Nothing About Us Without Us

Nothing About Us Without Us

By Leela Raj

Editor’s note: In 2022, Keystone Institute India co-facilitated and co-organized two advocacy retreats geared toward assisting people with developmental disabilities to take on leadership roles in their communities, as well as in the national self-advocacy movement.

Self-advocacy is centered on people with intellectual and developmental disability staking claim to the fact that every individual matters and everyone has a voice that must be heard. To truly be in the driver’s seat of their lives, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities require support, deep listening, mentorship, and modeling from people with disabilities themselves. This shines the light on another inevitable reality, the power of valued social roles – roles that instill confidence and self-worth and a belief that people, including people with disability, can steer their lives in the direction that is guided by their own priorities and decisions.

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The advocacy retreats in Bengaluru and Delhi this year were successful only because the advocates, who were the primary focus for the retreats, felt so and said so. They were successful because the gatherings acknowledged that each advocate is an individual with their own strengths, needs, boundaries, and above all, their own voice.

The key goals of the retreat were self-awareness, team building, education, asserting boundaries, and building choice and autonomy. Each goal-driven task was carried out in small groups which provided the space for acceptance and respect for diverse needs, competencies, and accommodations. It also provided opportunities for support, kinship, and camaraderie.

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The second retreat organically evolved into an opportunity where each group was led by an advocate who also assumed the role of a co-facilitator. And by reposing this faith on the ability of the individual to be a group leader, it also communicated high expectancies. This visibly enhanced the individual’s sense of worth and confidence. Remember the first time your parent gave you the car keys and let you drive the family out for dinner or the first time you were given the opportunity to prepare a meal and show your culinary skills? Opportunity, faith in a person’s ability, and belief that the person can grow and excel in their role can transform an individual to trust themselves to achieve greater things, and to believe that they too can, they are capable too, they can contribute too. And thereby are pathways created to access the good things of life.