What has self-advocacy got to do with being equal? And why is so important NOW!

August 30 2022, 11:31am


PJ Cleere outlines why it is so important that organisations make advocacy more prominent in order to get ahead of the changes in the disability landscape.

When we feel confident of our right to speak about our needs and make our choices known, once we get a little practice, we can go on to speak out in most situations.

It isn’t easy for many people to start.  Sometimes the first step is something as small as being finally strong enough  to tell someone that they never liked gravy on their dinner and would prefer not to have it now thanks. It doesn’t matter how big or small the issue is, once you find your voice,  there is a great feeling of strength and confidence that comes with the experience.  We often find that when we start with the small things, like speaking to people we are familiar with and in places we know well, it gets easier to widen that out and speak in other places too. Even to strangers.

Building both confidence and capacity for ‘speaking out’ will happen at many levels within the disability services environment. It will include service organisations management, key workers and most importantly service owners themselves.  It is in this context that both DFI and our members want service owners:

  • to have the opportunity to speak out about the services they receive and have more say in the supports they need day to day.
  • to have the opportunity to be heard outside of the services used.
  • to be able to express their opinions on what can give them more independent lives in the community.

There are lots of opportunities for us all to contribute to the kind of community we want to live in. People with disabilities have the same right as everyone else to offer their opinion on housing, transport, training and education, employment, or any other area of life. As an equal member in the community, it is not only the right of persons with disabilities to have their say, it is also a responsibility, just like it is for everyone else. DFI and our members want to see service owners use and enjoy that right and want to support them develop and use it.   

Self-advocacy is more important right now than ever before. Those that provide and fund services are looking beyond a person’s disability and towards the person being central to decisions. Disability is being regarded  by people who make major disability funding and services decisions as much more of an equality issue than just a health issue.

In our local communities those who fund planned activities want to know how users feel about the services they receive and if they are reaching those who really need services.  Changes passed into law e.g., Assisted Decision Making Act 2015, and are now being implemented on the ground. One of the core elements of this change is a heightened focus on viewing the service owner as a person with rights, who has a voice of their own and who can make their own choices.

Changes will impact how funding for services will be provided to members. Many disability services previously funded directly by the HSE will be funded under the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. As always funding can be applied for from the HSE, but also from community funding sources to deliver services and training on the basis of equality, social inclusion and participation.

The health needs of service owners will still be looked after by the health services, so, there is still a lot to be worked out between these two Departments. To  get more information about this change to a new government Department ( insert link to information on move to equality dept). 

There are many important details to be ironed out, but for the sake of this discussion, what matters most is the right to choose, the right to be heard, and the fact the equality of people with disabilities in Irish society is becoming more recognised by those who can make positive change really happen. We just need to find our voices and tell them what we need.

Supporting members through these changes, the DFI Self-Advocacy programme has created an advocacy network (forum) for members to address the multiple issues involved in these changes and to support building self-advocacy capacity in member organisations, with key workers and ultimately service owners. Register here to attend our next meeting online on 13th September at 11.00 – 1.00pm.