IDEA Changes Lives: My Experience with Early Intervention

The following blog is a cross-post from the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. The blog is written by Kelly Coyne, the proud mom of 9.5 year-old twin girls in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

My name is Kelly and I am the proud mom of 9.5 year-old twin girls. They are happy, healthy and growing!

It wasn’t always this way. They were born premature. Their birth weights were 3.02 pounds and 3.15 pounds. Megan did a 3 week neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay and Mackenzie 2.5 months. Upon discharge the nurse said, “We called Early Intervention (EI) to come and work with you and the girls.” I was in such a haze; I said, “Ok, great.”

A week later, after our appointment had been confirmed, four people showed up at my house – an occupational therapist, physical therapist, Developmental Specialist, and Director of my local center. They explained the program to me and answered all my questions. We had a long road to get the girls to where they should be. Each week my team would come and work with me, the girls, and my husband. They helped us read cues, strategize sleep problems, and showed us exercises we needed to help the girls grow. We had many, many appointments with the doctors that EI helped me with. We were with the program for a full three years. As I got more comfortable and more involved with each session, I was asked to participate in a parent program for parents. I attended the seminar by way of the Parent Leadership Project (PLP) in conjunction with Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). It was life changing for me.

I met amazing people, heard profound stories and felt like I wasn’t by myself in this. After attending I wondered if every family getting EI or not could have a feeling like I had at the seminar – to feel included, empowered, and ready to do what needed to be done. With help from the PLP, I started speaking at public hearings, EI staff meetings and trainings, and other venues. I shared my story with the people that needed to hear it most. As time progressed, I was appointed to the Massachusetts Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) as a representative for Boston. This was so meaningful for me. I could connect with EI providers, doctors, DPH staff members, and other parents and help other families in my community. Soon my time was over as an ICC rep, and from there I have attended and helped many other families with Individualized Education Programs (IEP), special education laws, placements and other issues surrounding special needs and education. I have become a better mom, advocate and community member as a direct result of my involvement with Early Intervention, PLP and DPH. I use the skills I learned from PLP to advocate for my daughter, now in 3rd grade. I also use the skills Early Intervention taught me when I meet with doctors and in my personal life and business life. I am forever grateful to the EI staff who believed in my family and me.

Now, my children attend a charter school in the City of Boston. My daughter, who is in an inclusion classroom, is doing amazing! She can self advocate for her needs and loves school. The school works with me, her doctors, and psychologists so we can all agree on her needs for the classroom. Her twin sister also attends the same charter school. She is doing amazing as well! She sings in the choir, plays baseball and has a lot of friends. She is known as the social butterfly. Looking at her and back at her early days, I can’t help but be proud and grateful that this preemie girl is thriving! At one time everything was a struggle for her, and now it comes with such ease. This is all because of Early Intervention.

Now and Then, An Early Intervention Story” by Kelly Coyne.


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RAMPing Up from Mentor to Program Coordinator (Part One)!

Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program logoThe following blog is written by Amy McDowell, Coordinator for the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Lansing, MI. RAMP is a program of the Institute for Educational Leadership, the host organization for NCWD/Youth and is based on a variety of foundational materials developed by NCWD/Youth. This blog is Part One in a series written by RAMP mentors who have gone on to be coordinators for their respective programs!

My RAMP journey began in October 2010.  I was taking a juvenile justice class at Lansing Community College and each student in the class was required to write a paper on an experience with a juvenile involved in the juvenile justice system. At the time, I didn’t have any experience with this population so I decided to become a mentor at Crossroads at Peckham, Inc. where youth were participating in the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP). RAMP is a career-focused mentoring program that helps at-risk youth, including those with disabilities, stay in school and set goals for their future. I will never forget my first year at Peckham because it was the year that one of the students at Crossroads was shot and killed two days before Christmas. I had never experienced a funeral for a slain teenager; the church was packed with family, friends, school and court officials, police officers, and Peckham, Inc. employees. That was the moment I decided that I wanted to work with youth already involved in or at-risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system. I felt RAMP was the best way for me to help these youth until I could graduate and get a job in the field.

Peckham RAMP youth at a job shadowing opportunity (wearing welding helmets)RAMP provides youth with an adult that will listen to them, connect them to information about their future careers, and help them to navigate through the different situations they may come against in life. When I was growing up, times were different. We didn’t have cell phones, only landlines and our version of texting was sending a letter in the mail. Today, youth are faced with so much more than in the past and some of them don’t have the skills to help navigate them through those tough situations, and the assistance of a caring adult, other than a parent, is beneficial in guiding youth along the right path. For many of these youth, the focus has always been on what they can’t do or staying out of trouble. RAMP is strength-based, focusing on their skills and future career interests, and keeping them motivated. Because of my passion to help these youth, in April 2011 I became more involved with RAMP by taking on more leadership roles during weekly class sessions.  I hardly ever missed a session because I enjoyed getting to know them by participating in structured bonding activities and assisting them with their career, educational, and personal goals. All of the students considered me to be their mentor and they talked to me about everything. After a while, my schedule became too full and I had to step away from RAMP. This was a difficult decision for me to make because I really believed RAMP was making a difference in the lives of the young people at Peckham and I wanted to be a part of that.

