The Importance of Self-Advocacy: From China to The Arc’s National Convention

By Holly Miller

Disability Advocacy Scholar, The Arc

Holly with walkaround Julia, Muppet from Sesame Street

My passion for advocacy has grown stronger over the years and is taking shape as I learn more about the importance of fighting for your rights, no matter who you are.

I am a postgraduate student of political theory in Shanghai, China, pursuing a Master of Law degree. I am currently working on my thesis titled “Autistic Voices in China— A Critical Disability Research.”

My life experience as an autistic woman, growing up in Michigan, has guided my academic studies and understanding of the importance of self-advocacy for me and other people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

In October 2019, I flew from Shanghai to the U.S. for The Arc’s National Convention in Washington, D.C. The Arc awarded me a Disability Advocacy scholarship to attend the annual convention for the first time. It was an amazing opportunity to connect with other self-advocates and to continue to learn and grow.                                              

We were encouraged to attend sessions at the convention to learn about issues affecting people with disabilities and their families. My favorite session was “Supporting People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) to Make Their Own Decisions.” I learned how to advocate for myself in new ways and how other people with IDD can learn to support themselves. I think it is vital that we all have the opportunity to live independently. I attended this session to learn more for my future career in disability advocacy.

Holly, left with Julia Bascom, Autistic Self Advocacy Network Executive Director

I also enjoyed an interactive session called “National Council of Self-Advocates: Everyone Votes!” I already know a lot about voting but during this session I got the chance to learn even more about why voting and raising issues impacting the disability community is so important. This session was especially powerful for those in the room who had never voted. As American citizens, we all have the right to vote!

The Diversity Breakfast was another highlight of the convention. It was interesting to hear concerns from other self-advocates and how their advocacy has made a difference. At the breakfast, I met others who are as interested in advocacy as I am, which put me at ease at my first convention.

I became interested in self-advocacy after giving several presentations in college about my life growing up autistic. I hope to one day help others with IDD fight for their right to make their own decisions and live in the community with appropriate supports and services.

I have enjoyed advocating alongside The Arc – all the way from China – and learning from the organization how to be the best advocate I can be. The Arc listens to me. I am looking forward to working together to advocate for all people with IDD and their families.