Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Series: Self-advocacy September 2021

Self-advocacy September: Figure Out What You Need—Self-determination

The Free Bridges Helpdesk kicks off the school season in September with Self-advocacy (don’t you love alliteration?)! Our first Self-advocacy September post focuses on a crucial first step in self-advocacy: Self-Determination.

What is self-determination?

The term, itself, means making your own decisions—determining what you will do now and in the future. While the term is straightforward, getting to a place of self-determination takes time and lots and lots of practice.

Self-determination is not something you do once, and it’s not something that is limited to school or work. Self-determination is an ever-present and ever-changing process, and we encounter opportunities for self-determination in all aspects of our lives. Let’s explore self-determination a bit.

How to start the process of self-determination

We know that self-determination means making decisions for ourselves. But making decisions is not always easy. In order to make good decisions, we need to know what we want as an outcome and what options/choices are available so that we can make informed decisions for ourselves.

What do you want?

Before we can evaluate choices, we have to determine what we want. Imagine that it’s mid-afternoon, and you’re a little hungry, but you know that you’ll be going out to your favorite restaurant for dinner in a few hours. Before you even consider what snack options you may have available, you have to decide for yourself: “Do I want a snack now, or do I want to wait so that I’ll be hungrier at dinner?” What is your goal: satisfy the hunger now or wait until dinnertime to eat?

While this is, admittedly, a minor and short-term goal, it illustrates how we must prepare ourselves for decision-making: we need to have a goal in mind BEFORE considering our choices. Our lives are filled with big and small goals, short-term and long-term goals, and determining what our goals are is the first step in self-determination.

What choices are available?

Once we know what we want (or at least what we think we want right now), we can move onto the next step of self-determination: making choices. We have so many choices to make every day. What time to wake up? What toothpaste to use? When and what to eat? What to wear? What homework to do now? How to hang out with and reach out to friends? When to study for an upcoming test? What to do on the weekend? What to do after graduation?

Usually, we don’t have too much trouble making day-to-day decisions. We typically know what to expect from our different choices (like what to eat for breakfast). Longer-term decisions can be harder: Do I want to continue school after graduation? What kind of employment should I pursue? In these cases, we might not have enough information to know if these choices even fit into our goals.

Sometimes, we don’t know what all the choices are, sometimes there are too many choices, and sometimes we don’t have the necessary information to compare the choices we do know about. It can feel difficult or impossible to make decisions that best fit our goals.

Impact of my disability/disabilities

Please know that self-determination is hard for everyone at every age. It can provide freedom, but it’s also a big responsibility. Self-determination for transition-age students (14 through 21) is different. During these years, you are exploring what you want for your future: it’s exciting, but it can be intimidating as well.

First, know that it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s much better to make a wrong decision than to make no decision at all. Decisions get us moving in a direction, and decisions can be changed. However, if we don’t make a decision, we cannot begin the journey at all.

As always, our own individual circumstances, including disabilities, are part of the self-determination process, but remember: YOU are the decision-maker, not your disability/disabilities! Instead of thinking about your disability, think about your dreams! What would you love doing if there were no limitations: financial, physical, geographical, etc. Now, we can begin our careful path of transforming our dreams into reality:

  • Think about what you would love doing in your spare time—even if nobody paid you to do it.
    • There are many, many jobs now that didn’t exist 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.
    • Those jobs were created by people who were so passionate about their dreams that they got great at what they did and figured out a way to get paid to do it!
  • Instead of focusing on one particular job, think about what it is about your dream job that you like? For example, maybe you want to help sick people get better.
    • There are many careers that allow a person to do this:
      • Doctors, Nurses, Physician’s Assistants (in-person and telemedicine)
      • Therapists (mental health, physical, occupational speech, art, music, etc.)
      • Pharmacists
      • Scientists
        • Developing medical technology
        • Developing medicines
        • Testing medicines and therapies
      • Home health care
      • Lawmakers and lobbyists pursuing more legal rights and better legal protections
      • This list goes on and on

By looking at WHAT you like about your dream job, you can discover many different WAYS to make your dream come true. Your disability/disabilities and other factors might not be as big a factor in pursuing your dreams as you might have thought.

Also, there may already be blind/low vision people doing your dream job. There are blind chemists, physicists, doctors, actors, athletes, teachers, mechanics, woodworkers, chefs, entrepreneurs, business owners, attorneys, judges, politicians, and the list goes on and on. Even better, many of these great people would LOVE to serve as a mentor for you!

Self-determination resources

But how can we find out about all these possibilities? Who can we talk to about this?

Luckily, we don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t even need to know all the questions. But we do need resources, and we have them! We have people who can help us identify what our goals are. Friends, parents, teachers, and the Free Bridges Helpdesk are great resources to discuss your ideas and your dreams.

Please contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk ANYTIME. We have information and resources about tools and techniques you might not have heard of. We have blind mentors and can connect you with others so that you can talk with someone who really has been where you are now. The Bridges Helpdesk also has staff with experience in parenting and teaching blind/low vision students: we are here for families and educators as well. We look forward to hearing from you and joining you on your fabulous Journey of Self-determination!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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