I first got involved in advocacy in 2004. It was an old school teacher who first suggested I get involved. I started and I was able to quickly make my way up the ranks. I joined at 17, became a part of a management committee at 18, and went on to become co-chair of the advocacy group in 2006 when I was 19. Joining this group had a significant effect on my life.
Advocacy is the best tool. It gives people three things they didn’t think they would get. Firstly, it gives them the voice they deserve and gives them the chance to challenge counsellors and rhetoric whether its public transport or access to facilities like libraries.
Advocacy also helps you to build the skills and create the tools you need to propel yourself forwards professionally and personally and can open doors to whatever you want to go onto.
Thirdly, becoming involved in advocacy can open your eyes. When you are diagnosed with a learning disability you are told you can’t do anything. When you’re in an advocacy group you can see the bigger picture and view the sad reality that is forced upon people. Once you can see this you can tear up the rulebook and rewrite it. Advocacy is the best way to raise your expectations and aim for bigger things.
Without advocacy groups, I would not have led the life I have done or moved into the areas I have. Advocacy led me to become a gold medallist in the special Olympics. It led me to become a Service Quality Director where I was able to make a difference to people’s lives. Advocacy gave me the skills and tools to work with hate crime groups and set up an employment scheme for people with a learning disability. Without advocacy I wouldn’t have become chair of the athlete leadership team in Great Britain nor the Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for Special Olympics in Europe and Eurasia.
For a lot of people advocacy groups are kind of like a lifeline. Disabled people are at the bottom of the hierarchy and advocacy groups are vital in ensuring that their needs are being met, opinions listened too, and lives valued in local regional communities but also globally.
There isn’t enough promotion of advocacy and I think it is sad that not often advocacy groups get recognised because of lack of funding or lack of attention and I think that advocacy should be celebrated, and people shown that advocacy is a wonderful opportunity for them to make a huge difference. I wouldn’t have had any of the success I have had without advocacy.
Joining an advocacy group was the best thing I ever did, and I would absolutely strongly recommend people to do it. If you are not sure about it or nervous, I would say to give it a try. Just go to one if you’re not sure as you might be pleasantly surprised. It could change your life.
To learn more about the wonderful work Aspire does, please visit their website at www.aspireliving.org.uk.