RAMP mock interviews 005After I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Ferris State University in May of 2014, I returned to Peckham Inc. to work in youth services. A few months after I was hired, I received a call from the Youth Services Manager that changed everything. The current RAMP coordinator had unfortunately been involved in a serious car accident and they needed someone with experience to keep RAMP going as a support staff. I gladly accepted this responsibility, and on January 1, 2015, I became the full-time RAMP coordinator.

If it had not been for the assignment in my juvenile justice class, I would have never been a part of such a successful program. I often think back to that teenager’s funeral and wonder what his life would have been like if given career exposure and soft-skill building opportunities such as RAMP. Over the last five years, I have witnessed RAMP change the lives of youth at Peckham. I recall the story of one youth in particular that was autistic and did not want to be touched or talked to at all. By the time he exited RAMP, he was talking to everyone and when you did not listen to him he touched your arm and addressed you by name to make sure you listened! I recently saw this student at a Transition Fair at his high school and he was greeting parents and students. When I spoke with him, he told me that he is looking for a campus job at Michigan State University. This program really helps our youth by teaching them the life skills needed to help them be successful and live independently. I plan to continue this career-focused mentoring work to connect youth to their future possibilities and change their lives.

 Related Resources


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DC YWLA: Changing the Workforce World – One Leader At A Time

Headshot: Patricia D. Gill

By Patricia D. Gill, Senior Program Associate, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

During their recent ceremony (and celebration!), the very first graduates of the DC Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA) shared their innovative ideas with proud colleagues, supportive organizations, local officials, and federal representatives. The 15 youth service professionals represent a diverse mix of nonprofit organizations and public agencies that provide youth workforce development services and had a wide range of capstone projects to improve their own work and advance the field. Najmah Ahmad of Urban Alliance noticed the large number of at-risk youth who get in to college only to drop out in the first year. She developed “Navigating Success: Staying the Course” to increase college matriculation by focusing on connections to campus services, identity development, and managing home sickness. As Najmah said, “YWLA showed me that quality programming doesn’t just happen because you ‘like kids’.  It takes real skills and a foundation in youth development and workforce preparation.”

Group photo of YWLA graduates on stage

Angela Hughes of YWCA National Capital Area tackled the lack of job shadowing opportunities and the youth’s need to develop pre-employment skills with a community mapping project. Youth mapped businesses along the U Street Corridor and shared information about YWCA programs. Job developers followed up with the businesses identified to find job shadowing partners. Elizabeth Edwards of Higher Achievement improved the workforce skills of participants with the “IT Certifications for All” 47-week program resulting in two IT certificates for each graduate. Three participants, Kristina Savoy and Ashley Williams of the DC Department of Employment Services and Nadia Sookar of the DC Rehabilitative Services Administration, partnered together to create an agreement and service referral map ensuring the seamless referral and progress of youth with disabilities through DOES employment programs. In her presentation, Kristina described the value of relationships she built through the Academy, stating, “Our shared experiences [in YWLA] created a revolutionary network of professionals. It is good to work with ‘like minds’ and know there are many with the same passion for youth work.”

Eric Seleznow speaking at graduationEric M. Seleznow, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration highlighted the federal support for workforce innovation, “There has been increased talk about education, training, and skills on the federal level, including the Vice-President’s job training report, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the focus on apprenticeships, and even a recent State of the Union Address.”                                                                                       Elissa Silverman speaking at graduationElissa Silverman, DC Councilmember At-Large, highlighted the ongoing DC budget process and the role these participants play in connecting work experience to outcomes like work, continued training, school retention, and community college enrollment. She said, “Summer work doesn’t have to be just temporary; for older youth, it can be an entry point. The ideas are in this room and I can’t wait to hear them.”

Both speakers cited the first-hand knowledge, real life expertise, and great ideas of the graduates and invited them to come speak to them at their offices and share more of their suggestions to improve the workforce development field. Deputy Assistant Secretary Seleznow ended with this plea, “We need to hear from you!”  Oh, I think you will, sir, I think you will!

The Youth Workforce Leaders Academy is a 10-month long professional development opportunity. Supported by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and run by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, this learning community supports the growth and success of staff from Washington, DC based organizations that provide workforce development services to youth ages 16-24, including youth with disabilities. Through monthly live learning sessions, expert led webinars, web-based topical discussions, individual professional development activities, and facilitated peer-to-peer learning; YWLA aims to expand and grow participants’ expertise in providing high quality youth workforce development services.

