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Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination


Self-Advocacy is defined as the ability to speak and act on behalf of one’s self and is an important skill for students in school settings, including IEP meetings, and in post-school adult life. Self-advocacy becomes more important as a student moves from entitlement programs to eligibility programs.

Entitlement Programs - Entitlement programs refer to education and services that are guaranteed to all students in the K-12 setting as part of "Free and Appropriate Public Education." 

Eligibility Programs - Eligibility programs refer to programs that are based on eligibility and are not guaranteed to all students. Programs are accessed by a referral and/or application process. Under these scenarios, it is critically important that individuals be able to speak for themselves in order to communicate their needs.


Self-determination is the process of taking control and making decisions that affect one’s life. A study conducted with more than 1,500 successful people from business, science, sports and the arts, revealed that "successful people in any field excel at making decision, self managing their behavior and adapting to changing circumstances." (Garfield 1986)

Self-determination provides students with the skills and abilities to

          - make choices
          - make decisions
          - problem solve
          - set and attain goals
          - self-advocate
          - independently perform

Florida State Board of Education Rule 6A-603028(3)(h)9.

"In order to ensure quality transition planning and services, IEP Teams shall begin the process of identifying transition services needs of students with disabilities, to include consideration of the student’s need for instruction or the provision of information in the area of self-determination to assist the student to be able to actively and effectively participate in IEP meetings and self-advocate, beginning no later than age fourteen (14), so that needed postsecondary goals may be identified and in place by age sixteen (16)."

Strategies for Delivering Self-Determination Instruction

There are many strategies for delivering self-determination instruction.  The following are a few examples of what some Florida districts are doing:

Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning (PCP) is an approach to promote self-determination for individuals with disabilities. It is frequently used with students with more significant disabilities who need an alternative to traditional approaches in order to convey their strengths, preferences, interests, and needs. A team of family, friends and sometimes providers come together and work together over time to assist the individual in defining and reaching his or her dreams. The team works collaboratively through informal meetings to identify goals and dreams and assist in attaining a self-determined quality of life.

Also see "Person-Centered Planning" in the Project 10 A-Z Library of Terms and Resources at

Identifying Resources, Assessments, and Curriculum for Self-Determination and Self-Advocacy

Currently the Florida Department of Education is in the process of updating all of their materials to reflect changes to State Board of Education Rule. However, there are commercial and free products and resources available. Following is a list of evidence- and research-based assessment, curriculum, and other resources related to self-determination and self-advocacy:


Age-Appropriate Transition Assessment Toolkit
This toolkit from the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC) provides an overview of transition assessments, including self-determination assessments. Samples of some types of instruments are provided, and formal and informal assessment methods are described.

The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale (Adolescent Version)
The Arc’s Self Determination Scale is designed for adolescents with cognitive disabilities.  It is a student self-report format which may be administered to individually or in groups to students whose reading abilities are sufficient. It may also be read to a student with additional staff support.

Self Determination Knowledge Scale
The Self- Determination Knowledge Scale is based on Field and Hoffman’s Steps to Self-Determination Curriculum and includes five major components. The model is designed for students with and without disabilities.  It measures the student’s self-determination knowledge in relation to the lessons taught in the curriculum.  This instrument has under gone reliability and validity testing.

The Self-Determination Profile: An Assessment Package
The Self-Determination Profile is a component of the New Hats curriculum designed to assist youth and adults with disabilities with preference-based planning.  The package uses illustrated cards to assist the individual with determining preferences and interests. It is available from Emilee Curtis at New Hats, Inc., HC 64 Box 2509, Castle Valley, Utah 84532. (435) 259-9400 or FAX 259-2209

Curricula and Courses

Scope and Sequence: Self-Determination Course
The purpose of this scope and sequence is to support teachers implementing Self-Determination (Course Number 7963140), which includes activities and resources.

Self-Determination Course Description
The purpose of this Florida Department of Education course for high school students and adults is to enable them to develop and apply self-determination skills in school, home, community, and work settings. Course content includes self-awareness, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, personal and career planning, goal setting, independent performance, and self-evaluation.

Teaching Self-Determination Skills
This link on the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center information Web site includes multiple lesson plans regarding decision-making skills, goal setting and attainment, problem solving skills, self-awareness, and self-advocacy.  Lesson Plans 17-19.

Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills
This National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center Web page contains information on teaching self-advocacy skills. Lesson Plans 39-41.

