By: Maxwell Barrows, Outreach Director of Green Mountain Self-Advocates
I first got involved in self-advocacy when I was graduating from high school. It all began when Green Mountain Self-Advocates supported students with disabilities to come together to form a local self-advocacy group. Self-Advocacy has made me discover strengths that I was not aware of when I was young.
Disabilities are experienced by each individual in their own way. I have Autism and it is just the way I experience everyday life. My brain takes time to process information. There is a shield that develops around me that does not let too much get into my head. Do not try to shove too much information in my head. It will just bounce off the shield and onto the floor.
People need to know that we are more than just our disability. We have dreams and goals like everyone else. Many people with disabilities are used to having their lives controlled by others and having decisions made for them. My job at Green Mountain Self-Advocates is to encourage my peers to discover their strengths and realize that it is their life and that they own it!
Self-Advocacy has helped me learn about myself by connecting with people with all kinds of backgrounds, no matter their ethnicity, disability, or differences. Having a career as the Outreach Director of Green Mountain Self-Advocates is very rewarding. I am empowered by making a positive impact on people’s lives.
Some of my accomplishments are:
- Being a role model. People are inspired to make changes in their own lives by what they see me do.
- Having a strong relationship with state legislators.
- Being a voice for true inclusion in my community. People see what we have to offer as co-workers, neighbors, and members of society.
I am a disability advocate. I seek new ways to stand up towards the lingering negative attitudes that control the lives of persons with disabilities. One key is educating people about presuming competence. Do not assume what someone can or cannot do. Even though people may need support, let us have opportunities to try and accomplish things on our own.
As a peer mentor, listening to my peers helps me be a better leader. I recognize how their stories have deep roots in the challenges people with disabilities have faced for thousands of years! When it comes to getting support, peer to peer connections is the way to go. When we do advocacy together, we are learning to further accept who we are. We meet others who face similar challenges growing up as a person with a disability. You absolutely get the honest truth from your peers. You are hearing it through the experience of peers directly.
When there is information coming from others, it can be sugar-coated; the environment can feel too controlling and biased. When you connect with peers, the atmosphere can feel safe.
When I am with peers with disabilities, I feel that I am with family.
This is why I prioritize introducing self-advocacy to youth. We need to continue to spread positive messages about people with disabilities in schools. When young folks are involved, they bring a high level of enthusiasm to the movement. Keep in mind, however, people of all ages are crucial to the movement as well.
In conclusion, it is important for disability groups to partner with organizations outside of the disability community. This is a great way for our issues to be talked about on a larger scale. After all, there is no migrant justice without climate justice, no worker rights without disability rights. We need everyone’s support!
Bio: Maxwell Barrows is the Outreach Director of Green Mountain Self-Advocates, a statewide disability rights organization in Vermont. GMSA is a lead partner of the Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center. Max leads SARTAC’s technical assistance team assisting local and state self-advocacy organizations across the nation.