Self-advocacy for young people with a vision impairment

A guide on how to self-advocate (speak up or yourself) for young people and for parents to share with a younger child, to give them tips for when you’re not around.

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What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is an important skill. It involves being able to represent yourself so that you can describe a difficulty you’re having to someone who can help get the support you need to do well. Self-advocacy is a skill which takes time to develop and you’ll improve with practice.

When will I need to self-advocate?

There are times when being able to self-advocate is important. Here are some examples when you’re at school or college: 

Guide Dogs has helped me become a powerful self-advocate, a skill that I know will stand me in good stead in the future. Despite the hurdles, I now feel more able to tackle any challenges that come my way.

What can I do? Think ‘high five’!

The following ‘high five’ questions give you a structure for practising your self-help and advocacy skills. Using the structure will help you find positive solutions to many of the issues you might come across.

The high five questions are:

  • Who?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • What?
  • How?

Who do I talk to?

Ask yourself the question, who are the people who help you already? You may need to talk to one, some or all of them, depending on the situation. In school that might include your teaching assistant, class teacher or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo). Out of school that might be your parents/carers and/or other family members.

Top tip

  • These people can help you think about what you want to say but don’t rely on them to do the talking for you. It’s more powerful if you explain the situation yourself, and it will help you develop your independence for the future.

When do I self-advocate?

It’s best to explain you’re having a problem as soon as it comes up, so that it doesn’t get any bigger.

Choose your moment wisely and arrange a time to talk through your concerns with the person who can best help you. If your first attempt doesn’t go so well, don’t give up and, instead, have another go.

Where do I discuss the situation?

While it’s always best to address your concerns when they come up, it may not always be possible in a busy school environment. Sometimes it’s better to talk about your concerns away from the place where they happen, for example away from the classroom. You may find it easier to explain the situation and how you feel somewhere quieter and with just one other person.

What do I say?

Finding the right opening sentence can sometimes make all the difference, so it’s worth practising what you’re going to say. A positive way to start would be with something like:

  • “Sir, have you got a moment please?”
  • Or “I’m having trouble keeping up with you and the lesson, can you help me?”
  • Or “Miss, can I speak to you later today about some concerns I’ve got?”

The adult you’re speaking to should recognise that you’re asking for space to talk. They’ll be able to make some suggestions about when you can talk in more detail, as well as offering practical steps you can take to get the help you need.

How do I self-advocate?

When you’re trying to get your feelings over to the other person, always try to be:

  • Confident but not aggressive.
  • Calm and polite.
  • Prepared – before you meet, write down your concerns and a possible solution, if you have one.
  • Balanced – show you’re aware that not everything is going wrong. Instead, put together a list of what’s working well alongside what’s not working so well.

Top tips

  • If you have more than one concern, prioritise them and talk about each one separately.
  • Self-advocacy is a skill; some of us are better at it than others and that’s okay, but remember – the more you practise, the easier it will become, just keep trying!