We often hear about the problems young people with disabilities face - physical obstacles, social rejection, academic failure, and medical crises. Yet some people do overcome significant challenges and lead successful lives. What does "success" mean to them and how do they achieve it? What internal characteristics do these individuals possess, and what external factors have been present in their lives? What advice do they have to help young people build personal strengths to overcome the challenges they no doubt will face?
Included in the Taking Charge: Stories of Success and Self-Determination video and publication are insights from successful young people and adults with disabilities associated with DO-IT. These insights may help young people learn to lead self-determined lives. But, what is self-determination? There are many definitions to choose from. The following definition is concise and incorporates a number of common themes found in other definitions:
Self-determination is a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one's strengths and limitations together with a belief in oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination. When acting on the basis of these skills and attitudes, individuals have greater ability to take control of their lives and assume the role of successful adults. (Field et al., 1998, p. 115).
Gaining control over your life involves learning and then successfully applying a number of self-determination skills, such as goal setting, understanding your abilities and disabilities, problem solving, and self-advocacy. The personal process of learning, using, and self-evaluating these skills in a variety of settings is at the heart of self-determination.
Here is a list of ways young people with disabilities can build self-determination:
- Define success for yourself.
- Set personal, academic, and career goals. Keep your expectations high.
- Understand your abilities and disabilities. Play to your strengths.
- Develop strategies to meet your goals.
- Use technology as an empowering tool.
- Work hard. Persevere. Be flexible.
- Develop a support network. Look to family, friends, and teachers.
For more information on self-determination, consult Taking Charge: Stories of Success and Self-Determination or view the video by the same title.