Students with Disabilities Advocate Best for Themselves

To take charge of their lives, students with learning disabilities need to understand their strengths and limitations and believe in themselves as capable and effective. The Learning and Education About Disabilities (LEAD) Project was identified by the Self- Determination Synthesis Project (a comprehensive research synthesis project funded by OSEP) as an exemplary self-determination program that allows high-school students to "own" the responsibility for their education and to advocate for themselves and for other students with disabilities.

Through weekly support sessions and mentoring, high-school students with learning disabilities were taught self-awareness techniques and given knowledge about disabilities. By knowing what accommodations or modifications they require in a general classroom, students were able to discuss in group sessions how to best approach teachers to request a specific accommodation for themselves before they approached the general education teacher. They also learned communication skills to help them respond to possible objections to their requests for accommodations or questions about the nature of their special needs.

The LEAD program's emphasis on student responsibility not only creates self-awareness and advocacy skills, it also helps to minimize the impact of accommodations on the general education teachers' workloads, because the students come to teachers prepared with knowledge of their needs and preferences. Students who are part of the LEAD group also make frequent presentations to parents, students, teachers, and the business community, educating these groups about learning disabilities and answering questions about associated strengths and weaknesses.

One positive outcome of the program is for students with disabilities in elementary and middle schools. The LEAD students serve as "big siblings" to the younger children and converse informally with them, helping to normalize their experiences, by relating their own experiences with learning disabilities, emphasizing the strengths of the younger students, and helping them to develop their own self-advocacy skills and sometimes their own self-advocacy groups.

The self-advocacy model noted in this News Brief was one of six sites identified as exemplary self-determination sites as part of the Self-Determination Synthesis Project, a research project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte directed by David W. Test and supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant #H324D980069). Details on the six "best practice" sites can be found at the Synthesis Project website: www.uncc.edu/sdsp. The full report on the LEAD Project can be found in Pocock, Al, Lambros, Stan, Karvonen, Meagan, Test, David W., Algozzine, Bob, Wood, Wendy, and Martin, James E., "Successful Strategies for Promoting Self-Advocacy Among Students with LD: The LEAD Group," Intervention in School and Clinic 37, no. 4 (March 2002): 209-216.

More resources:

ERIC/OSEP Special Project Page May 13, 2002 http://www.ericec.org