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Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities


Advocacy, Training, Parents, Empowerment, Intellectual disabilities


Background: Special education advocacy trainings, such as the Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP), have the goal of training advocates who can eventually support families in accessing needed services for students with disabilities. In addition to the training goal of increasing participants' special education knowledge and advocacy comfort, it is unknown if the VAP improves other participant outcomes related to later advocacy.

Specific Aims: In this study, we asked: (1) Do VAP participants improve from pre‐ to post‐test on knowledge and advocacy comfort, as well as on role identity, involvement in the disability community, and empowerment?; (2) Do participants' roles and levels of education moderate improvements in these outcomes?; and (3) Do participants who are differentially higher or lower on any of these variables at the pre‐test show greater improvement from pre‐ to post‐test on one or all other variables?

Method: Participants included 70 graduates of the VAP from 2014 to 2016. These participants completed pre‐test and post‐test assessments with measures on: special education knowledge, advocacy comfort, role identity, involvement, and empowerment.

Findings: Results showed significant change in knowledge, comfort, involvement, and empowerment from pre‐test to post‐test. Only level of education significantly moderated the change in role identity from pre‐test to post‐test, with those with high school education increasing their role identity compared to those with a college degree or more. Empowerment was closely related to pre‐test levels and to change scores for all other variables.

Discussion: Implications for future research and practice are discussed, including the need to better understand moderators of treatment effect and mechanisms of change for advocacy trainings.

Grant Information

Grant support for the second author is provided by OSEP Leadership Grant (H325D170004) and to the fourth author by AIDD (90DD0825). Grant support for projects utilizing REDCap is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH/NCATS UL1 TR000445). Funding to support the first author in writing this manuscript was provided by an Assumption College Faculty Development Grant.




This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Goldman, S.E., Goscicki, B.L., Burke, M.M. and Hodapp, R.M. (2020), Developing Special Education Advocates: What Changes during an Advocacy Training Program?. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 17: 308-317, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


© 2020 International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Wiley Periodicals LLC.