Top 5 Tips for Self-Advocacy
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Top 5 Tips for Self-Advocacy

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the program’s website.

By Dr. Scott Allen, Director of Psychological Services

Self-advocacy is a student’s ability to stand up for himself or herself and to communicate his or her needs assertively. In college settings, self-advocacy often includes knowledge and understanding of one’s disability as well as the ability to communicate about disability-related needs to others including professors, caregivers, peers, and support personnel. In this article, we will give you five handy tips to help learn how to express your needs and have them met.

Joe at CLEKnow Your Disability

There are countless resources to help you understand the various facets of your disability, but none more important than your psychoeducational evaluation. Perhaps you have had an educational evaluation completed in the recent past… read it. If you don’t understand it, ask the evaluator or a trusted professional what it means. You will likely already be knowledgeable of the information in these reports (for example, that you are a visual learner); however, there may be some surprises. Learning where your strengths and needs lie can be critical in your ability to advocate on campus and in your new community.

Know Yourself

Even with the most comprehensive knowledge about your disability, everybody requires different types of assistance. It is important that you know what works for you. Back in high school, many types of assistance and accommodations were provided for you… think about what types of interventions were the most effective for you. In college, it will be up to you to get that extra help you need. What has worked in the past will often work now.

Be Prompt and Proactive

At this point of your life, you probably have a good understanding of the type and level of assistance you may need. Start communicating these needs early to avoid problems later in the semester. For example, if you have a paper due in six weeks but are confused about how to break down the steps to complete the paper, reach out to someone to ask questions when the assignment is presented. Do not wait until the day before a paper is due to tell an instructor or tutor that you need help. If you wait too long, other barriers will keep you from working effectively including anxiety, fatigue, and the workload.


It is important that you be direct, honest, and calm in your communication toward those who are supporting you. If a teaching style is not working for you, for example, tell the instructor what does work. Better yet, ask if there are ways that you can make the style of instruction fit your learning style, such as recording lectures. If a math tutor is making you feel more, rather than less confused, calmly make a direct request to help the tutor understand what you need (e.g., “It would be helpful for me if you and I could make a step-by-step guide on how to complete these problems because I have a hard time understanding it when I get everything at once”).

Be Receptive to Feedback and New Ideas

Although it can be difficult, it is important to listen to (and many times implement) the feedback of others when advocating for yourself. Sometimes others notice things that we don’t. Those who are helping you are well trained in instruction and may have knowledge and insights that you don’t. The process of self-advocacy is a reciprocal one; it is most effective when you and the other person are both direct and flexible.

By following these tips, you can learn how to advocate for yourself and succeed in a post-secondary world.

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