The YWLA session topic areas and materials were based on NCWD/Youth’s Youth Service Professionals’ Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (YSP/KSA) professional development initiative.

Also see round-ups from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region!

Related Resources: 

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YWLA: Turning Youth Service Professionals into Pros!

Headshot: Patricia D. Gill        Headshot: Shaina CookBy Patricia D. Gill, Senior      Program Associate & Shaina Cook, Program Coordinator at the Institute for Educational Leadership 

Great things can happen when people from different sectors collaborate. This is particularly true when working with youth and workforce development—an area of work that requires a unique blend of resources and expertise from public and private organizations, nonprofits, local and federal governments, foundations, and other groups in order to be successful and effective.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) calls upon youth service professionals to work together, across sectors, to support all youth as they enter the workforce. With a particular emphasis on serving our most disconnected youth and youth with disabilities, WIOA encourages the growth of critical areas such as career preparation, career guidance and counseling, and career pathways—growth that can only happen when we work together.

Group learning at Youth Workforce Leaders Academy session While WIOA’s message about supporting disconnected youth is clear, there is no cohesive professional development or training system through which youth service professionals can receive the education and skills they need to effectively help youth as they enter the workforce. There are no credentials, no certificates, and no way to determine who is highly qualified to do this work. There is no single path into the youth service and development sector, nor is there a common knowledge base of best practices from which to pull. Youth service professionals have the heart and the dedication to prepare youth for the transition into adulthood, but they also need the training and professional support to ensure they are doing it well.

The Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA) is an example of such a professional development and training program. Supported by a grant from the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative and led through a partnership between the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and the Institute for Educatio
nal Leadership
’s Center for Workforce Development, YWLA is proof that critical needs can be met when people and organizations collaborate and pool local and federal resources.

Youth Workforce Leaders Academy LogoYWLA is a year-long learning community that provides professional development to youth service professionals and youth workforce development providers in the Washington, DC area. Through monthly in-person learning sessions, online discussions and webinars, capstone project development, and collaborating with peers, the 15 members of YWLA’s first cadre received quality training, resources, and strategies for improving their organizations’ work in youth workforce development. When they graduate on May 28, with U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Seleznow and D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman offering congratulatory remarks, these youth service professionals will have knowledge about policy and best practices, an enhanced understanding of their work and the youth they serve, and will be able to move forward as innovative leaders in their work!

Related Resources:


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Changing the Youth Narrative from Behind the Walls

Headshot: Byron Kline

By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.

“No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” – Nelson Mandela

Nowadays, the narratives about crime and youth and young adults are as disconcertingly familiar as the narrators’ positions are predictable. Progressives get accused of excusing bad behavior (i.e., riots and looting), while conservatives are faulted for downplaying alleged police misconduct (i.e., the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, and more recently, 25 year old Freddie Gray’s fatal injuries sustained while in the custody of Baltimore Police).

But the video accounts of violence between law enforcement and young folks that dominate our recent headlines, do not truly reflect the enormous societal damage that over reliance on police and prosecutors to address social problems has caused (think, the School-to-Prison Pipeline). Mass incarceration is the devastating end result. And jail is where mass incarceration begins. On any given day, 10,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Studies show that youth held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Unsurprisingly, these risks are magnified for youth with disabilities or histories of trauma and abuse as America’s reliance on jails has grown sharply since the 1980s with the cost and consequences of being locked up falling disproportionately on low-income people and communities of color.

And for what? Is society better off having these kids off the street?

Apparently not. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does not protect the community, and in fact substantially increased the likelihood that youth will re-offend. Fortunately, there are ways to increase public safety, ensure fairness, and reserve jail beds for those who must be there. And for those youth who must be there, KentuckianaWorks (Right Turn – Louisville) provides an example of how community-based organizations can work with their local jails and youth detention facilities to help youth successfully transition back to their communities upon release.

Earlier this year, national Right Turn staff and staff from all five Right Turn sites got the opportunity to visit and speak to confined youth at Louisville’s Youth Detention Services (YDS) facility where Right Turn – Louisville provides workforce development services and programming for youth enrolled in Right Turn 60-90 days prior to their scheduled release date. It is during this time, while youth are still locked up, that they receive individualized high school-level education toward their high school diploma.  This is also the time when youth are strongly encouraged by Right Turn counselors to really think about what they want to do with their lives in terms of a career.

 Individualized Career DevelpRight Turn youth engage in workforce development through a 3-phase career development process: 1) Self-Exploration, where youth identify their personal strengths, skills, values and interests; 2) Career Exploration, where youth learn about specific careers; and 3) Career Planning and Management, where youth engage in activities designed to align their personal career goals with appropriate education and training (i.e., earning industry recognized occupational credentials and pursuing postsecondary credentials).  These critical beginning steps by youth towards finding a career are guided by caring adult career-focused mentors who start working with the youth prior to release on the initial workforce development phases, with the hope that the mentor/mentee rapport established inside will continue and flourish when youth are eventually back on the outside in their communities.

