astronaut

Self-advocacy sparks leadership

by SHILOH BLACKBURN

Growing up, every kid wants to be something great. A doctor. An astronaut. A baseball player in the major leagues. I wanted to be an actress.

But it soon became clear to me, at age eight, that as shy as I was and with a bad case of stage fright, acting was not in the cards for me.

Shiloh Blackburn found her voice through writing, which led her to her true calling as an self-advocate and advocate.

Shiloh Blackburn found her voice through writing, which led her to her true calling as an self-advocate and advocate.

So I turned to writing — something I’m good at. I love the freedom and the infinite possibilities it gives both the author and the reader.

It also gives the author a creative outlet, a voice that he or she might not have otherwise.

In 2005, I was introduced to the self-advocacy movement by a friend from England. At the time, I never suspected how much my life would change for the better.

I never imagined I would have numerous opportunities to help others, like so many people have helped me throughout my life.

I never once thought my voice could make a difference.

During the last 10 years I’ve learned that self-advocacy, like writing, gives people with disabilities their own voices and so much more.

It teaches us self-respect and responsibility. It also teaches that we have the same rights as anyone else does and that we have control of our own lives.

We can make our own choices, with help if need be.

I’ve had an amazing journey in self-advocacy so far.

For several years I was a trainer in a seminar program, called Determined to Vote, in which a partner and I taught individuals with disabilities about the importance of voting.

I was a member of Idaho’s Council on Developmental Disabilities for nine years.

I’m currently a member of the Idaho Self-Advocate Leadership Network (SALN), a nonprofit organization and our state’s main self-advocacy group.

I presently serve as my local chapter’s representative on the board of directors. It was in this organization that I gained a love of serving others and realized how much I enjoy mentoring the new generation of self-advocates.

It has been such a joy to help my peers find their voices, to help them realize the power and value they have as citizens of their communities. I think that is one of my favorite parts about SALN and self-advocacy.

It’s been empowering as well to talk to my state legislators about issues that have affected the lives of people with disabilities and to see some of the policies and laws – like the ABLE ACT – pass.

I also serve on the Center on Disabilities and Human Development’s Community Advisory Committee.

Growing up, I was painfully shy.

I was a spectator in life, not a participator. I was quite content to be a follower, never wanting to be a leader.

But life, in the form of self-advocacy, had something different in mind for me.

I grew up to become a teacher, a mentor – something great, indeed.

2 thoughts on “Self-advocacy sparks leadership

  1. Shiloh, I enjoyed reading your article. I’ve watching people being active in self-advocacy organizations learn and grow so much – some people becoming leaders and others being able to speak up for themselves and get what they want in their lives for themselves.. I’ve lived in Wyoming since Sept, 1977. But I lived in Mountain Home, Idaho for several years before that. I was first introduced to People First there in the Caldwell-Nampa area driving over from Mtn. Home to see a movie called People First, I believe – before self-advocacy ever happened in Idaho. Since it sounds like you get out and teach other s self-advocacy, I am wondering if you ever do your trainings there in Mountain Home. Arc/High Reachers is the organization there. Just wondering . . .

  2. Sarah, hi! SALN has chapters all around Idaho. There is an active one in Boise. The members there have done trainings in that area. I live in Southeast Idaho, clear across the state. It is our hope and goal to get as many members participating as possible.

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