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

People First of Charlottesville
Contact: Martha Maltais, Advisor
(434) 970-2131
Meeting Time & Place: third Tuesday of the month

People First of Chesterfield
Contact: James Holdren, Advisor
(804) 748-6006 |
Meeting Time & Place: third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m.
Chester United Methodist Church, 12132 Percival Street, Chester, VA

People First of Northern Virginia/Toastmasters of Northern Virginia
Contact: Lucy Beadnell, Director of Advocacy
(703) 532-3214, ext. 116 |
Meeting Time & Place: second Thursday of the month
Fairfax County Government Center, Conference Rooms 2 and 3
12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035

Four Seasons (Richmond)
Contact: Eric Drumheller or Cindy Minto
(804) 358-2211 | or
Meeting Time & Place: second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.
1000 N. Thompson Street, Richmond, VA 23230

People to People (South Hampton Roads)
Contact: Paula Traverse-Charlton
(757) 567-4819
Meeting Time & Place: first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m.
Eggleston Services on Ingelside Road, Norfolk

People First of Virginia Beach/Aktion Club
Contact: Nancy Monteith, Advisor
(757) 385-0593 |
Meeting Time & Place: second Saturday of the month from September to May (except January)