The YDS facility visit included a panel discussion with three young Black men already enrolled in Right Turn. Staff asked questions about what their experiences were thus far and specifically, whether the initiative was making a difference. The youth’s responses were very candid, but overall very positive and enthusiastic. It’s important that program activities “not be lame” and always balance “the work” of self-exploration and career exploration with “something fun” (i.e., game and movie nights, college tours). All three agreed that having a mentor was a good thing as they made a point to give shout-outs to a few of their mentors who happened to be in the audience. But, when asked what they wanted and needed most when they got out, “finding a job” was overwhelmingly at the top of the list.

Group of youth and adults from Right Turn Lousiville

Research shows that youth of color are overrepresented at nearly every point of contact with the juvenile justice system. As such, the three young Black men that sat on the panel were not so unlike, their many peers also in jail or that often fall victim to gang violence or ill-fated encounters with the police. What hopefully sets these particular young men enrolled in Right Turn apart, is them having a new sense of what is possible for their lives.  And while having this ‘new sense of what is possible’ may not keep young men like Freddie Gray from getting stopped by the police in the first place, discovering what you are good at through self-exploration and identifying a viable career path for yourself is inherently empowering and life changing. Especially for youth in the juvenile justice system or for those at risk of entering the system who must constantly contend with the biases and low expectations of others.

It is important that people know that a real education is possible even when kids are locked up, as is career exploration. The same desire for employment and self-sufficiency that we demand and expect from middleclass, college-bound young people with access to greater resources, is the same hopeful narrative youth in the system often have for themselves. Unfortunately, this more optimistic narrative is seldom heard in today’s public discourse about minors in juvenile lock-up.  It is important that we insist on publicizing the real-life more accurate storyline that, for every young person that may engage in crime and violence in their communities, there are many others – even those currently in detention – that desperately want to find gainful employment and are looking for jobs and constructive ways to give back to their communities.

Related Resources:

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The ADA Generation: Celebrating Disability Civil Rights Successes

The following blog was written by Sarah Ferrell, an intern with the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Want to share your own ADA Generation story? In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the contribution and impact of the ADA Generation, our host organization, IEL, is collecting stories from youth and young adults with disabilities who grew up under the ADA and their allies. These stories can be personal narratives, reflections, or other creative work. IEL is particularly interested in stories related to transition to adulthood, including secondary and postsecondary education; work skills, internships, and employment; and independent living. IEL will publish selected stories on its website. IEL will also share them through social media and include them in IEL’s ADA celebrations. See more details and how to submit your story online.

My first grade class was gathered together to be told that we would have a new student join our class in a few weeks. This student had a condition called Cerebral Palsy, a condition that affected her ability to move and speak. We were told that she was in a wheelchair and would be accompanied by an aide to help her complete her classwork, eat her lunch, and get around the building. But it was important to know that this student was still just as smart as us; even though she could not speak as well as we could, she could still think and communicate.

When the student did join my class, she was in the classroom the majority of the day, participated in all of the related arts, and ate at our lunch table. I saw how the girl could point to objects on a picture board and was learning to read like me and my classmates. Her aides were a middle-aged woman and occasionally a young man who were so kind to the rest of us; I loved sitting and talking with both the student and the aides during lunch.

A few years later I would join the chorus and be seated next to an older student with Autism. I would also be partnered as a reading buddy with a younger student who had a learning disability.

DisAbility Awareness Program (dAp) Day at my school was one of our favorite days of the year. Instead of attending our regular classes, my elementary classmates and I would be moved around the building, learning about relay devices for Deaf individuals, participating in wheelchair races, interacting with service dogs, and hearing from different speakers abut disability-related issues. I still remember an elderly couple with Cerebral Palsy talking about their experiences in college and work, and remembered my former classmate who also had Cerebral Palsy, hoping she too could go to college one day.

By high school, I had joined the “Buddy Program,” an after-school group for students with and without disabilities to just hang out and establish relationships. Then, during my junior year, because of the relationships I had developed with students in the Academic Life Skills (ALS) program, I became a peer tutor. As a peer tutor, I accompanied another student to her software applications class to assist her in completing assignments and tests. I quickly learned that we had to communicate with the special education teacher to make sure the girl was receiving adequate accommodations, and continually had to advocate with her when the teacher was not allowing her additional time or adjusting assignment requirements (the teacher was willing to make accommodations when requested, but she was not proactive in modifying assignments and tests). Other students in ALS were also included in regular classes and could be seen walking the halls, going to their lockers, or eating in the cafeteria on their own. Their individual personalities and interests were celebrated, like one boy who pretended to be the “Mayor” of the school and had weekly lunch meetings with the principal.Front cover of No Pity by Joseph Shapiro

Needless to say, when I began reading No Pity by Joseph Shapiro I was shocked to learn the history of civil rights in the US for the disability community. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was not passed until 1975 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was not passed until 1990.  Really, not until 1990? I was in first grade in 1999 when all students were fully or near-fully included in the classroom and dAp day was a well-established and regular event. Could it be that students elsewhere did not grow up in inclusive environments like this?

