Self-Advocacy Tools

When students are new to advocating for themselves it is helpful to provide them with tools that will support their efforts.

Self-Advocacy Cards

Julia Osborne, a Special Education Resource Teacher with York Region DSB noticed that her students had good ideas about what they needed in order to succeed in the classroom as learners and how teachers could support them, however they were not sure what to do with that information or how to share it.  She realized she needed to create something that would help students capture everything they knew about themselves and their needs on paper.  She then introduced student self-advocacy cards as a means for students to communicate their needs as learners and also to support their communications with teachers. The goal was to create something meaningful and useful for both students and teachers.

Julia helped her students create double sided cards to give to their teachers and to help them ask for any accommodations they needed. On the front of the card was a photo of the student, their name, and a list of their interested. Underneath that was a list of the students strengths and areas of difficulty. On the back of the card she had students outline strategies that help them in three areas: in class, for homework and assignments, and for tests.

Image of the self advocacy cards

Click here to access an example of self-advocacy cards created by Julia Osborne. 

Once the cards were created, she learned that teaching students how to use their cards was as critical to their success as creating the cards. She began role-playing advocacy conversations in the classroom and watching students in their interactions with teachers. The more students practiced the more they were able to speak to their needs independently; often, by the end of the school year, conversations no longer required the physical presence of the advocacy card. Advocacy conversations also became less frequent, as teachers anticipated their students’ needs and began making the accommodation available without the students having to ask. This progress, when teachers began anticipating the students’ needs, made Julia’s students realize that their needs mattered and that self-advocacy could really work.

The use of self-advocacy cards can help teachers provide accommodations and implement strategies that puts the focus on what students CAN do, not what they CAN’T! Students are empowered to find their voice and to realize their needs are important. Self-advocacy focuses students’ efforts in learning more about themselves and their needs. It bridges the gap between student and teacher to allow students to communicate what they need. It increases students’ confidence and self-esteem because they are more aware of their strengths and they have been given the tools they need to be successful.

Self-Advocacy Pamphlets

After seeing Julia Osborne’s Self-Advocacy Cards on the LD@School website, Mike Di Donato, a Special Education Resource teacher at Sagonaska Demonstration School was inspired to create his own version with his grade eight students on assist in their transition to grade 9. Watch the following video “Our Self-Advocacy Pamphlet Journey” created by, Mike Di Donato and his grade eight students, Aiden, Denver, and Janine, about the process:

Click here to view the transcript for this video.

Create Your Own Self-Advocacy Pamphlets

To begin the process of creating self-advocacy pamphlets, the teacher conferenced with individual students, using the “Understanding LDs” chart (also known as the Waterfall Chart), created by the York Region District School Board. Reviewing the Waterfall Chart deepened each student’s understanding of his or her LDs and the specific processing areas that impact the student’s learning.

Click here to access the York Waterfall Chart: Understanding Learning Disabilities – How Processing Affects Learning

Click here to access Understanding Learning Disabilities: How Processing Affects Mathematics Learning, a companion resource to the Understanding Learning Disabilities Waterfall Chart.

The information was then visually laid out in a Popplet, a tablet application that enables you to create graphic organizers. This information was then used to create the personalized pamphlets, which included the following areas:

  • Student Photograph
  • My Hobbies
  • My Strengths
  • My Needs
  • My Goals
  • How I Can Help Myself
  • How You Can Help Me
  • Specific Technology I Use to be Successful

Picture of the pamphet

Click here to access a self-advocacy pamphlet created by Mike Di Donato and his Grade Eight Students.

Picture of the pamphet

Click here to access another self-advocacy pamphlet created by Mike Di Donato and his Grade Eight Students.

In the words of the students who participated in the development of the video, the pamphlets will serve as a personalized introduction to their new teacher and help the teachers understand what their LDs are, how LDs affect their learning and what the teachers can do to help them succeed.