Access Living


Organization Profile: Access Living is a cross-disability organization majority-governed and staffed by people with disabilities. Four fundamental beliefs are central to Access Living’s work:

  • People with disabilities have a right to community resources that emphasize their human potential and facilitate empowerment, self-help, and peer support.
  • People with disabilities must become a political force if they are to effect social change.
  • Laws that ensure civil rights protection for people with disabilities must be enforced, but their effectiveness depends on the active commitment and participation of people with disabilities themselves.
  • Policy analysis, training, and dissemination are necessary to provide community input and direction to confirm the legitimacy of independent living.
    Access Living offers peer-oriented independent living services, public education awareness and development, and civil rights education on behalf of persons with disabilities. Access Living is especially committed to those groups of people with disabilities that have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved.

Program Summary
: The purpose of Access Living’s Y.I.E.L.D. (Youth for Integration through Education, Leadership and Discovery) the Power Project was to increase the participation of youth with disabilities in mainstream workforce development activities through a variety of youth-led systems change initiatives. A majority of the project staff were young adults with disabilities under the age of 30 who grew up with their disability. The project focused on leadership and organizing training for youth with disabilities, ages 14 to 21. To open doors to Chicago’s WIA youth programs, training was developed on how to integrate and serve youth with disabilities. Graduates of the Leadership training were provided with the opportunity to facilitate these changes.
The Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project was directed and led by a paid Youth Advisory Board comprised of six young adults with disabilities. Most of the youth served through the Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project had physical (49%), learning (25%), or emotional/behavioral disabilities.

Program Structure/Design: To participate in the Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project, a person had to have a disability, live in Chicago (or the surrounding area), and be between the ages of 14 and 21. All interested youth were required to complete an application that included questions related to date of birth, age, and disability.

States of Operation: IL
Profile Year: 2007


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Access Living administered a career interest survey to all Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project participants. One of the project’s Leadership/Organizing Training sessions specifically taught youth participants about resume writing skills and interviewing skills.
All participants were referred to the WIA Youth programs in their areas to receive services. The project also conducted field trips to WIA Youth agencies to show the youth first-hand what the WIA offices have to offer them.

Youth Development and Leadership: The project’s Youth Leadership/Organizing Training Curriculum was based on the belief that people with disabilities are more likely to become leaders and to participate in mainstream workforce development activities if they have a strong sense of disability culture and pride. The curriculum was designed to foster the leadership skills of each youth participant. Some curriculum sections emphasized disability culture and pride and taught participants about the history of the disability rights movements, about leaders in the disability rights movement, about different aspects of disability culture, and about some of the values associated with disability culture.

Other sessions focused on self-advocacy and conflict resolution. Curriculum topics related to self-advocacy included how to request a reasonable accommodation, how to advocate for oneself concerning rights that are being violated, and how to promote oneself to obtain employment. Throughout the training sessions, youth participants were also exposed to many opportunities to practice their self-advocacy skills: they completed accessibility site surveys at the mall, and they attended meetings with high-level officials, including Mayor Dailey.

Mentoring activities were designed both to establish strong relationships with adults through formal and informal settings and to enable peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities included the following: connecting participants to the state youth leadership summit for youth with disabilities; offering mentoring through the Youth Advisory Board to the youth participants; and discussing ongoing issues related to disability and leadership through peer support groups for current and past Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project participants.

Participants were also exposed to a variety of role models: all project staff members had disabilities, and Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project trainings included many speakers with disabilities; all of these adults served as role models. All members of the Youth Advisory Board exercised their leadership skills by serving on the board and developing guidelines for other youth with disabilities who may never have served on a board before. Youth participants were also exposed to many different activities and opportunities to develop a sense of pride through the Project Director’s national Disability Pride campaign.

Connecting Activities: The Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project offered participants referrals when mental health or physical health services were needed. The project coordinator also met individually with each youth participant and referred individuals to extra services when appropriate. Project participants were registered with CDT (Chicago Disability Transit), and if necessary Access Living’s Transportation Coordinator taught them how to ride public transportation on their own. As needed, participants were referred to their local WIA youth program for tutoring.

Structured post-program support was arranged through postsecondary institutions and adult-serving agencies. These services were offered based on individual requests. Where indicated, project staff helped participants connect with the Office of Rehabilitation Services where they could receive post-program support. A few participants utilized Access Living housing services to help find affordable, accessible integrated housing, and several youth participants worked with Access Living’s deinstitutionalization department to move out of an area residential institution into their own community-based housing. Participants were also given contact information for agencies that provide assistive devices based on individual needs. These agencies included, among others, the Illinois Assistive Technology Project and the Illinois TTY loan program.
A personal care assistant was present at every Y.I.E.L.D. the Power Project Youth Leadership/Organizing Training session and event. Interpreters were provided whenever requested. Individual accommodation requests ranged from readers to tactile interpreters, and were identified in participant applications.

Organization Name: Access Living, Inc.
Program Name: Y.I.E.L.D. (Youth for Integration through Education, Leadership, and Discovery) the Power Project
Street Address: 614 W. Roosevelt Rd.
City: Chicago
State: IL

Contact Person: Sarah Traino
Contact E-mail: