Monday, July 30, 2012

The Future is in Youth

The disability rights and justice movement is dependent on the next generation of youth leaders: young adults with disabilities who can take the movement to its next levels. Although there may be debate about where and what those next levels are, youth engagement is crucial. Thus, there are various facets of the disability community that are fostering the growth of young disabled leaders. Some of the major programs include the AAPD Internship Program and the Youth Leadership Forums for Students with Disabilities. I have been privileged enough to attend both the California Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) in 2009 and obviously, the AAPD Internship Program. Each program has a different premise yet they all display a strong commitment to sharing the knowledge of disability rights and empowering individuals to self advocate and embrace their place in the disabled community.

Whenever someone asks me about a life changing experience, why I am in DC, or why I am passionate about disability, the answer is always YLF. In fact, the YLF program lead me to this very blog post and this amazing AAPD Internship Program. Every year, 60 youth with all types of disabilities, invisible and visible, are brought to Sacramento, California to learn about disability identity, culture, history and pride, self advocacy and leadership. It is a transformational program that provides love and support to community leaders. Ever since I was fortunate enough to attend in 2009, my life turned upside down. I felt a part of something bigger. I felt proud to be disabled. I wanted to create tangible change in my community and my state. And most importantly, I wanted other youth with disabilities to experience the same type of change.

Therefore, I want to spread the word and ensure that as many youth have the opportunities to feel proud of their disabilities, learn about their history and understand their civil rights. This summer was especially meaningful because as a member for the 2012 AAPD Internship Program, I staffed YLF California as a Peer Counselor. Last week, I was able to work with other leaders in encouraging, teaching and celebrating the 60 young attendees of the program. I was able to witness and support the growth of young people with disabilities, and I could not be more thankful. And at the end of the week, after they had learned an immense amount of information, the youth asked themselves: now what? Programs were discussed that they could join, such as YO Disabled and Proud, Independent Living Center programs, and for one of the first times, the AAPD Internship Program. I was honored to share my experience and suggest others to find out more and apply. Many individuals were interested and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share this opportunity with many potential interns.

It is with the conclusion of this year’s YLF that I remember the significance of youth engagement and that the disability community must remain connected and transparent so that all youth with disabilities can have the similar opportunities that I was and still am so fortunate to have.

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