Being a self-advocate is all about speaking up for yourself so that you can live the best life you can. Improv can be utilized for self-advocacy skills by assisting in confidence and public speaking, as well as communication, on-the-spot thinking and decision-making. The University of Montana’s Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities has a toolkit that uses improv to help build self-advocacy skills in Independent Living leaders and youth with disabilities. The toolkit includes a wide array of exercises and activities designed to cater to people of many different learning styles. The goal of the toolkit is to help these people develop a confident voice in a community of supportive peers.

As said in one of the tutorial videos the toolkit provides, “The first part of advocacy is saying your name loud and proud.” That’s why the first improv game that is taught is Name Symphony, where a conductor points at a member of the group and indicates that they should say their name a certain way, be it louder, softer, higher, or lower. The conductor then adds more people and names to the symphony until they’ve got a chorus of people shouting, whispering, or singing their names. This sort of game where you might have to be loud and open is especially good for advocacy training because it gets people to step out of their comfort zone. The fact that they’re stepping out of their comfort zone using their number one identifier, their name, makes it a great game to start a workshop out with. The game is also made inclusive by providing accommodations for people who are both hard of hearing, and hard of sight. For the hard of hearing, for example, at the conductor’s gesture, they can make a hand motion instead of saying their name. To be inclusive, the option of a movement is open to everybody else, as well. For the hard of sight, the conductor establishes that every time they touch the person, the person says their name. The way they say their name will differ depending on how they are touched (i.e. tap on the arm, on the elbow, on the hand, etc.). As said in the tutorial as well, the game is about “saying your name with confidence, but also including everybody.”

The second session in the toolkit includes Tone Symphony, as well as an improv debate. Tone Symphony is the same as the Name Symphony, except everybody says the same word, just in different tones of voice. The goal of this game is to learn how to use different tones in different situations, which can be crucial to self-advocacy. This is a preface to the improv debate, in which the tutorial practices debating a topic in different tones. The first being passive, then switching all the way over to aggressive, and then finally settling on assertive. The exercise hopefully serves to showcase the pros and cons of each type of tone. For the passive tone, the voice is quiet, and the debater doesn’t really get their point across. For the aggressive tone, the debaters aren’t listening to each other, and are just waiting for their turn to speak. The assertive tone is ideal, for it shows the debaters listening to each other, and then talking to each other like adults, still getting their point across but not getting overly emotional about it. In improv, it is always imperative to actively listen to your scene partner.

The third and final session involves a game called Image Theatre, in which two facilitators will describe a time where they had an issue, and the rest of the group will freeze in a position that creates an image of what the facilitators described. Then the facilitators will describe the situation getting moderately better, and the snapshot that the group has made will change accordingly. Then finally, the facilitators will describe the solution to the problem, and a situation in which the problem exists no longer. Then the rest of the group will pose in a happy, problem-free picture. This helps with advocacy because it has the improviser think of a problem in their mind, then think of how someone might solve the problem, and finally, envision a world in which that problem has been fixed.

Another interesting thing about this toolkit is the incorporation of persuasive writing skills, which are used right alongside improv in order to help people get their point across in situations in which they need a problem to be resolved. Here, particularly, the goal is to help people with disabilities advocate for their standard of living by testifying, writing letters to government officials, etc. So, it makes sense that both persuasive writing and improvisational skills would be taught to fulfill such a goal.

Advocacy is a useful skill for everybody to have, especially if you are part of a marginalized group of people in our society. Everyone just wants to live their lives, but we oftentimes face barriers that we need to hurdle across in order to do that. Knowing how to confidently advocate for yourself allows you to build a bridge over that hurdle so that not only you, but maybe others like you as well can pursue happiness just like everyone else.


Link to toolkit information: