Independence, Inc. in Minot, a resource center for individuals with disabilities on independent living, is holding an Advocacy Leadership Program skills training. The program is a skills development course for individuals with disabilities, focusing on the history of the disability movement, disability rights, independent living, and assertiveness and self-advocacy.
"Participants in the program have walked away more empowered, with the confidence to go ahead and speak up. It helps to know they're not alone, and to find people with similar interests," Therese Besemann, systems change specialist for Independence, Inc. said.
"The program can help them learn who to talk to, where to go, and how to go about it when they're advocating for themselves," she added.
Submitted photo --
Individuals in the Advocacy Leadership Program view a presentation about self-advocacy skills.
The program begins with a brief history, explaining the people and events which have influenced the disability rights movement.
"I think you need to know where you've been in order to move forward. With the younger generation, they may not be taught how to advocate and speak out. They were born into having these (disability rights) laws, and it's taken for granted. They're not used to advocating for themselves, they let others do it," Besemann said.
"If you don't know how people fought for those freedoms, you're not going to get anywhere," she added.
The course then moves to explaining the rights that individuals with disabilities have. By knowing the laws, individuals can know their rights concerning housing, employment, and other issues.
"If you don't know the law that protects you, you're almost setting yourself up to be a victim because of ignorance. For example, you need to know, if you have a service animal, that you have the right to live in a place free of discrimination and they can't tell you that you can't live there," Besemann said.
Later, the course moves to independent living and advocacy issues. Individuals in the program learn how to communicate their needs by contacting government or business representatives.
"I usually suggest when people start out in advocacy, to first learn how to be assertive and how to communicate your needs to other people. The best way to get into it is to start out with something small to build your confidence," Besemann said.
"For example, in the apartment building where you live, maybe get a renter's association together, or get involved in the legislative working committee (at Independence, Inc.)," she added.
The program also presents information on how to contact individuals through letters and phone calls to affect positive change.
"It's a really easy thing to do now. You can write an email instead of a letter, or you can just pick up the phone. Once you do it once or twice, you realize you can do it. Just communicating is the big thing, you don't have to use big words or write something that sounds legal," Besemann said.
Through the program, Besemann hopes that individuals with disabilities can become empowered to advocate for themselves.
"I hope they gain the knowledge of their rights and that they take that with them, talk to others, and start making positive changes," she said.
Through Independence, Inc., the Advocacy Leadership Program is free of charge. Two sessions of the program are held per month, in March, June, September, and November. For more information on the program, or to request a registration form, contact Therese at 839-4724.