This month, guest blogger Chris Nace, a Transition Policy Analyst with the Office of Special Education at the District of Columbia Public Schools, shares about his transition to the world of work as a person with a disability and how he is using those learned skills to inform the curricula he and his team are implementing to support all youth in transition.
As we, as people, think about transitioning to something new- whether it is a new job, a new home, or even new people in our lives, we always immediately think about what we need to be comfortable with that transition. When we find what we need, odds are that many of us do not have any issue voicing our opinions. This is because, as a society, we are empowered to advocate for our needs. But, the question is, are all people empowered to advocate? I would say not. Individuals with disabilities often struggle with the ability to articulate what they need and why they need it because of the stigma that surrounds the term “disability.”
I am an individual with a disability, and experience this stigma first hand. Many people with whom I interact aren’t sure what I am capable of doing, and always seem surprised when I speak about my needs. I have grown to embrace Cerebral Palsy because it has become such an empowering experience for me. It has taught me that no one defines or determines my destiny but me, and in order to determine that destiny I have to make my presence known. I became a self-advocate at a very young age, and have taken that experience into my daily work.
Currently, I work for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) writing curricula, supporting teachers with course implementation, secondary transition, and interacting with students on the concept of self-advocacy. Students in the District need to learn the basic concepts of preference, abilities, limitations, and disability in order to find their voice. It is crucial that we start building that voice at a young age, which is why I am excited to say that the current self-advocacy program spans from Pre-K to 12th Grade. This program teaches students what it means to be a self-advocate and take the lead on their educational destiny.
Students who engage in self-advocacy techniques will become much more aware of themselves but also of the direction needed to pursue a career of interest. All students with disabilities can go to post-secondary educational environments, like a trade school or college, and have meaningful employment. Gone are the days when we did not expect individuals with disabilities to pursue a career. Self-advocacy is the key to unlocking doors that have been traditionally closed for individuals with disabilities. But, we don’t want to just slightly open that door; we want to push it open so far that the door can never be closed again.
In DCPS, students are being prepared for the future through self-awareness and self-advocacy. In the pilot study for this curriculum, students showed amazing potential to comprehend their rights and their ability to actively participate in their Individual Education Program (IEP) team meeting. In the coming months, this blog will be a series chronicling the work being done in the public schools to empower students to take charge of their education and become the leaders of the future that we know they can be in all environments. Individuals with disabilities are the future of this country; it’s time to start preparing them to take center stage.
If you are interested in further supporting youth in transition, consider applying for one of the following programs today:
- The Youth Action Council on Transition (Youth ACT) is a national project to get more youth involved as leaders and partners with adults and youth-serving organizations to improve youth transition outcomes.
- Youth Service Professionals’ Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities Professional Development Demonstration and Evaluation (YSP/KSA Demo) will provide partnering organizations in three communities with four free full-day interactive training sessions covering the necessary competencies for professionals who work with youth, including pre- and post-training capacity building and support for all sites
Other Related Resources:
- DCPS Transition Central
- Youth in Action! – Leading Your Transition Planning
- Youth in Action! Becoming a Stronger Self-Advocate
- The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities
- Cyber Disclosure for Youth with Disabilities
By Chris Nace, a Transition Policy Analyst with the Office of Special Education at the District of Columbia Public Schools