Perceptions and goals of special education advocacy trainees

Title: The perceptions and goals of special education advocacy trainees

Purpose: To understand the perceptions of individuals who participate in a special education advocacy training. Specifically, we aimed to understand: why individuals want to become special education advocates; how individuals plan to use their newfound special education knowledge and advocacy skills; and what individuals perceive as necessary attributes to be a special education advocate.

Method: In this study, there were 142 individuals who applied to and completed the Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP, a special education advocacy training). The participants included parents of individuals with disabilities and professionals. We conducted a content analysis of their VAP applications for this study.


  • Participants wanted to become special education advocates to help their own children (if they were caregivers) and to help others.
    • Specifically, parents reported wanting to help their own children with disabilities before advocating for other families.
    • Caregivers also reported wanting to help other families so they did not have similar experiences. Also, caregivers wanted to “pay it forward” to other families.
    • Professionals reported wanting to advance their own career or professional goals.
    • Professionals also reported wanting to improve their own skills as well as better advocate for clients.
  • Participants planned to use their newfound knowledge and skills by:
    • Advocating for other families by: educating and empowering, helping families navigate the special education process, helping families access services, and providing affective support
    • Improving the school by building family-professional partnerships
    • Improving the community by expanding the disability supports and network
    • Improving the state and national policies for individuals with disabilities
  • Participants reported that advocates needed to have three attributes to be successful: warmth, competence, and grit.

For more information, see:

Goldman, S.E., Burke, M.M., & Mello, M. (in press). The perceptions and goals of

special education advocacy trainees. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities.