Self-advocacy is a civil and human rights movement led by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The Arc of the United States defines self-advocacy as people with disabilities “exercising their rights as citizens by communicating for and representing themselves, with supports in doing so, as necessary. This means they have a say in decision-making in all areas of their daily lives and in the public policy decisions that affect them” (The Arc, 2017). The self-advocacy movement among people with IDD began in Sweden in the 1970s, quickly spread to North America, and is now evident throughout the United States and in countries around the world.

A basic tenet for many in the self-advocacy movement is that members want to be seen as a person first, rather than being defined by a disability label. Many self-advocacy groups still use the term “People First” as their tagline. Self-advocates also proclaim "nothing about us without us," underscoring the importance of people with IDD speaking for themselves and making their own decisions, in contrast to parents or professionals making decisions for them. Another important message of the self-advocacy movement is the call to move away from moral and medical models of disability, which see disabilities as problems that need to be fixed or overcome in order for people to fit into society. Instead, the self-advocacy movement is grounded in a civil rights model of disability, which demands that society change in order to accommodate the gifts and talents of people with disabilities.


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