What is Self-Determination?

We understand self-determination to refer to a characteristic of a person that leads them to make choices and decisions based on their own preferences and interests, to monitor and regulate their own actions and to be goal-oriented and self-directing.

The DD Act definition of self-determined actions, as noted below, suggests that both the abilities of the person and the opportunities presented by the environment contribute to the degree of self-determination that can be expressed.

DD Act Self-Determined Actions:

An individual with developmental disabilities, with assistance:

    • has the ability and opportunity to make choices and decisions;
    • has the ability and opportunity to exercise control over services, supports, and other assistance;
    • has the authority to control resources and obtain needed services;
    • has the opportunity to participate in and contribute to their communities;
    • has the support, including financial, to advocate, develop leadership skills, become trained as a self-advocate, and participate in coalitions and policy-making.

In line with this social approach, we have adopted a social-ecological approach by which we consider self-determination to reflect the interaction of factors in both the personal and environmental domains.

What is Self-Determination and Why is It Important to People with Developmental Disabilities?

Written and Presented by Michael Wehmeyer

Section 1: Expectations

Section 2: Defining Self-Determination

In Section One Dr. Wehmeyer discusses the expectations that are held for people with developmental disabilities as well as setting expectations for self-determination in their lives.

In Section Two, Dr. Wehmeyer discusses the definition of self-determination--“just another word for a life filled with rising expectations, dignity, respect, and opportunities.”

Section 3: Self-Caused Action

Section 4: Enhancing Personal Capacity

In Section Three, Dr. Wehmeyer discusses how self-determination is not about being in control but rather is about causing things to happen in one‘s own life.

In Section Four, Dr. Wehmeyer demonstrates how self-determination enhances the personal capacity of people with developmental disabilities.

Section 5: Ray's Story Questions



In Section Five, Dr. Wehmeyer answers the question, “What is self-determination and why is it important?” using the life story of Ray Gagne. Dr. Wehmeyer‘s lecture concludes with a question and answer session.


What Self-Determination Means to Self-Advocates

We asked self-advocates what self-determination means to them; this is what they told us! Featuring Tia Nelis, Mitch Levitz, Mia Peterson, and Bill Krebs.

Self-advocates tell in their own words, "What is Self-Determination and Why is it Important" -- the first in a series of topic-related videos for the National Gateway to Self-Determination.