At a recent meeting of the Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) five teams of young people, ages 12-25, and their adult partners joined forces to hear from young self-advocates who are now professionals in disability fields. Before hearing their stories, YouthACT members were asked to share what advocacy and leadership meant to them. One participant wrote,
“Advocacy—knowing who you are, knowing what you need, knowing you can do it, and asking for support.”
Unsurprisingly the youths’ definitions of advocacy were very insightful. And, the truth is, youth in transition need, and those working with them should provide, multiple opportunities for the young person to explore who they are, what they want to accomplish, and how they will get the support they need to achieve those goals. In their evaluations of the meeting another participant wrote, “I enjoyed learning about the many experiences of transition from the individuals at the training and how they connected to the larger narrative of individuals with disabilities working for their rights”. After hearing each other’s stories, the teams found that in addition to having individual identities through their exchange of ideas and common interests, they had actually built a network and connected with each other as a community that found strength in its new shared identity as the first YouthACT cohort.
Another truth that the YouthACT teams realized is that preparation is an important step in becoming leaders and advocates. Though they may have been familiar with their own issues, hearing the transition-related issues that others have experienced gave the youth and their adult partners different perspectives and heightened their awareness about issues that they may not have dealt with firsthand.
If you work with youth in transition who are in the early stages of advocacy, remember the truths that YouthACT participants shared, including the following: “Advocacy—knowing who you are, knowing what you need, knowing you can do it, and asking for support. Remember too, that your job is not to answer these questions for youth, but rather to support them in discovering the answers and so that they can not only take their first steps on the path to adulthood, but continue leading the way.
- Guideposts for Success
- Youth in Action! Becoming a Stronger Self-Advocate
- Youth in Action! – Leading Your Transition Planning
- A Guide to Legislative Advocacy for Youth with Disabilities
By Maria M. Town, Policy Advisor on the Youth Team in the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.