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Learning to Trust Your Gut:  Becoming a Self-Advocate

When I entered my freshman year of high school, I knew I wanted to try everything. My whole life I had been waiting to be a teenager, waiting to be like all of those high school kids I looked up to. Kids like Zach Morris and Kelly Kapowski, DJ and Stephanie Tanner, along with all of the ones in Beverly Hills who would have benefited from less money and more parental supervision (HINT: ’90s television reference – if you don’t get them, be grateful that you’re so young)… watching them taught me that high school would be a time of adventure and discovery. When I got there, I learned that high school is when you start practicing the art of “trusting your gut” – or more broadly referred to as “self-advocacy.”

Rocketing into a Life of Independence

Feeling empowered and enthusiastic about all of the new things I could try with the elective hours I needed to fill, I decided to start by throwing myself completely outside my comfort zone, a place called Introduction to Auto Mechanics. I knew that, at the very least, being able to explain to someone else how to change a tire could be extremely useful for me moving forward with my life as a person with a significant physical disability. In my mind, this would be Phase 1 of the launch sequence, a series of events that would ultimately rocket me to a life of independence.

The instructor for auto did not, however, understand the practical nature of my presence in the class. This became increasingly apparent throughout the semester. Week after week I spent my time completing a series of multiple-choice quizzes that I had prepared for by using flashcards and worksheets, when eventually I realized that the other students were receiving hands-on experience in group activities.

What I Wish I Would Have Known Then: Making the Most of Opportunities

Fifteen years later, I know that asking questions and explaining my needs in education are not the same as being rude or disrespectful. In that situation, I was the only one who knew what I needed. Reviewing flashcards and completing written quizzes was not be best way to capture my young mind, and thinking back, I should have discussed with the teacher how my education was not being well served. But that was then.

I remember having a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, that I should be somehow included in what everyone else was doing. Instead I decided that my instructor must have had a good reason to keep me separate, and that speaking up would automatically mean starting a fight to be included in on something that I feared I wasn’t meant to be part of anyway.

And this is now:  I don’t have the slightest idea how a car engine works or how to change a tire, let alone explain it to someone else.  What I do know is how to make the most of every opportunity and when to speak up about a discrepancy if I’m not being given a fair chance to show my potential.  These are the best things to learn if you want to find success…which for me, means having a job that allows me to afford a reliable vehicle and a nifty invention called roadside assistance.

About the Author

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Anna Gouker

Anna is a writer and advocate – check out her blog: Anna Works…Let’s talk about employment, empowerment, and disability. She holds a Master’s of Science degree in Rehabilitation Psychology from UW-Madison.
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