Before becoming involved in Best Buddies, I had an unfulfilled passion within me to advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). A close friend throughout grade school was diagnosed with IDD and to me, it was just another friendship. I failed to recognize the isolation that many individuals with IDD face and their reliance on these friendships for more than peer connection, but also for a stronger sense of advocacy.
I am currently an officer for Divine Savior Holy Angels’ Best Buddies promoter chapter and have been a member of the club since freshman year. It wasn’t until I attended Best Buddies Leadership Conference (BBLC) that I was truly motivated to fulfill this role. Prior to BBLC, I did not understand the value a promoter chapter plays in advocating for those with IDD. Hearing individuals with IDD speak about their experiences and explain how their lives have changed with Best Buddies transformed the way that I interpret the mission of the club. I realized that Best Buddies is about so much more than giving individuals with IDD a friendship – Best Buddies is about giving individuals with IDD a voice. Following this experience, I returned to our chapter with the intent of fulfilling this mission of giving those with IDD a voice as a prominent promoter for inclusion.
Since joining Best Buddies in September of 2015, the passion within me to advocate for those with IDD has been fulfilled. Best Buddies has not, however, fulfilled this desire in the exact way that I had anticipated. Through my experience with Best Buddies, and particularly at BBLC, I can now see that the best way to advocate for those with IDD is to promote their own self-advocacy. Looking back on the friendship I had with Marie, I realize that I did not treat our relationship any different than my other friendships. She depended on our friendship for a peer advocate who treated her with respect rather than isolation. I gave my friend a voice and allowed her to develop the confidence to become an advocate for herself.
To everyone with IDD: do not fear self-advocacy. Three letters do not have the capacity to define a human being, nor does their connotation have the right to deprive an individual of their voice. As stated by the theme of last summer’s Leadership Conference, it is our job, as advocates for the mission of Best Buddies, to “pass the torch” and encourage those with IDD to become self-advocates rather than keep the torch and solely advocate for them ourselves. In my continued involvement with Best Buddies, I not only hope to further spread the mission of Best Buddies, but I hope to instill confidence in those with IDD and give them the voice they deserve.