Amy Forgacs describes how joining a campaigning group can give service users the self-confidence necessary for them to speak up for themselves
I work for Speaking Up, a charity that provides advocacy for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
Advocacy is when you speak up for yourself or someone else. There are different ways to do this. There’s self-advocacy, which means speaking up for your own rights and giving your own views about things.
There’s One 2 One Advocacy, which means supporting someone else to speak up for themselves or speaking up on someone else’s behalf by finding out their views about things and then passing it on to someone (for example a police officer if an advocate is speaking up for someone who’s a witness or victim of crime).
There’s peer advocacy, which means spending time with other people and finding out their views about things and then speaking up for them to people who can make things happen.
An advocate can support someone on many issues – things such as housing, different kinds of relationships and health issues.
When I first came to Speaking Up I was part of a self-advocacy group. We would meet to talk about anything we wanted to know more about, such as relationships and safety. I used to be an “MP”, representing people from Cambridge City and South Cambridge for the Cambridgeshire parliament, which is a forum for people with learning disabilities to get together and discuss issues that affect their lives.
My confidence grew when I became a co-host of the parliament – I began to come out of my shell. Before this I used to feel nervous talking to groups and I found one-to-one situations daunting if it was with someone I didn’t know. I think I could say that my life wouldn’t be as good as it is now if I hadn’t got involved with Speaking Up.
I think it’s important, whoever you are, that you have a voice – that you are heard and get your message across. Sometimes people with learning difficulties don’t speak up for themselves and then other people make decisions for them. This can mean that they feel less important than other people and people can take advantage of them. It is always important for people to speak up for their rights – it can give people a lot more respect for themselves.
Amy Forgacs was asked to write this article by our learning disabilities editorial teamThis article appears under the headline “Hear me out”