Our commitment to the leadership of people with disabilities not only involves their inclusion in all aspects of our work, but has also resulted in the development of a leadership curriculum for self advocates to provide peer support to other individuals in their community who have experienced violence and abuse. Self-advocates are people with disabilities organized to educate the community about issues that affect them and shape efforts to address these issues.

In October 2012, Vera convened a group of self-advocates to attend an afternoon discussion of the needs of self-advocates in addressing violence and abuse of people with disabilities. The information garnered from this meeting, and through other follow-up conversations, helped us see that self-advocates were anxious to become leaders in the violence against women field but lacked connections and tools to help them do so. To support their leadership development, Vera partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to establish a project on Self-Advocate Leadership. We brought together a group of leaders within the self-advocacy movement to develop a vision and direction for the project as well as a curriculum that can be used by self-advocates nationwide to provide peer support to other individuals in their community who have experienced violence and abuse.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) are among the most marginalized populations in our country and are subject to violence and abuse at unbelievably high rates. Yet service providers and policy makers have yet to find a balance between helping and further hurting individuals with ID/DD. The high rate of abuse has a foothold in the historical treatment of individuals with ID/DD—from institutionalization and segregation to the philosophy of behavior management and compliance, each of which have served to hamper an individual’s options and ability to make their own choices. The development of the Self Advocacy Curriculum is led and overseen by self-advocates, harvesting their personal experiences and knowledge to create something that can be used by self-advocates across the country.  This project enables self-advocates to have a voice in what is right for them, what will work for them and what will be created by them, in order to help each other in ways that professionals in the field have been unable to accomplish.