Youth Resources: Curriculum – Introducing Disability Pride

I am not handicapped

As Youth Transition Coordinators, there will be many opportunities to speak to young people about disability culture and history. In the midst of giving a brilliant introduction to the Independent Living Movement, you may start to feel a cold shoulder of…resistance. Although, it may be necessary for young people to learn about accommodations and seek information and referral, this does not mean they embody disability pride. Instead, many young people would do anything to distance themselves from the identity that reminds themselves and others of what they “cannot” do. In fact, many young people are willing to go without accommodations and resources in order to minimize a disability that only makes them “different” from their peers. As strange as this may sound, it is important for us to show young people that having a disability is indeed “swag.” Thus, socialization and peer connections should be a priority for CILs if they wish to be more inclusive of youth.


CILs will be able to easily engage a smaller number of youth who are internally passionate about community involvement and disability rights. Simply watching the video of the “Capitol Crawl” or learning about inaccessible barriers to housing and education will be enough to invoke their commitment to Independent Living. However, in most other cases it will take a social methodology to retain young people. Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, stated “younger professionals really crave relationships, to the point that if they don’t have a relationship with a group, they disengage from it.” Socializing young people into the Independent Living network will require carving out a particular space and time for them to build relationships with other young people and with those at the CIL. Below are useful steps in building youth participation at CILs:

  1. Identify Social Leaders– Identify who at your CIL is “social.” Who has an extraverted personality, enjoys cracking jokes, and knows how to make others feel included? It’s important as the Youth Transition Coordinate to acknowledge if you are this person or if you need assistance from a colleague or community volunteer. Identify a social leader who can help cultivate a fun and relaxing environment for young visitors.
  2. Determine Space and Time– Some CILs can function with young people visiting the office at random throughout the week. However, for some CILs it may be more functional to have an allocated social time that is promoted for young people. If you predominately work with high school students then the end of the work day or even after hours may work best. If you predominately work with college students or young professionals then midafternoon could be a good time. Also consider an area within your CIL that has room for young people, but is not disruptive to co-workers.
  3. YouTube and SnapChat– Young people want to be a part of an organization that knows how to have fun in the midst of hard work. Cultivating an enjoyable network should not always be a strategically designed program. Instead, know that young people have fun spending all day checking out the latest YouTube videos and laughing over random Snapchats. The point to remember is that young people do not always need to learn through lectures or in depth programs. Instead, consider how you can socially connect to young people while simultaneously showing them disability culture.
  4. Protect Youth Spaces- Once you have young people at your CIL their energy can be contagious. There may be situations where co-workers or even community members would like to join the youth group. Although they may mean well, it is important to remind older individuals that these spaces are for young people to connect and learn from each other. Even if older participants think they are not overstepping their presence alone affects the dynamic of the group. It is engrained in many young people to uphold a particular demeanor and to listen completely when older people speak even if they disagree. Although this is respectful, it also silences the experiences and thoughts of young people. Before we integrate young people in IL we must first ensure that they have a space to freely voice their narratives with peers.
  5. Disability Curriculum– After you have established credibility and a relationship with young people then it would be beneficial to introduce them to a more formal disability curriculum. The social process to disability culture and these curriculums can be outreached at: local middle schools and high schools, student organization meetings on college campuses, community centers (Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and local recreational centers), and local young professional organizations.

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The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: individuals with disabilities, Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States. This document was developed by Keri Gray, 2015-2016 Youth Transitions Fellow funded through the HSC Foundation, for Youth Transition Coordinators at CILs. However, this document is available to anyone who may find it useful. Contact NCIL for additional information or questions.