy problems. Because I have a day job and only so much energy, I have to turn down most of these requests.

Some of the people who ask for the help of an advocate really don't need one. Their issues can result from one of two situations:

1. There are ways for them to self advocate with a referral to information or
2. They are not taking personal responsibility for some of their choices which has resulted in the situation created.

The first situation is easy to deal with. I can give them a direction to go in and most people are able and willing to help themselves. But the second group of folks is very hard to deal with.

They simply do not recognize that their problems are of their own making. These are the people who , even if I took their cases on, would probably not cooperate with me when I tried to help them out. If I asked for information, they would fail to document things or accurately report things. If I needed a paper signed they would lose it. If I suggested they talk or not talk to someone about the case, they would call me a week later and mention that they had to go against my advice and they hoped it didn't "hurt my case".

Which, in the end, is why I've learned that personal responsibility is key when dealing with advocacy situations. It's never good to battle against a situation where one person isn't perceiving things realistically and it's even worse to do so when that person won't accept responsibility and help himself.

My Scottish grandmother told me when I was little that when it rained a person who had to go out in it could react in one of two ways: She could complain about the rain or bring an umbrella. Basic personal responsibility runs along the same lines: sometimes you can't change a situation right then and there and there are always going to be things you can't control, but you do what you can to help yourself.

I can't help people who throw up their arms and moan about getting wet. If that's their choice, no matter how many times I tell them where to buy an umbrella, how to open an umbrella or even if I lend them an umbrella , I can't make them use it.

I believe in the end that people with disabilities all have to do some self advocacy. Checking to make sure that we've acted in a responsible way before we lament about the rain is the best advice I can give to anyone as a starting point.


Anonymous said...

This isn't uncommon these days, and it is not at all a characteristic related to disbility. There is a growing number of people who keep track of the steps that loops their actions & choices with outcomes that will shape their situations. When the situations are bad or unpleasant, they become angry or weepy and want help: but can't get the facts, actions, etc together even to be helped. I see this all the time.

My own generation produced a lot of this. We wanted children to have very happy lives with no stress, and so we did a lot of things for them. We protected them from bureaucracy, deadlines, all sorts of thing.

There is a "technology" of life - technology in the sense of set of procedures that produce particular results. In modern America, it includes the ability to get up to an alarm clock, to keep track of papers, to read & understand requirements, to choose what to do or not to do with those things in mind (even if there's something more fun available). I could go on.

That technology is built into a lot of households, and kids learn it there. But if they don't get it there, it's very hard to pick up later.

Great post. Please rest assured, I don't think this is any more common in the population of folks with disabilities than in the rest of the population.

Ruth said...

Sr. Edith- thanks for your comments about the technology of life which really does underpin personal responsibility. I agree these traits are common in the general population. I think it's another barrier for pwd to be aware of in their own journey toward advocating for themselves - and , as you point out, it's a barrier for others too in their lives.