Self-advocacy was a word I’d never heard growing up. I little thought it would one day describe what I do. Self advocacy is all about understanding one’s needs (individual or a homogenous group), knowing the required support and being able to communicate to the appropriate people.
I was hardly 7 or 8 when my dad invited me into our family huddle, which discussed family issues. To my surprise, my dad actually asked for my suggestions. I was elated to be treated like an adult. Soon I found myself included in all the family discussions.
Whenever his decision was not as per my suggestion, Dad spent time in explaining the other key factors that he considered like the balance between the best interest of the family members and the budget constraints. Every time he explains something, I make sure that I consider all those points before giving any suggestions in future. Without my knowledge, my family laid the foundation for my journey towards self advocacy.
Taking a Stand
After completing my tenth, when I approached college authorities for admission they said they wouldn’t be able to make the necessary adaptations to the infrastructure to accommodate me. We didn’t think to challenge the authorities and meekly explored other alternatives to continue my studies. I knew what I needed, but didn’t yet know how to effectively communicate it.
After college, my application for a job was rejected due to my disability. Once again, I accepted what was handed to me and looked for other options.
But when another organization rejected me for a job, it was time to take a stand. I had qualified on all the technical grounds, but the organization failed me in the medical test. With the help of orthopedic surgeons, I represented my concerns to the organization and successfully secured the job.
Advocacy with the Government
In my late thirties, I faced rejection again when a swimming coach told me he couldn’t train me because he didn’t know how to train a person with disabilities. I took it as a challenge and taught myself to swim. But I ensured that this experience would not be in vain. I went on to arrange sensitization sessions for coaches. I also advocated the Government the need to include adaptive sports in the curriculum for physical education students.
When I became a National Para-Swimming Champion, I realized that there was no equal monetary recognition for our para athletes from our State Government. I submitted proposals through our swimming association to the Government highlighting the need for adaptive sports athletes to get the recognition on par with other sportspersons. The result was in our favor and that helped athletes with disabilities in getting equal monetary recognition.
I went on to advocate for accessibility for sports-related infrastructure facilities, too.
Standing for Justice
Self-advocacy has been a stepping stone for me to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.
From my experiences I believe that others could learn how they too could stand up for themselves and advocate a more inclusive society around them.
For more stories about my challenges and my journey to self-advocacy, do read “Swimming against the tide – True story of Para Swimmer Madhavi Latha”.
The article has been authored by Madhavi Latha Prathigudupu, who is the Founder President of Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India.
Check out the title Swimming Against the Tide by Madhavi Latha Prathigudupu, which is an inspirational story about an ordinary woman with extraordinary grit who set out to create a fair and inclusive world for the persons with disability.