2020 Youth Leadership Advocacy Academy
By: Brian Elliott
The 2020 Youth Leadership Advocacy Academy (YLAA) led by disAbility Connections employee Daniel Klink concluded recently. The class consisted of Jackson area high school students who met online (due to Covid) twice a week, for six weeks and covered the systems that are in place to support people with disabilities, disability history in the U.S., learned about local/state/governance, and engaged with local governmental leadership to get a greater understanding of how and what is done behind the scenes of government on a daily basis.
Students interacted through a curriculum that provided a broader understanding of what it means to be a person with a disability in 2020, while also acknowledging where we came from and the struggles/advancements that have been involved over time. Throughout the six week course, the class was able to review a timeline of disability in America, viewed and discussed the impactful film Lives Worth Living (highly recommended for any that haven’t seen it), as well as interviews with Mayor Dobies of Jackson, U.S. Congressman Tim Walberg, disAbility Connections Deputy Director Travis Barnett, and Jackson County Treasurer Karen Coffman. In fact, the program was so impactful and such a success, that it will function as a pilot program. Next year, Centers for Independent Living across the state will be picking it up and using it to teach their local youth.
We are in the post-American with Disabilities Act (ADA) times. People born in the late 1980s 1990 and beyond have grown up with the idea that things should be accessible through ramps, inclusive classrooms, braille on signs, power doors, or closed captioning, and more. If you were born after this time, you could honestly assume these measures have always just been around. The history of disability in America paints a different picture. When asked if there were any segments that stood out or surprised the students, Klink stated, “They were really surprised about the history of disability and how people were treated, many had never seen or known what it was like pre-ADA. (Discussions) Provided a different aspect that many hadn’t considered”.
Before the class wrapped up for the 2020 session, the students were asked what type of project they thought would be beneficial, given all that they had encountered over the previous six weeks. They were able to come to a group consensus with two ideas that they thought would be worthwhile:
- · Develop an anti-bullying project around disability to implement with the incoming freshman class each year at local schools.
- · Have an annual ADA assembly each year within the area schools to help inform schools and more importantly students, about the rights for people with disabilities.
These are great ideas and help to show both the importance of the information to the students and the ability to advocate for their own needs, but also that disability history and experiences need to be shared. A greater understanding of disability history and struggle for inclusion can help create a community of greater overall awareness and inclusion we can all enjoy.