In this way, dAp day at best did not reach its full potential, at worst did a disservice to us students. We learned about the abilities of individuals in the disability community, we learned to not fear someone just because they were different, and we learned how to be respectful of someone who uses a service dog; but we never learned that life was not all fine and dandy for the disability community. We received a (albeit watered-down) version of the civil rights movement beginning in kindergarten, but we never learned that our peers with disabilities also had to continually fight for their rightful place in society. These topics could easily have been included in a dAp day presentation. Even in high school as a peer tutor and involved in the buddy program, nobody ever discussed the clash between those who wanted full inclusion for students with disabilities or those who wanted separate learning environments. It was not even until my third year in the buddy program that the teacher facilitated training on inclusive language and appropriate behavior for group members. It was almost as if up until then we were just volunteers doing a charitable service, without 1) acknowledging the mutual benefit for all participants or 2) realizing the disservice we could do through inappropriate language or behavior.

Still, dAp day, the Buddy Program, and peer tutoring existed – and thrived! – in my schools.

After a little cursory research, I learned that the county’s dAp day was officially created in 1979, just four short years after the implementation of IDEA (originally titled the Education for All Handicapped Children Act), but had been informally run for several years before that. A teacher created the informal program in her classroom which spread school-wide, and before long, she left her teaching position to run the program for the county full-time. Reading Shapiro’s descriptions of parents and students that struggled for years to have their rights recognized by the public education system and broader communities shocked me, when it seemed to happen so effortlessly from the bottom-up in my county’s schools. Shapiro provides accounts that continue into the 1990s of schools denying entrance or integrated classrooms for students with disabilities, while at the same time I was participating in such fully integrated classrooms. What was it about that community at that time that enabled progress so much quicker than the rest of the nation? Are there still places throughout the country that continue to deny rights to the disability community, but we just aren’t hearing about it?

My K-12 experience demonstrates without a doubt the successes of IDEA and ADA. It highlights the route moving forward: the potential for other schools and communities to adapt and better support their entire community, and for current systems to grow and improve existing structures and programs to assure equal access and nondiscrimination for people with disabilities

Related Resources:

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Ed Roberts and the Americans with Disabilities Act Legacy

The following blog was written by Sam Xu and Heather Yaden from our Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) Team Berkeley. Sam is a youth leader and Heather serves as the adult partner for the team.

ADA Tour Bus with text "The Road to Freedom" printed on the sideOn November 25th 2014, the ADA Legacy Tour Bus made the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA one of its first of many stops on a year-long tour celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to honor the history of this achievement than the sidewalk curb-cut outside the building named for an essential founder of the modern disability rights movement.

The Ed Roberts Campus is currently home to about a dozen organizations dedicated to supporting the personal and professional development of people with disabilities. Ala Costa Adult Transition program (ACAT) has been a member of the Ed Roberts Campus community since 2012 when we first rented an office on the second floor. ACAT is a program that provides training for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to develop the skills necessary to move towards a more independent adulthood and a life of self-advocacy and empowerment.

Two of ACAT’s students, Sam and Brandon, are part of NCWD/Youth’s Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) – a program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) that trains transition-aged youth with disabilities to become community leaders and advocates. Part of their training inspired Sam and Brandon to begin working on a project centered on the life and legacy of Ed Roberts. Sam and Brandon speak frequently to students, schools, and service providers about the history of the disability rights movement and one of its central figure.

Ed Roberts was an important civil rights activist who fought for people with disabilities to have the rights, equal opportunity, and fundamental freedoms that form the foundation of the ADA. He was born in California on January 23rd, 1939 and contracted polio when he was 14. He became paralyzed from the neck down and needed to spend much of his time in an iron lung. Despite a severe lack of accessibility and the discouragement of deans and counselors, Ed Roberts attended the University of California, Berkeley. Other disabled students began attending the University based on his precedence, and together they began organizing under the name the “Rolling Quads.”

Ed Roberts became an important name in the disability rights movement when he and the Rolling Quads created the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972. He went on to be appointed as the director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and co-found the World Institute on Disability (WID) in 1983. Both CIL and WID are now world-wide organizations that provide advocacy resources, information, and services to hundreds of thousands of people. These organizations were of the first to describe the tenants of equal opportunity and accessibility that the ADA is grounded in.

Group of Youth in front of ADA Tour Bus

The CIL of Berkeley, WID, and Department of Rehab all have offices at the Ed Roberts Campus. Ed Robert’s legacy is alive and well here in an accessible and vibrant community that reflects Roberts’s energy. When the ADA tour bus arrived at Ed Roberts Campus on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, ACAT students saw the boldly designed bus parked right outside the front door. There was a large group of people from the Berkeley and greater Bay Area disability community gathered around the bus all day – socializing and providing information for visitors. Ambassadors from the tour gave us booklets, key chains, and temporary tattoos with the message, “Disability Rights are Civil Rights” – a sentiment we think Robert’s would have approved of.

YouthACT is a part of NCWD/Youth’s youth development and leadership work, which is a critical component in the transition to adulthood for all youth including youth with disabilities. NCWD/Youth has several resources available to support youth in their successful transitions: 

Posted in Advocacy, Culture, Disability History, Events, Guideposts for Success, Self Advocacy, Self Determination, Transition, Youth Development, Youth Leadership | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Ed Roberts and the Americans with Disabilities Act Legacy

Toward a More Inclusive Definition of Diversity in the Disability Community

The following is a cross-post from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) Blog. The blog is written by Aaron Bishop, Commissioner for the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities under ACL. 

As Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month draws to a close, it is important that we take time to reflect on the values embodied within the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000. The DD Act, as it is commonly known, ensures that people with developmental disabilities in the United States and their families have access to services and supports that promote self-determination, independence, and inclusion in their communities.

The nearly 5 million Americans with developmental disabilities represent a vast diversity of backgrounds, experiences and cultures. This is why the DD Act specifically calls for the services and supports it provides to be delivered “… in a manner that is responsive to the beliefs, interpersonal styles, attitudes, language, and behaviors of individuals who are receiving the services …”

To make the DD Act’s vision a reality, AIDD is actively taking steps to increase the cultural competency of our leaders, staff, and decision makers across the developmental disability network.

Why do cultural competency and diversity matter?

The 2010 census figures vividly illustrate that racial and ethnic minority communities are growing at a much faster pace than the current majority population, white Americans. Trends in immigration and birth rates indicate that by 2050 there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in the nation. We are already seeing this in our schools; this spring, for the first time in U.S. history, more students of color will be graduating from high school than white Americans. And as ethnic diversity in the United States has increased, so too has the number of individuals with disabilities from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

People with developmental disabilities reflect the diversity of the country in many other ways as well; including in regards to gender, socio-economic status and education, just to name a few. Unfortunately, people with developmental disabilities from minority communities can face unique barriers to achieving self-determination, independence and inclusion.

For example, we know that African American and Latino boys with disabilities face school suspension and expulsion at higher rates than their peers. We also know from a project conducted by the University of Minnesota that Somali children in Minneapolis have higher rate of autism spectrum disorder than their peers, however the stigma associated with autism in the Somali community may cause families to miss out on critical early intervention opportunities.

And we know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people who are living with intellectual disabilities have unique sexual health needs. Well-meaning attempts to protect gender and sexual minority youth by limiting their autonomy can inadvertently put this population at risk for a range of negative health consequences.

These sorts of complex issues can only be addressed by building a diverse workforce and weaving inclusion and cultural competency best practices into the fabric of all services provided under and outside of the DD Act.

What is AIDD is doing to increase diversity?

The first step is working to better understand the needs of the communities that we serve to ensure that our programs provide culturally competent services. For the past two years, AIDD has been working to better understand the needs of diverse populations through data collection and research.

We are funding work by the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) to develop a blueprint for cultural and linguistic competence across the nation’s 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. We have also developed workgroups within the Protection and Advocacy Agencies and Developmental Disability Councils to accomplish the same goal. And, most importantly, we are reaching out to the non-profit communities that serve under-represented groups to learn from and partner with them.

Second, AIDD will work to increase the cultural competency of our workforce. In 2014, for example, we funded a Leadership Institute for Cultural Diversity and Cultural and Linguistic Competence at the Georgetown University Center for Cultural Competence. The Institute will help our leaders to better understand the issues surrounding disability in diverse communities, and recruit a more diverse workforce. The Administration for Community Living has also instituted an agency-wide diversity initiative to strengthen the cultural competency of all programs that impact people with disabilities, older adults, and their caregivers.

Third, we have been working to increase diversity within our workforce. We are working with other agencies within HHS and across the federal government to look for ways to mutually benefit from pipeline grants and other initiatives to increase cultural and ethnic diversity of people working in social services fields (including people with disabilities). In 2016 and 2017, AIDD hopes to fund grants designed to encourage under-represented groups to take on leadership and advocacy roles in the disability community.

Finally, and most importantly, we are working to build the broadest possible definition of diversity in the foundations of all we do at AIDD and across ACL. Only then can we ensure that all people, regardless of age, ability or cultural background, have the opportunity to participate fully in our society—not just during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, but every day of the year.

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When “Eat Your Vegetables” Isn’t Always An Option

Jason Farr

By Jason Farr, Program Associate, with the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

If you are a person with a disability reading this blog, you are much more likely to be food insecure than your peers without disabilities. According to a 2013 report by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 24.8% of people with disabilities surveyed (age 18-64) who are in the workforce are food insecure and, for individuals who identified as having a disability that keeps them out of the workforce, 33.5% were food insecure. This compares to 12% for those without disabilities between 18 and 64 who are in or out of the workforce. The USDA defines food insecure households as those that lack adequate food for one or more household members because they have insufficient money or other resources for food. While attempting to answer the question as to why this is the case is beyond the scope of this blog, the USDA report offers two possible explanations: (1) reduced earnings and (2) increased expenses related to having disabilities (medical bills, assistive technologies, personal assistants, etc.). Another important reason might be related to difficulty accessing transportation to places that sell healthy and affordable foods, among other possible causes.

The underlying problem here is one of income inequality often resulting from inadequate employment and transition supports (or awareness of supports available) to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, but there are federal assistance programs and similar nongovernmental programs that aim to level the playing field. Programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are for people with disabilities that are intended to compensate for lower incomes and higher expenses. Whether or not these programs provide adequate assistance is a much larger topic for another time, but it is clear that more can be done. Fortunately, there are additional resources available.

Many individuals with and without disabilities receive nutrition assistance from various federal programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In fact, SNAP gives special consideration for households with individuals with disabilities. For those families, any out-of-pocket medical expenses over $35 per month can be deducted from their household income when determining their eligibility for benefits. Beyond supplying financial assistance for purchasing food, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) operates the SNAP Employment and Training program (SNAP E&T) for SNAP participants to help them gain the skills necessary to obtain and retain employment, with the aim of becoming financially independent. Earlier this month, FNS announced 10 states selected as pilot programs that will test whether SNAP E&T could more effectively connect unemployed and underemployed recipients to work. For more information, the National Skills Coalition provides a number of resources on this program and the pilot sites.

Community Foodworks LogoIf you receive these nutrition benefits, there may be some additional ways to stretch that dollar for healthy food. Many farmers markets around the country have created programs that double the value of these benefits, making it easier for families with lower incomes to purchase healthy, locally grown produce. For example, I sit on the board of a nonprofit here in Washington, DC called Community Foodworks which operates the Columbia Heights Farmers Market, and last season we raised and distributed over $20,000 to families who receive WIC, SNAP, and Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) benefits to be used directly with vendors at the market. This was possible with support from an organization called Wholesome Wave, which helps fund many of these programs around the country, as well as through support from local businesses and other members of the community. Community Foodworks will be piloting another program in 2015 that could serve as an example in how to address the issue of transportation faced by individuals with disabilities in accessing healthy food. Community Foodworks will be launching a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that will provide a number of subsidized shares for families living in local low income housing developments. These families, including many seniors with disabilities, will pay 1/3 the market price for a box of local produce delivered weekly to their building, thereby providing access to individuals who may have difficulty getting to the market.

Close-up of vegetables. Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

In 2014, the DC government took some of this work on themselves with the creation of the Produce Plus program. Through this program, DC residents who participate in SNAP, WIC, TANF, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), Medicaid, or SSI were eligible to receive $10 once per day per market visit. While similar programs exist in other cities, DC is the first to extend these funds to individuals beyond those that just receive SNAP. In the 2014 season, over $165,000 was distributed to DC residents to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at DC farmers markets. And while the official start date is not yet available, this program will continue in 2015.

While increasing access to fresh food at farmers markets is only one step toward improving food security for people with disabilities, it is an option many can take advantage of this year. If your local farmers markets do not operate programs like this, you can encourage them to start. If your local government does not operate a program like Produce Plus, you may consider advocating for them to do so.

Taking advantage of these farmers market programs if they are available to you offers a great way to access healthy, fresh foods that are locally produced, allowing you to eat healthy while supporting the health of your local economy. For help finding a farmers market near you check out the USDA directory here:

Related Resources:


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Transforming How Youth See Their Communities, and Themselves

Headshot: Byron Kline


By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.

 “…But now I learned to earn ‘cause I’m righteous / I feel great so maybe I might just / search for a 9 to 5 / If I strive then maybe I’ll stay alive…” excerpted lyrics from the song “Paid In Full” (1987) by Eric B. and Rakim

As Americans, we are told that if we just work hard and steer clear of criminal behavior, we can achieve the American dream. But the wages for hard work are not equal for everyone. Similar behavior that veers too close to criminal activity can have tragically different consequences for different people. Being found intoxicated and waving a rifle can remarkably end with nobody getting hurt and no charges being filed. On the other hand, allegedly selling loosies in front of a corner bodega can result in death.    

