Self Advocacy

Self-advocacy is the ability to identify your strengths and weaknesses, the ability to make personal goals, be assertive, and make decisions.

When you are a self-advocate, you are able to:

  • describe your own skills and needs
  • set your own goals and a create a plan to reach them
  • know how, who, and when to ask for assistance
  • make decisions and then take the responsibility to deal with the consequences of those decisions

Successful youth who are deaf or hard of hearing can identify that the ability to self-advocate is the key to success. Self-advocacy often leads to self-determination, which contributes to positive outcomes for youth with hearing loss. Youth need to recognize, accept and understand their hearing loss and take responsibility for themselves.

Parents and teachers may find training in self-advocacy difficult to locate, though several programs throughout North America now have curricula addressing this crucial set of skills. One of the popular self-advocacy websites is

Barriers to Self-Advocacy

The primary barriers to self-advocacy for youth who are deaf or have hearing loss may include:

  • Encountering people who do not understand hearing loss and why accommodations or assistance may be necessary or appropriate
  • Not having full communication and/or information access in order to describe their abilities, needs and the conditions that best promote their learning
  • Having not been directly taught appropriate self-advocacy skills and/or not having someone to work with them through situations where they might need to self-advocate
  • Not knowing who to contact to obtain the necessary assistance or accommodations, what to ask for or how to best to utilize supports
  • Having limited confidence in their abilities and low self-esteem because of ongoing communication or attitudinal barriers. As a result, they may be reluctant to ask questions in class or request extra assistance

Tips on developing successful self-advocacy skills

  • Start early: Starting early familiarizes youth with the self-determination and self-awareness steps. When this is focused at the elementary and high school levels, the youth are better equipped to know how and when to advocate after high school
  • Identify and close gaps: The more access youth with hearing loss have to information, the more ownership they have in making decisions and choices in a different environment
  • Understand the hearing loss: It is very important that youth who are deaf or hard of hearing know about their own hearing loss and how it affects them and others in society. Understanding their hearing loss enables them to better communicate their accommodation needs in various situations (e.g. classes in college or university)
  • Know and understand their legal rights: Youth need to know and understand existing laws relating to obtaining accommodations in various situations (e.g. in college or university, workplace, community services, etc.). Having the youth participate in developing his or her Individual Educational Plan (IEP) will help develop his or her self-advocacy skills
  • Know what "fits": Let the youth experiment with and learn about the accommodations that work best for the student in various situations so that he or she will be better equipped to select specific appropriate accommodation.

With established self-advocacy skills, youth are able to appropriately describe their abilities and needs, and the accommodations and assistance that support their learning. They are actively involved in setting realistic goals for their learning. They stay in school longer and tend to be more successful in the workplace.


Self-Advocacy, Programming for students with special needs, Alberta Education 1996

Self Advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing students. What parents need to know series, Colorado Families for Hands & Voices

Martin, J., Huber-Marshall, L., & Maxcon, L. (1993) Transition policy: Infusing self determination and self-advocacy into transition programs. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals 16(1), 56

Self-Advocacy website through UNC Charlotte homepage:


Self-Advocacy, Hearing Loss Association of America