Self-Advocacy in the Workplace

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One of the most important skills to learn if you are an individual with a learning difference or disability, whether that be physical or invisible, is how to be an advocate for yourself and be able to communicate effectively about your needs in whatever may be thesetting.

Self-advocacy is knowing what you want, what you need, what you do well, and what you may need assistance with doing. This also includes knowing your legal rights, what is best for you, and who to tell what information. Self-advocacy can empower people and give them the access they need to reasonable accommodations and strategies. Let’s talk more about what are some helpful tips for becoming a better self-advocate in the workplace.

First Steps

  1. Work hard and be as productive as possible. If your supervisor knows you are a hard worker and reliable, they will want to work together on figuring out what works best for you and can improve your performance even more. Make sure you do your best at all times and it will feel more comfortable approaching your supervisor about workplace accommodations as well.
  2. Represent yourself well and professionally. In order to show that you are a productive worker, there are usually expectations to follow at your workplace, such as: dressing nicely, getting to work on time or early, keeping on track of your work emails, being respectful and pleasant around coworkers, being helpful, being passionate about your work, asking questions to your supervisors, and keeping them informed of things going on.
  3. Be as helpful as possible! We can’t stress this enough! When anybody asks you to help out or do something, DO IT! Use this as a way to grow and opportunity to serve and help others. If other people feel supported by you, the more likely they will be there to give support to you when you need it as well. It always helps to work in a kind, supportive, and steady work environment.
  4. Be confident! The more you practice being assertive and working on being kind and compassionate to yourself, the more others can see that and feel comfortable coming to you with things and having you as a team member. Confidence is a skill that takes practice, work on that by bettering yourself and working on things you might not be as comfortable with and by getting feedback from supervisors.

self-advocacy-in-workplace

Next steps: What Accommodations are Right for YOU?

  1. First off, you should always be familiar with your legal rights as a person with a disability. Read through and research the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When you are able to learn that the law really is on your side and here to help, this will help you to feel even more comfortable and confident when approaching supervisors about accommodations. Practicing these conversations is a good idea. You usually do not need to submit documentation when asking for workplace accommodations, but should have this available to you as employers can request that before actually providing the accommodation.
  2. Ask yourself these questions: Does your workplace have everything you need and does this increase your productivity? How well do you communicate with others, what are you most comfortable with and what are areas to improve on in this way? What are your main job duties and tasks? What do you need in order to be the most productive at your workplace? Always remember to focus on your strengths and what you do well.
  3. Be familiar with what accommodations are typically offered for individuals with your condition. A really good website to use is the Job Accommodation Network or askjan.org. This website lists different disabilities – physical, emotional, etc. It then lists examples of reasonable accommodations for each condition and ways to ask for or use these at your workplace. This is a great resource to turn to when you have questions and to better educate yourself and your employers as well. Feel free to check out the website at www.askjan.org or give them a call at 1-800-5267234.
  4. Make your request. Sometimes you do not even need to disclose your actual condition to your employer; there is so much new assistive technology that is constantly used by people with disabilities and without. The choice is yours on disclosing. Be comfortable deciding what you want to do and come up with your own suggestions and solutions before hand so you feel empowered.
  5. Follow up with your written accommodation request. This request should be brief and should also talk to the important information regarding your condition and the current need for accommodations. Make sure to talk about how these reasonable accommodations will assist you in meeting your workplace productivity and goals. If your accommodation request is denied, for whatever reason, continue to work with your supervisor and also with the HR department at your workplace to resolve the matter.

When your reasonable accommodations are approved, continue to use them well and to be productive in your place of employment. Continue to be helpful to your co-workers and supervisors and feel comfortable expressing how things are going. Remember, becoming a skilled self-advocate takes time, practice, and determination. Work hard and great things will come your way, we believe in you, Bulldogs!

Read other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

Photo source: Unsplash | Joanna Kosinska

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