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Protecting your rights

As you become more independent, you’ll have more chances to look out for yourself. Knowing how to speak your mind and protect your rights can make a big difference as you move forward in life. It may take effort and practice, though. Learn more by reading below.

Promoting your rights through self-advocacy arrow top

“Advocacy” means supporting or promoting someone’s best interests. “Self-advocacy” includes looking out for yourself, telling people what you need, and going after your goals even if there might be some obstacles in the way.

If you have an illness or disability, self-advocacy can take lots of forms. It might mean you explain that you’re allowed to bring a service animal into a public place. It might mean that you ask a store to make the bathroom accessible for wheelchairs. It also could mean pointing out ways you learn best during an IEP (individualized education plan) meeting.

Take good care of yourself. Learn your rights. Practice speaking up for yourself. Work on educating people so they know what you want and need. You deserve to be treated well.


Consider some tips for becoming a strong self-advocate:

  • Think about what you need in advance. Don’t wait until a situation becomes a problem. If you need help taking notes, for example, ask before a test is just a few days away.  
  • Speak clearly and calmly. Be polite, even if you’re upset.
  • Make sure you know about your illness or disability. That way you can explain why it means you may need certain supports.
  • Ask for what you need, even if you feel shy. Remind yourself that in a lot of situations, you’re not asking for a favor — you’re asking for your rights.
  • Don’t wait for someone to offer you help. They may not think of offering but may be happy to follow through on your request.

Speaking up for your rights can get you what you need. And it also can make you feel great about yourself!

It also can feel great to work with others to promote the rights of people with illnesses and disabilities.

Here are some ways to get involved in community advocacy and activism:

  • Check out KASA , which stands for Kids As Self Advocates. KASA is a national project created by youth with disabilities for youth interested in promoting the interests of young people who have disabilities.
  •  Ask if your Center for Independent Living (CIL) has an advocacy group. CILs are groups that offer services to and are staffed by people with disabilities.
  • You also can look for local groups through your library, hospital, or school.

Want to learn more about activism? KASA has tips on topics like how to lead meetings, deal with conflicts, and learn about your rights.

Are you interested in a history lesson like no other? Check out the Smithsonian museum’s online exhibit about the disability rights movement.

Ever heard of disability culture? It’s all about people with disabilities sharing a common history, goals, and more!

For information about the Americans with Disabilities Act like how to file a complaint, call: 1-800-514-0301.

Protecting yourself from discrimination arrow top

The treatment of people in an unfair or unequal way based on things such as race, health, disability, or religion is known as discrimination (say: DISS-krim-ih-NAY-shuhn).

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes discrimination illegal in:

  • Employment. No employer is allowed to reject you for a job for which you are qualified because of your disability. Also, if you're hired, your employer may be required to change your work conditions or space for you. For instance, if you have a wheelchair, your employer may have to install ramps so that you can get to where you need to go.
  • All services provided by state and local governments. This means that the public transportation system where you live must have some vehicles that can take people in wheelchairs. It also means that all public parks, public health care services, and voting places must be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Public buildings. This means all buildings that are open to the public must be accessible to people with disabilities.


Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013