A Glimpse Into Self-Advocacy
When we think of self-advocacy, many people come up with different definitions, which affect them personally. For me, I see self-advocacy as fighting for what I desire and nobody knows this better than I do. My journey of self-advocacy really began my senior year of high school. I wanted to go to college to become a veterinarian. However, I was told if I wanted to go to college, it would have to be for journalism because that would be the only occupation I would be successful in due to my physical disability. I mean, I wrote for the school paper as a hobby, but it was not what I wanted to do for a living. Some able-bodied individuals tend to think they know what is best for people with disabilities, but just like everyone else, we are the ones who know ourselves the best.
Fast forward to about a few weeks before graduation – I finally admitted to myself journalism was not what I wanted to do. Yet, working with animals still called to me. Being at a loss, I stumbled upon a certificate program in animal advocacy where I learned about animal abuse, the different types and how to prevent it. I was also educated on the animal protection laws. I felt this was my chance. In spring of 2012, I graduated from Hudson Valley Community College with a Certificate of Animal Advocacy and Associate’s Degree in Public Administration. I did not stop there.
In 2013, I was accepted to the College of Saint Rose. I majored in public relations hoping to have a career with the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Still, something did not fit. A big hint was when I repeatedly failed the main course to my major of public relations. In my senior year, I went to my ACCES-VR (Adult Career and Continuing Education Services – Vocational Rehabilitation) counselor for advice. He recommended I write an email to the department chair of communications to ask if I could attempt the class one last time as it was affecting my graduation. The department chair of communication responded by criticizing my grammar and not even acknowledging my willingness to try again.
After this rejection, I took a semester off. I decided to apply to different schools, but none of my applications were successful. I needed to stick with St. Rose if I was going to finish my Bachelor’s degree. This is when I switched my major to social work. I thought to myself if I cannot help animals, helping people is the next best option. I spoke with the department chair of the social work program of St. Rose. She told me she felt a major in social work seemed to be a better fit, but told me to talk with my ACCES-VR counselor first.
ACCES-VR had helped me since high school with college applications, tuition and books. However, I needed to advocate a career change for their continued help. I had a face-to-face meeting with them and luckily, they supported my switch in majors. After interning at an elementary school, I was doubted once again when I was told that I was not fit to be a social worker because of my disability. It made me feel I was at a loss, what was I supposed to do with my life? After speaking with a professor about my shaken confidence, she told me that my disability was not a barrier and I was able to continue my fight of finding the right occupation.
I am now in my senior year of my BSW (Bachelor’s of Social Work) program and am interning at The Center for Independence. In the few months I have been here, they have already shown me being disabled is not a barrier if you advocate for yourself. My future plans include getting my MSW (Master’s of Social Work) and take the Veterinary Social Work program at the University of Tennessee. I may have been put down because of my disability, but thanks to my support and my own self-determination, I got right back up again. No matter what your limitations, always follow your dreams.
Written by Jocelyn H.