Youth Resources: Outreach – Including Student Organizations

Connecting College Students to CILs

There is little to no involvement from college students at most Centers for Independent Living (CILs) across the United States. This disconnect is unfortunate considering that the Independent Living movement was started by the efforts of college students. Students have, on a national level, participated in civil rights, foreign relations, and political activism (Claybrook Jr., 2013; Dominguez, 2009; Swank & Fahs, 2011).  Increasing college involvement at CILs could significantly increase the advocacy of disability rights within the Independent Living movement. Dr. Thomas Ehrlich stated, “If today’s college graduates are to be positive forces in this world, they need not only to possess knowledge and intellectual capacities but also to see themselves as members of a community, as individuals with a responsibility to contribute to their communities.” Thus there is the question, how can CILs embed college students into the disability community and the Independent Living movement?

Student Organizations

Generally, organizations recognize the benefits of diverse youth participation, but “often overlooked in these efforts, however, has been the role of campus student organizations” (Kuk & Banning, 2010, p. 354). Outreach to these organizations can be an efficient means to connect larger groups of students to CILs. Additionally, when YTCs examine the mission of the student organizations it can be easier to identify students who have a personal connection or interest in Independent Living.

There are a small number of student organizations that are specifically geared towards students with disabilities (a list of these orgs can be found in the resources section below). However, if one of these student organizations is in your area then a relationship should be built and maintained between the Youth Transition Coordinator (YTC) and the officers within that organization. If a disability student organization does not exist in your local area, then YTCs should identify student organizations that at least engage students with disabilities. A list of the student organizations can usually be found on the college/university website. It would also be beneficial to contact the staff at the college/university’s Office of Disability Services and the Office of Multicultural Affairs to get their recommendation on student organizations that engage students with disabilities.

Connecting to students through the above recommendations does not often come easy. These student organizations are often stretched thin with little support to sustain. Conducting intersectional outreach will become necessary in order to engage student organizations. Disability is seen in all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and languages. Research shows that “disability prevalence is highest among African Americans who report disability at 20.5 percent . . . 19.7 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 13.1 percent for Hispanics/Latinos and 12.4 percent of Asian Americans. Disability prevalence among American Indians and Alaskan Natives is 16.3 percent. In raw numbers, over 10.8 million non-institutionalized persons with disabilities (PWD) aged 5 and over are estimated to be members of ethnic minorities” (Yee, 2011, p. 1). Additionally, “among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30% of men and 36% of women have a disability” (Weiss, 2015). Incorporating intersectionality and building relationships with multicultural student organizations will acknowledge the diversity of disability and increase the results of your outreach.

Building a Relationship with Student Officers

YTCs should form relationships with student organizations that CILs share a common interest with. If there is a student organization on campus that promotes disability awareness then they are a definite match to the mission of our centers. Another option is there are usually several non-profit student organizations that could relate to the mission of CILs. Once potential partnerships are identified, schedule a meeting with the officers of the organization in order to determine how each of your organizations can benefit from each other. Sometimes student officers need support and advice as they host events for their members. Sometimes they need speakers and resources for their meetings. Support the officers as they juggle being a student and leading an organization. As you support them they will also support your endeavors to include their members in understanding disability and independent living.

On-Campus Events

Campus life can often seem like living in an isolated bubble where a student’s social life consists of the people and activities that exist within the college or university setting. Unless participating in community service activities, it can be difficult to get students off-campus. Thus, a strategy to engage student organizations is to host events within the realms of campus life.

Inexpensive On-Campus Events

  • Bowling Tournament: many campuses have a bowling alley or some sort of recreational center that can be used for free by students. If the YTC partners with a student organization, they can provide an inexpensive popular event that allows you to meet several students.
  • Open Mic Night
  • Become a speaker at student organizations event/meeting
  • Show up to support student organization events
  • Once the YTC has established a sustainable relationship with a student organization(s) then it would be beneficial to invite the students to the CIL for further resources and events.



  • Claybrook Jr., M. (2013). Black Power, Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola Marymount University, 1968-1978. Journal of Pan African Studies, 5(10), 1-19.
  • Dominguez, R. (2009). U.S. college student activism during an era of Neoliberalism: A qualitative study of students against sweatshops. Australian Educational Researcher, 36(3), 125-138.
  • Kuk, L., & Banning, J. (2010). Student Organizations and Institutional Diversity Efforts: A Typology. College Student Journal, 44(2), 354-361.
  • Swank, E., & Fahs, B. (2011). Students for peace: Contextual and framing motivations of Antiwar Activism. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 38(2), 111-136.
  • Weiss, T. (2015). LGBT Health: People with Disabilities. Disabled World.
  • Yee, S. (2011). Health and Health Care Disparities Among People with Disabilities. Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (PDF).

The National Council on Independent Living

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 Transition Fellow funded through the HSC Foundation, for Youth Transition Coordinators at CILs. However, this document is available to anyone who may find it useful. Please credit NCIL in use of this resource. Contact NCIL for additional information or questions.