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April 8, 2019Jean's Journal

My Name is Jean Searle


Picture of Jean Alongside the text "My Name is Jean, and this is what I have to say."

My name is Jean Searle and I am a self- advocate that works for Disability Rights Pennsylvania. I became a self-advocate because each member of my family has disabilities and when we fell on hard times, I had to be both mom and dad to my siblings, including my brother who has dementia. I lived in institutions for ten years, after my brother ran away from his and went home to our dad who couldn’t take care of him. We were all told to make the decision of foster home or institution because no one else was able to take care of us. After much difficulty trying to leave those places, I was able to find community outside of institutions and find a long career with Disability Rights PA and as a self-advocate.

I think that people with disabilities should be able to say what they want and have it respected. I graduated high school and fell into this field, have advocated for myself and others for the last 25-30 years and now travel across the state talking about what people with disabilities want for our lives.

There are a lot of organizations out there that advocate for people with disabilities without taking the time to know them very well and when I ask how they got into this field, they often say that they fell into it.

To the people and organizations who serve us, I say that you need to take the time to listen to us because we are the consumers of this system and the ones that know it best. We live it, we breath it, we work within it and we talk about it every single day. We are experts in our own experience. If you want to learn the system, we’re the best teachers. I feel like there are many people who are unhappy that I have a voice and use it, but I will say what I think and what I feel and continue to do so until I am listened to.

I encourage other people in my situation to do the same and I have many things in the works to ensure other people with disabilities feel confident to advocate for themselves including webinars, books and a toolkit for Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered. I hope that people follow my work and are moved to advocate for themselves as I have.