By Hannah Roberts, Director of Programs
Soon, we will be concluding the Summer Session for our I Am Self-Advocacy Program. The I Am Self-Advocacy Program is a Pre-Employment Transition Service (Pre-ETS) focused on helping youth and young adults with disabilities, ages 16-22, learn about and hone their skills in self-advocacy. Participants discuss topics integral to self-advocacy such as self-awareness, disability awareness, self-determination, disability rights and responsibilities, how to be assertive, and how to engage allies and be an ally to others.
During the Summer Session, we condensed the usual 8-week program into 4 weeks of intense discussion and activity in the month of July. During this session, students met virtually and one-on-one with a peer mentor twice a week, virtually in a group setting twice a week, and virtually or in-person on Fridays for a leadership group.
On these Leadership Fridays, students from both cohorts had the opportunity to meet other students, listen to speakers, participate in extended and robust conversations on the topics of the week, and learn more about self-advocacy through peer discussions and activities. One of our speakers, Salifu Kamara, is an Independent Living Specialist at ECNV. As a survivor of war and poverty from Sierra Leone, Kamara was able to discuss with the students about their ability to create their own futures.
Angela Ramirez, an aspiring human rights advocate, spoke with the students about the start of her advocacy journey in high school where she spoke up for herself at her IEP meeting and for others by leading the charge to put in the first gender neutral bathroom at her school. Her passion for advocacy extended through college where she attended a human rights advocacy seminar and learned about advocacy on a larger scale, advocating on behalf of political prisoners in Bahrain and a political prisoner in the UAE.
During one of the last Fridays, Nancy Mercer from Inclusion Consultants, worked with the students to help them learn more about what constitutes a quality relationship, how to build healthy relationships, how to identify their personal rules, and how to communicate these effectively to others.
These speakers helped to solidify what the students learned in their individual sessions with their peer mentor and their group sessions with their peers as they further discussed the importance of self-determination, being assertive, and how to engage allies and be an ally to others. Through the program, one student came to the realization that “even if you have a disability, you can still be successful in life.” How strongly that rings true.