What's worse? Planning a great outing with your family and friends at the local bowling alley only to find out that you can't get your wheelchair to the lanes, or educating the owner of the local bowling alley about your disability and the accommodations you are entitled to by law, as a person who has the right to bowl?
While finding out that a recreational hot spot is not accessible and doing nothing about it is a daily event for some people, others are taking the matter into their own hands to become their own advocates, to fight for what is legally theirs, and to educate a public that often turns its eyes away from the civil rights movement of the disability community.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 addresses the way public and private agencies provide recreational opportunities to people with disabilities, there is no argument that there is a long way to go before many people are able to fully participate in and have their needs met by their choice of recreational pursuits. So...what do you do? Do you want to be the one who sits on the sidelines, miserable because you can't get down to the bowling lane due to access issues, OR do you want to take action so you too can enjoy the camaraderie of bowling a 79 with friends and family? The answer is to become your own advocate.
Self-advocacy simply means that you understand your disability, are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and are able to tell others what you need to successfully participate in an activity, program, or event (Brinckerhoff, 1994; Hartman, 1993; Lynch & Gussel, 1996; Pocock, Lambros, Karvonen, Test, Algozzine, Wood, & Martin, 2002). This might sound complicated, but who knows what you need better than you? Who can represent you better than you? No one! While the thought of disclosing personal information about yourself and your disability to a complete stranger might sound embarrassing, scary, or just uncomfortable, with practice you can become a trailblazer for accessible recreation facilities and services in your community that benefit not only you but others in your community who have disabilities.
Now that you know what self-advocacy entails, where do you start?