Celebrate Poetry Month: Connecting Youth with Disabilities to the Disability Community

There are many things to celebrate during the month of April. I don’t look forward to people playing pranks on me and am not particularly excited about April Fools’ Day. Neither of my thumbs is green, so I am not as thrilled about April being National Garden Month. However, as a poet born in April, I look forward to celebrating the fact that April is Poetry Month!

Like music, and other forms of art, poetry allows people to connect and feel like they belong to something greater, something that matters. Many transition-aged youth with disabilities do not feel connected to the disability community. April is a great time of year for youth to use poetry to tie themselves to a group of people with a history and experiences that, often, members of their families and those in their peer groups are not quite able to relate to.

While celebrating poetry month, youth with disabilities can connect to the disability community by using poetry to express themselves and share their experiences with others. In doing so, these youth are led to other youth or adults who have had similar experiences, lessening the feeling of isolation. Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature is an online publication that collects poetry and other forms of literature written by people with disabilities. On the website are several poems from the disability perspective, including poems by Jim Ferris and Jillian Weise. Youth might consider submitting their poems to disability publications as a form of self-expression during the month of April.

Youth with disabilities can also use poetry to recount the experiences of people with disabilities and the disability movement during Poetry Month. As youth with disabilities learn about the people who organized, challenged legislation, and protested, youth can share these stories in poetic form. Photographers like Tom Olin have documented the disability movement in a very visual way as it occurred; however, youth can share poetic images and document this legacy of leaders in a format that is accessible to all. In April, youth with disabilities can connect with local or national disability agencies and organizations to host poetry readings, open mics, and poetry slams to share stories and lessons as a means of connecting youth to the disability community.

During April, poetry can be used as a tool to promote advocacy and awareness by youth with disabilities. Poets with disabilities, like Leroy Moore, Jr., use poetry to speak out against injustices. Founder of KripHop Nation, Moore uses his poetry and music to confront issues such as police brutality and profiling endured by people with disabilities. Laura Hershey, another poet with a disability, is known for her poetry on disability rights and social justice issues. As a result of her advocacy, Hershey is the 1998 recipient of the President’s Award from the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Young advocates can look to Moore and Hershey as examples when considering using poetry to promote advocacy and awareness in their communities.

Youth may enjoy April Fools’ Day. I get it; the pranks can be really fun. I can see the value in celebrating National Garden Month. Fresh vegetables and flowers are pretty awesome after all. Nevertheless, when it comes to connecting with the disability community, Poetry Month is my favorite time of the year!

Related Resources:

By Jennifer Thomas, Youth Development Specialist with the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.




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