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self-determination participants

The Need for Self-Determination Skills

All too often, individuals with disabilities are either not aware of the possible life choices they have, or they have a vision that professionals or others dismiss as “unrealistic.” This gap in expectations can be severely limiting for individuals who wish to achieve a goal in life. Self-determination is a concept that acts to close this gap. It includes both the right and capacity of people who have disabilities to exert control over and direct their lives. This concept is also mandated by a number of federal disability policies and legislation. And promoting self-determination has become best practice for supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The concept of self-determination has its origins in the field of special education with the writings of Birje, a founder of one of the core foundational concepts of modern human services (normalization) who discussed individuals’ rights to have control over decisions regarding their personal lives and access to information to make those decisions.

Recent research from Michal Wehmeyer and others supports that increased capabilities in self-determination is related to better life outcomes and improved access to employment, housing and relationships, all keys to a self-satisfying life. Supporting research also has demonstrated that the ability and opportunity of individuals with disabilities to shape their chosen outcomes has a positive impact on their future outcomes (Hadre & Reeve, 2003) and overall quality of life (Lachapelle et al., 2005).

But practicing self-determination and being an advocate for one’s one life goals, and for others who might also be underserved or marginalized, requires a foundation of learning and then being able to practice a certain set of related skills. These include self-representation abilities (expressing opinions and preferences, asking questions, uncovering available avenues to pursue, networking, presenting one’s values and skills, etc.), and self-advocacy, as well as understanding disability-related policy, learning about options available, and learning how to confront and overcome practical obstacles.

People with disabilities become more self-determined not only by gaining skills, but also by learning how to use available supports as well as developing new ones. And supports need not be only from disability professionals, but also can include family, friends, neighbors, and other networks based in community participation. Developing this type of network can enable people to be, in the words from the National Gateway to Self-Determination, “the actors in their lives” to make things happen for themselves.


Having available training in self-determination becomes crucial for individuals with disabilities to achieve self-fulfillment. In Florida, providing this training can be compounded by the geographic and cultural diversity found in the state.

Through funding from the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, the Route to Self-Determination project developed a face-to-face training module for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their allies to promote and increase knowledge in self­-determination. 

The central objective of this web site is in response to the following as stated in a Florida Developmental Disabilities Council RFP from 2017:

Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities find it challenging to attend training. A self-paced online Train the Trainer module is needed by family members and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and who live in the diverse geographical locations of Florida. Accessible online components will enable the learner to obtain information on the principles of self-determination.
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