Self-Advocacy and Victim Blaming in Education

Certain elements of self-advocacy need to be in place.

1. The person on some level needs to be accepting of their disability AND be willing to talk about it.

2. They have to be able to identify when they need help.

3. They need to identify what they need help with and have the language to express it.

4. They need a trusted adult who has proved their willingness to listen to them over time.

5. The child needs to feel heard.

6. The child needs to feel that this trusted adult will believe them when they say they need help.

7. This needs to be repeated enough times and be predictable enough for the self-advocate to feel comfortable and safe to advocate for their needs.

Often school staff will say…..

Well _____________ happened, but if XXXX advocated for himself, this wouldn’t have happened.


Children since they enter school are socialized to believe they MUST follow authority or something really bad is going to happen. They think they will be disappointing all the adults in their lives, and kids deep down just want to make their loved ones love them.

All they want to do is to make the adults (especially their parents but also their teachers) in their lives happy so that they will feel worthy and good about themselves. We need to look at their situation through the lens of a child.

There is so much systemic ableism, that people don’t want to acknowledge it. If they do, they are now responsible for changing it.

Learning self-advocacy can take a lifetime. Adults have a hard time advocating. It’s stressful and anxiety-producing for all of us. We need to have realistic expectations for our children. Especially when they are navigating an oppressive system, based on hierarchy, and control. They live in this environment 5 days a week, we don’t.

We have a human rights decision on our side.

It’s easy for schools to make us think our kids share responsibility or are responsible for all of it.

Let’s keep in mind….

Self-advocacy expectations have been defined by the BC Human Rights Tribunal. In Student by Parent v. School District BCHRT 237.

[90]           Generally, it is the obligation of the person seeking accommodation to bring forward the relevant facts: Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud1992 CanLII 81 (SCC), [1992] 2 SCR 970. This can be challenging for children, and especially challenging for children with invisible disabilities. I agree with the Parent that children who require accommodation in their school are in a different situation than adults seeking accommodation. Though they have a role to play in the process, that role will be age and ability-specific, and the burden cannot be on a child to identify and bring forward the facts necessary for their accommodation.