What is the Self-Advocacy Movement?

Self-advocacy is about independent groups of people with disabilities working together for justice by helping each other take charge of our lives and fight discrimination. It teaches us how to make decisions and choices that affect our lives so we can be more independent. It also teaches us about our rights, but along with learning about our rights we learn responsibilities. The way we learn about advocating for ourselves is by supporting each other and helping each other gain confidence in ourselves so we can speak out for what we believe. (SABE, 1991)



Self-advocate Bernard Carabello spoke with Geraldo Rivera (a reporter) about the abuse at Willowbrook State School where Bernard lived. The report shocked people and helped build the movement to close institutions.


“People First” self-advocacy group is formed in Oregon. “People First” was the United State’s first and largest group!

People First held a conference in 1974. Almost 600 self-advocates came and made their voices heard.


After “People First” started, other groups started in every single state in the US. There are over 800 groups in the United States. Even today new groups continue to start!



The Supreme Court makes a decision in Halderman v. Pennhurst. Halderman sued Pennhurst (a large institution) for violating his rights and the rights of other people who lived at Pennhurst. The Supreme Court decided that Pennhurst must be closed. This is a major victory for self-advocates who want to choose where they live!



A national group called Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) formed to link together smaller state and local self-advocacy groups.


SABE formed a committee called “Operation Close the Doors” to help self-advocacy groups put pressure on local and state service agencies to close institutions and support people living in institutions.


“Speaking for Ourselves” in Pennsylvania toured the seven remaining institutions in the state. They worked with ADAPT (another disability rights group) to close the institutions.


The U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead Decision. The Olmstead Decision says that segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination. People with disabilities should not be in segregated places like institutions and sheltered workshops. People with disabilities have the right to choose where they want to live.



The Green Mountain Self Advocates help close all the sheltered workshops in Vermont. Now the Green Mountain Self Advocates hold workshops about converting workshops to supported employment for people with intellectual disability.


The United Nations approved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an agreement between countries (this is called a treaty). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also called the CRPD for short.


Self-advocates help make Rosa’s Law. This law takes the r-word out of laws and policies the U.S. government makes and replaces it with intellectual disability.



Jenny Hatch wins her court case. A judge rejected her parents’ request for guardianship. Her parents wanted guardianship so they could make her stay in a group home, but Jenny wanted to live with her friends. The court decision makes sure she can continue choosing where to live.


Self-advocates help get the ABLE Act passed. The ABLE Act created tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. These accounts allow people with disabilities to save money without having to lose their government benefits, including Social Security and Medicaid.