Things don't always go to plan.
As part of our role as Trainers at Advocacy for Inclusion, we facilitate Self Advocacy groups. As facilitators it is our job to help things run smoothly not to direct the groups. It is the self advocates themselves who direct the groups and the topics. Many of the groups have self advocates who have been using their skills for some time and take a leadership role and we don't have much in the way of facilitating to do.
Sometimes things do not go quite to plan and this is usually when the biggest opportunity for skill building and practising self advocacy skills occur. The Trainers will step in and take the facilitating role to its true meaning of "smoothing things"
Recently we had two people with a difference of opinion. Pretty much an everyday occurrence you would think. However, often people with disability are stopped from sharing their opinion, perhaps told that their opinions do not matter, are unimportant or simply are just never asked. Many people with disability have been so marginalised they have never been taught the skills to deal with this sort of confrontation appropriately or given the opportunity to practice the skills if this should arise. It is the sort of thing that leads to "challenging behaviour" as they feel unheard.
In our groups, everyone has a voice and is encouraged to share their thoughts. In this case, as I said, there was a difference of opinion. Voices became raised, people were visibly upset. So what did we do? We collectively agreed we all had an opinion. We all agreed they were different. We all agreed we had the right to our own opinion. People were given the opportunity to express their opinion and identify what they felt and why. We focused on staying calm and using respect - in our language, in our volume and in our body language. All skills required to be able to self advocate effectively.
Everyone in the end felt heard. Everyone in the end felt respected. Everyone was able to accept we had different opinions and that was ok as long as we were assertive and not agressive.
We finished off our group session each describing a time when we felt the happiness. What do you know - they were all very similar and despite our differences of opinion earlier, we had found a common place in the end.
As one of the self advocates involved shared with us as we were packing up.
"life is like the weather, you never know when it is going to change" You need to be prepared.