Our Voices: Self-Advocate Leadership in Inclusion Advocacy

Panel Description:
People with disabilities belong at the center of any discussion or advocacy for disability rights and full inclusion in society. We have a responsibility to build movements and organizations that actively work to build, maintain, and grow self-advocate leadership.

Those who are disabled have first-hand experience with segregation, discrimination, abuse, and violence. We know better than anyone else the often harsh realities for people deemed different and thus defective or deficient. We have also been at the forefront of designing alternative ways to communicate, build networks, and mobilize our peers and allies to action.

In this panel discussion, we will talk about the critical importance of supporting people with disabilities in leadership roles in fighting for disability rights. We are neither your feel-good tokens or your inspirations. Rather, we are working toward a more inclusive society with equity and justice for those who are currently marginalized. In other words, we know best why “inclusion” is more than just a buzzword, and how to make it happen on our own terms. Whether it’s doing disability advocacy or doing special education, doing transition planning or doing employment supports, let’s talk about what real inclusion means.

Panel Objectives:
1) Define “self-advocate leadership” and “tokenism.”
2) Distinguish between types of advocacy done by non-disabled people versus people with disabilities and critique advocacy efforts where disabled people are not meaningfully included in leadership.
3) Discuss commonly held assumptions that don’t appreciate or acknowledge alternative ways of doing advocacy used by people with disabilities.
4) Discuss ways to better support people with disabilities in assuming and keeping leadership roles in advocacy efforts.
5) Respond to overly simplistic or clinical ideas about inclusion, informed by the perspectives of leaders with disabilities.


  • People with disabilities can benefit by learning from their peers who have already built a strong track record of leadership.
  • Parents and family members who do not have disabilities can also learn from the perspectives of those most directly affected.
  • Service providers, clinicians, educators, and policymakers likewise have an opportunity to hear from the most impacted constituency on disability — disabled people ourselves.