Growing up in a small town with a disability was difficult. There weren’t many other young people who were going through what I was going through. Sure, I found ways to connect with my peers but there was always something missing. None of my peers understood the concept of “going blind” or being “legally blind.” When I was 17 I joined the “sheltered” workforce at a blind-work organization. While this was only a stepping-stone for me to gain experience and get through college, I also found a group of peers who understood my unique struggle. Through this organization I helped start a support group for youth who faced vision-related barriers. This is where I gained a true peer experience. I learned much from my peers and even mentored many individuals through some significant struggles. I was empowered… and there was no stopping me.
Currently I work at Access to Independence, an independent living center (ILC) in central New York. For the past five years, I have worked to build peer support initiatives youth and have developed some excellent tools. Getting youth involved in ILC activities can be as simple as helping a young person to L.E.A.R.N. That’s Lead, Empower, Advocate, Recreate, and Network!
Lead: Leadership is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to get young people involved. Through leadership on a board of directors, peer group facilitator, volunteer, or even a staff member, can boost their confidence and build essential life and career skills. Not to mention, you’re giving a young person a voice in how services are run for young people. That is the independent living philosophy!
Empower: Empowering young people comes from helping a young person find “internal value.” By this I mean believing in your ability to see what you want and go after it with motivated energy. It means knowing that you, as a young person, can make a difference and have the power to improve a community. It means you want to help others become empowered.
Advocate: It is not easy having a disability. There are stigmas and barriers we face on a daily …