Q & A with Katherine Olson, Peer Mentor Coordinator, The Arc of Virginia

Q: What is self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy is about making your own decisions. It is about making your needs and desires known to others in order to have them met. It is about finding the right services that you need.

Self advocacy is about bringing people with I/DD together to create one strong voice that is loud enough to make change. Self-advocacy is about speaking up for yourself or others who may have difficulty being heard. Its about protecting yourself and others from discrimination and making sure that the civil rights of people with I/DD are not being violated. Its about making legislators aware of your needs and the needs of others.

Q: What is it like to be a self-advocate?
A: I enjoy being a self-advocate because it has made me a much stronger person. It has helped me meet other people who have the same concerns and has showed me how I can get others involved. It has taught me to be more determined, more independent and it has made me more sensitive to the on-going struggles that others face in order to have a quality life.

Q: How can other people with I/DD get involved with self-advocacy?
A: Call your local chapter of The Arc and see if there is a self-advocacy group in your community. If there is not, consider offering to help get a group started. All self-advocacy groups are run by people with I/DD for people with I/DD. Some self-advocacy groups do different things like learning public speaking (Toastmasters) volunteering in the community (Aktion Clubs) and social events. Here is a list of self-advocacy groups in Virginia to help you get started.

Self-Advocacy Groups in Virginia and the National Self-Advocacy Council

People First of Charlottesville 
Contact: Martha Maltais, Advisor
(434) 970-2131
currently inactive

People First of Chesterfield
Contact: Kristin Caire
Meeting Time & Place: third Thursday of the month at 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Chester United Methodist Church, 12132 Percival Street, Chester, VA

People First of Northern Virginia/ALLY Toastmasters of Northern Virginia
Contact: Lucy Beadnell, Director of Advocacy
(703) 208-1119, ext. 116 |
Meeting Time & Place: second Thursday of the month, 6:30-8 PM
The Arc of Northern Virginia   2755 Hartland Rd., Suite 200   Falls Church, VA 22043

Four Seasons Richmond
Contact: Robert Larkin
(804) 358-2211 |
Meeting Time & Place: First Tuesday of the month 6:30-7:30 pm
Ridge Baptist Church:  1515 Eastridge Road, Henrico VA  23229

People First of Virginia Beach/Aktion Club
Meeting Time & Place: second Saturday of the month from September to May (except January)

National Council of Self-Advocates
The National Council of Self-Advocates or NCSA is a leading organization for self-advocates in The Arc and its chapter network. NCSA influences The Arc’s advocacy efforts, informs The Arc’s programming and ensure people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the country have the same civil and human rights that every citizen enjoys. You can learn more about how you can participate in NCSA here.