Research to Practice Lesson Plan Starter
This NSTTAC library provides lesson plans for IEP Development, Student Participation, Planning, and other topics that incorporate a number of strategies including self-advocacy and self-determination.

Become Your Own Expert!  Self-Advocacy Curriculum for Individuals with Learning Disabilities
Lessons include identifying student strengths and needs, learning styles, setting goals for school and post-school and classroom and workplace accommodations. The curriculum is designed as a one-semester course and is most appropriate for secondary students participating in the general curriculum with accommodations. Available from Winnelle D. Carpenter, M.A., Positive Learning Consultants, PO Box 202065, Bloomington, MN 55420, (952)-854-4935.

It’s My Life Preference-Based Planning for Self-Directed Goal Meetings
Materials teach students to take an active role in decision making, self-advocating, and developing their own plans and goals. The curriculum suggests strategies toward a shift from teaching to facilitating students’ efforts to meet their goals. It is frequently used with middle school students at all levels and secondary students at the supported level. Materials include "I Want My Dream" and "New Hats" decks, facilitator’s guide, and goal planner’s workbook. Available from Emilee Curtis, New Hats, Inc., HC 64 Box 2509, Castle Valley, UT 84532, (435) 259-9400.

Steps to Self-Determination
This curriculum is designed to promote student self-determination. The package includes an instructor’s guide, student activity book and pre-post assessments. It may be used with middle and secondary students at the independent level.

The Self-Advocacy Strategy for Education and Transition Planning
This motivational strategy prepares student to participate in the IEP/transition IEP meeting. Student use the acronym I-Plan to remember the 5 step strategy. This curriculum is used for students of all ages in the general curriculum with accommodations at the independent level. Available from Edge Enterprises, Inc., 708 W. 9th St., Suite 107, Lawrence, Kansas  66044, Toll free: 877-767-148

Additional Resources

Center for Self-Determination
http://www.centerforself-determination.comThe Center for Self-Determination is the primary clearinghouse and technical assistance and training source for self-determination. In addition to the five principles of self-determination, it contains resources, articles, news, Web links, and a store.Chart Your Own Future: How Your IEP Can Help 
This information sheet describes a three step process to help high school students take a more active role in the IEP process. Resources for students and families are included.  

I'm Determined
This web site contains a number of resources from the Virginia Department of Education's Self Determination Project including curriculum modules, films, plans, and tools such as templates for goal setting and student involvement. 

Navigating Your IEP: Are you on the right track towards your future?
This guide from the Florida Youth Council is written by youth for youth. It explains what the Individual Education Plan (IEP) is, why it is important, and how students with disabilities can take charge of their IEP process. Large file (19.4 MB)

Self-Determination for Middle and High School Students 
This National Center on Secondary Education and Transition topic explores how self-determination, which results from the development of self-esteem, self-awareness, and other positive learning skills, helps children and teens learn to exercise personal control over their lives.

Self-Determination for Postsecondary Students 
This National Center on Secondary Education and Transition topic explores how self-determination—the combined skills of self-awareness, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, decision-making, independent performance, self-evaluation, and adjustment—can contribute to an individual’s ability to establish and achieve his or her own goals during and after higher education experiences. 

Show 47 Especially for Teens
This podcast from Disability Law Lowdown (available in English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and print) discusses how high school students can become self-advocates in the IEP process based on information from the PACER Center information sheet, Chart Your Own Future: How Your IEP Can Help.  

Technologies for Self-Determination for Youth with Developmental Disabilities
This paper focuses on "technologies for voice" that are related to the self-determination of youth with developmental disabilities. The authors describe a self-determination model that values family-focused, community-referenced pedagogies employing "new media" to give voice to youth and their families. In line with the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, many youth and families find they are better able to convey their life situations and express their hopes and fears using multimedia (e.g., camcorders, voice recorders, digital cameras, PowerPoint) to find their voices in transition and IEP planning meetings.  Systematic strategies are described to support teachers and other youth advocates to employ multimedia technologies as tools of self-determination.

Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment
The Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment facilitates successful secondary and postsecondary educational, vocational and personal outcomes for students and adults with disabilities. Dr. James Martin is the Zarrow Center Director and is well known for his work in the area of self-determination. Free resources and links to commercial products on self-determination assessments and self-determination educational materials can be found on this site.


Garfield, C. (1986). Peak performers: The new heroes of American business. New York, NY: Avon Books.


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