As US citizens we should share a collective concern about the recent events on Staten Island and in Ferguson where overreach on the part of law enforcement is in question. Yet, we cannot ignore the crime that occurs daily in our own communities, perpetrated by us, against us. In either case, too often ‘concern’ devolves into blame-gaming and demands for public apologies, rather than something more substantive. Accountability and forgiveness have a place in our society and in the criminal justice system, for sure. But restorative justice – the concept of rehabilitation through community reconciliation – should be focused on repairing harm and rebuilding relationships in communities damaged by crime, rather than general appeals for more justice. 

Restorative justice is more than just an acknowledgement of a wrong doing; it is a call to action.  It is in that vein – the need for action – that IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative takes a career-focused approach to restorative justice by engaging youth in activities and programming that prepare them for workforce success. The concept is simple: create activities that allow youth to give back to the communities they may have harmed through criminal activity, provide space in those activities for learning specific career skills to occur, and you will increase public safety by transforming how the communities view those youth and how those youth now see themselves.  Recently, Right Turn staff from across the country gathered at the Right Turn – Louisville site for the 2015 Right Turn annual meeting and took part in an interactive restorative justice peer sharing exercise where staff collectively got to hear directly from juvenile justice-involved youth about the kinds of activities and projects that make for meaningful restorative justice experiences.

 “[W]e believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution” excerpt from Leading With Conviction: JustLeadershipUSA by Glenn Martin and Sasha Graham

For this exercise the plan was to divide staff into 4 teams and match them randomly with Right Turn youth participants.  Knowing how difficult it is sometimes to get youth to show up, we planned and hoped for at least four youth from the host site to take part in the exercise.  We ended up with 12, a few even came with their mentors – a testament to the importance young people place on giving back to their communities and to the genuine relationships Louisville’s staff have forged with their youth.  Each youth talked at length about their personal experiences working on restorative justice projects at the Louisville site; they talked about what they liked, what they didn’t like, what could have made the experience better, and how they planned to go about recruiting other youth for future projects. 

Group of Right Turn youth engaging in restorative justice activity
To the casual observer, the setting was chaotic – more youth than expected, energetic, animated and passionate, all crammed into a small meeting space, all talking at once. On closer inspection though, the conversations between staff and youth provided a range of candid and powerful insights into what the youth thought of their communities, and of themselves. Their responses boiled down to three distinct themes: first, the youth’s attitudes toward serving their communities were very positive; giving back was seen as a natural and necessary part of living where they live. Second, the “youth offender” label generated very negative feelings; they resented having the sum of their lives and self-worth reduced down to an offense.  Lastly, the youth emphasized the value of being involved from the start of a project, during the planning stages where their ideas can have the most impact and help shape an activity.  As each team reported out on their discussions, one young man posed the question rhetorically, “…why don’t [they] see me as someone who can help?” Once again, those closest to the problem – in this case, juvenile crime – are often closest to the solution – increased public safety.

The exercise was a big hit with both Right Turn staff and Louisville’s Right Turn youth.  In addition to the themes the discussions revealed, the youth’s responses affirm the impact of exposing youth to personal leadership and youth development activities to help them gain skills.  It was no coincidence that the youth that indicated getting the most from their restorative justice experiences were the same youth that, during the exercise, were the most vocal and engaging, displaying the greatest interpersonal skillset both with staff and their fellow Right Turn participants.    

Group picture of youth from Right Turn meeting

No juvenile justice initiative can absolve a young person’s responsibility or guilt for having committed a crime, or completely eliminate the lingering suspicion and skepticism community folk often retain long after the crime incident – or even after an attempt to make amends through a restorative justice project. 

But it’s a start.

The same way Ferguson is seen by many as a call to action for greater police accountability, restorative justice is call for greater accountability among community members when it comes to addressing juvenile crime and supporting our youth. That said, what youth gain from taking part in Right Turn restorative justice projects is a chance to learn and practice work skills and soft skills that will not only improve their prospects for finding and retaining employment, but will also promote individual activism and advocacy in their communities.  To put it another way, the positive work competencies (i.e., the capacity to learn, work ethic, interpersonal skills, teamwork, and community civic-mindedness) we have come to expect from today’s college kids that take part in community service projects before entering the workforce, is the same work attitude and conviction captured in Rakim’s iconic “learn to earn… so I can search for a 9 to 5” verse, and the same skills and values quality restorative justice programming provide our youth involved in the juvenile justice system.          

 Related Resources:

Posted in Collaboration, Communicating with Youth, Community Partnerships, Disclosure, Juvenile Justice, Positive Peer Influence, Soft Skills, Transition | Tagged , | Comments Off on Transforming How Youth See Their Communities, and Themselves