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Your How-To Guide – Advocating for People with Disabilities

By November 20, 2023No Comments

You’ve got a story that got you to here, to why you feel called to work alongside individuals with developmental and physical disabilities and those who deal with mental illness – to become a development service worker. You will, or have, gained essential skills within your development service worker program/service worker course, but there is a foundation of knowledge to hit home. How do you genuinely and powerfully understand, engage and above all educate yourself, and those in your community, for those you now serve?

Here’s Your Introductory Guide to Advocating for People with Disabilities


    • See Your Common Story – A person with a disability, is a person first and the disability is just one other part of them; just like you, they are complex and who they are is many things. See the person as you would like to be seen; treat them as you would appreciate being treated. They have likes, dislikes, things they excel at and things they may need support with, just like you. We all want to be truly seen, heard, respected and yes, loved. There is more to us, than our physical, our challenges, what people see, what people at first think of us, sometimes many, many layers. So too of a person who has a disability. There is more that is common between us, than what is different. Begin here.
    • Care to Know – What’s the best way to get to know each other? Show an interest, engage, and genuinely listen and respectfully talk. This experience is no different if we choose to see it so. Speak directly, engage in eye contact, if need be, sit down to be at eye level, be patient if the person needs extra time to respond, nod and support non-verbally. And as in any relationship, it’s important that we ‘read the room’, as the expression goes. Does the person seem like they want to connect? Do they seem relaxed as you ask questions? Is there a flow in the conversation, just two people getting to know one another? Just care. No matter their abilities, no matter yours, we all sense authenticity and kindness.
    • Honour Autonomy – We all want to feel capable; since we were little, we’ve had a drive to do things on our own, test our boundaries, see what we can do and go for it. Sometimes we need a little help, sometimes we want it, sometimes we don’t, we want to keep trying on our own. Same here. If you see someone with a disability struggling, don’t assume they need your assistance. Pause, discreetly. See if they are good on their own, just needing a little extra time. You’ll get the vibe. Don’t jump in; don’t draw attention. If you do feel this is a circumstance where it looks like someone could use help, always ask first. Just like you’d like to be asked. And then honour the answer that comes, as you would appreciate. Be observant, not overbearing. Be helpful, not presumptuous. And always assume competence, even if that person does things differently than you do.
    • Empower Decision Making – Within your development service worker course/ service worker program you will learn about how to support people with disabilities in their daily life. This can include showering, eating, chores, helping with choices about work, healthcare, life choices, even legal matters. This person may need assistance in decision making, and if they ask, or you offer and they affirm, it’s essential that you consciously support rather that take over. As much as possible, you want to empower the person to, ultimately, make their own decisions and learn this skill well, so they feel autonomous, rather than dependent. How to? Help them consider various options, review risks versus benefits, connect them with an expert for advice, talk openly and allow them to lead, consider, make the final decision. And when they make mistakes, as we all do, discuss the lesson and a strategy for next time. You play an essential role in this and can truly help a person grow in confidence, a gift for you both.
    • Simply Set an Example for Others – You can do much to change the misunderstandings, stigma, disconnect between those with disabilities and those without (or at least those we can’t see), just by the way you act every day. See people with disabilities and connect, day to day, as you would anyone else. Smile, say hello, strike up a conversation. Those around you will take notice; it helps others learn. Learn the terms that people with disabilities use to describe themselves and use them. Use inclusive language at all times and always, always, see the person first and whatever their disability may be, second. Make no assumptions. If in doubt, ask. Be the kind of person, friend, advocate you’d want to have if you were to have a disability.
    • Speak Up and Celebrate – Begin to see the world through the eyes of a person with a disability, it might shock you. What are the hurdles, where are the ramps, is the desk low enough at an office that a person with a disability would be seen, is the music too loud for one with sensory issues? When you do this, you will begin to understand the extraordinary stamina and courage a person with a disability has; they overcome challenges everyday and are still often the one with the biggest smile during a new-friend conversation. We have much to learn from those who are different than we are and have an opportunity to stand up for what is right. If you hear something misinformed about people with disabilities, or derogatory, speak up. Advocate for inclusion. If you see a barrier, mention it. Speak to the business owner, write to government officials, and decision makers. Advocate for change. And whenever and wherever you can notice and celebrate what the world is doing well. Celebrate your clients’ accomplishments big and small and in working to make a difference in the lives of others, you can also celebrate your own.

There are few careers as rewarding as being a developmental service worker. Your consideration and care of others makes a powerful difference every single day. Did this post stir you? Then perhaps this path is for you. If you’re still determining how to align your interests with a study program, take the “Anderson College Developmental Support Worker Discovery Quiz”.

But if you’re ready to start your Developmental Service Worker career, we’re here to help you navigate your way. Book a virtual appointment with our Admissions team and let’s get you launched, shall we?

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