Self-determination is having the freedom to make choices about your own life.
Self-advocacy is having the skills to speak up about what choices you want to make.
Why should we speak up?
By speaking up for what you need or want, you are more likely to:
- find solutions that work,
- feel confident and empowered,
- have ownership in your success.
What’s involved in speaking up?
To be an effective self-advocate in the workplace and to speak up for accommodations that you feel are necessary and reasonable, there are three main points to consider.
- Know your limitations. By knowing yourself and how a disability may limit your functioning, you can help others better to understand you and how you best function in the workplace.
- Know your rights and responsibilities. Use the resources that are available to you (see some recommended resources at the end of this article). Be prepared with information as you request reasonable accommodations.
- Practice negotiation. Through a negotiation process with your employer, you arrive at an individualized, customized solution.
How to speak up?
Here are a few ways to get started in being a better self-advocate.
- Believe in yourself. Know that you are worthwhile and valuable. Remember, you are advocating for reasonable accommodations so you can do your job better. You are not asking for “special treatment.” Did you know that many employers want to provide accommodations so they can hire, or retain, valued and qualified employees?
- Get the facts. When you speak up for yourself, you need to know what you are talking about. Think about:
Your disability. Have a clear description of your functional limitations in your particular workplace.
Essential functions. Know the essential functions of your job. Essential functions are used to determine employee rights under the ADA. An employee who can’t perform the essential functions, even with a reasonable accommodation, isn’t considered qualified for the job and isn’t protected from discrimination. Reasonable accommodations allow employees to perform essential functions. For example, many employees benefit from assistive technology as an accommodation.
Your work space. Is it optimal? Can you find and reach everything you need? Does it support your productivity?
Modes of Communication. Can you communicate with your co-workers using the communication systems they use (phone, emails, and meetings)? Are you excluded from any form of communication?
Analyzing your work space and your work will help identify the accommodations needed to allow you to successfully perform your job. Many of these accommodations are not expensive for your employer and may benefit others as well. Some common accommodations include:
- Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support.
- Allow employees to take breaks and go to a place where they feel comfortable to use relaxation techniques or to contact a support person.
- Allow employees to listen to soothing music or to use a noise cancelling headset.
- Allow a flexible work environment including: flexible scheduling, modified break schedule and work from home. Allow employees to make up the time missed.
- Allow employees to record meetings and trainings or provide printed minutes of meetings and trainings.
- Allow additional training time for new duties.
- Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals. Use a color coding scheme to prioritize tasks.
- Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting.
- Provide reminders of important deadlines via e-mails, memos, and weekly supervision.
- Provide cues to assist in location of items by using labels, color coding, or bulletin boards; post written instructions for use of equipment.
- Provide written as well as verbal instructions.
- Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks.
- Use organizers, schedulers, calendars, lists, organizers, or apps.
- Use ergonomic workstation design.
- Reasonable accommodations can be requested for interviews also.
Want to learn more?
Other resources are:
- Being An Effective Self-Advocate
- 10 Steps to Effective Self-Advocacy
- Self-Advocacy in the Workplace: Requesting Job Accommodations
- Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact
- Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace Fact Sheet
- Job Accommodation (JAN) website
- Do you have an ADA Question? Get assistance through the National ADA Network