When my husband was sick and dying of cancer, there were many times we were surrounded by very knowledgable oncologists and medical professionals. As he became sicker and more vulnerable, he often struggled with having his voice heard through the cloud of noise from the experts.

A quick Google search reveals many resources for learning how to advocate for yourself. Most of us have been in situations where we knew something wasn't right, but we were not sure what to do or how to stand up for ourselves (or others). It can be frustrating and diminishing to feel as though your rights or opinions don't matter.

In my professional life, I work with university students with disabilities who often have to advocate for themselves in situations where they do not have much power or control. The most important step in advocating is to believe that your voice - your perspective - is important and valuable. This can be difficult, and sometimes you'll be dealing with people who do not understand the importance of listening and considering your perspective, or people who have never had to take extra steps to feel heard.

Let's imagine a college student has a chronic medical condition and misses a class due to an increase in symptoms. This is not an uncommon scenario. The student has made arrangements with the appropriate college office to have an accommodation in case this happens (this is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, sec 504). Because the student has an accommodation, he does not have to have a medical note to excuse the absence. However the professor says the student may not return to class without one. What happens next?

The student is not not sure what to do, so he reaches out to the school's Accessibility Resources office (each school may have a different name for this office) for support. This is essential. The student learns what his rights are and how to communicate effectively. The professor learns about how the accommodation worked in this situation, and the issue is resolved.

If the student did not think his perspective was valid and important, he would not have reached out for support. Rather than assume the professor's voice was more valid, he found a way to advocate for himself and through the process the professor learned about an important component of disability accommodation.

When my husband wasn't feeling heard, it was crucial that we reached out to others with knowledge and insight who would listen to my husband's and my concerns, and offer effective ways of responding to the medical professionals. Believing in our perspective and getting support made the difference.

It takes persistence and determination, things that may be in short supply during stressful events, to stand up for yourself and your rights. Advocacy isn't easy.