The Role of Youth With and Without Disabilities in Making High Schools More Inclusive: A Teleconference by KASA/LRE Part B

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The recorded teleconference (MP3 audio recording) is available online.

"Being included in high school is really important to me. High school is really a world within itself and to have a voice within that world, it prepares me for what I'm going to learn in the real world. It also sets me up well to advocate for myself."
- Hamza Kaza, member of the KASA National Advisory Board

Youth and young adult involvement is an important element in developing community-based systems of care for children and youth with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Family and youth/young adults are the primary consumers who know first hand what works, what doesn't, and how communities can better meet their needs.

KASA (Kids as Self Advocates) of Family Voices and the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Part B Community of Practice recently banded together in presenting a national teleconference, The Role of Youth with and without disabilities in Making High Schools More Inclusive (MP3 audio recording). The teleconference featured youth and young adults with disabilities who spoke from their own experiences about how youth can play an important role in making high schools more inclusive. The four presenters are members of the KASA National Advisory Board and represent youth and young adults with disabilities and special needs on topics such as self-advocacy and equal rights, health care, and the importance of the youth voice in systems change efforts.

Micah Fialka-Feldman (20) from Michigan reported that his high school's Peer LINKS Program helped him to feel included at school. Micah's parents found out about a similar program in another school district, and with the help of the school social worker, the program was implemented in Micah's High School. This is a great example of how individuals can work with members of their community to achieve positive outcomes.

After the LINKS program was implemented, Micah was paired with a non-disabled student who volunteered as a peer tutor to help assist Micah in mainstream classes to adapt material/information to Micah's learning needs. Micah enjoys a continued friendship with Oliver, one of his LINKS tutors, and they travel together to speak at national conferences around the county about the Peer LINKS program.

Mallory Cyr (23) from Maine feels that the key to inclusion and continued support is communication. From an early age, Mallory shared information about her medical condition with her friends and included her classmates in what was going on with her medically. By including her friends and not pushing them away, she created her own support system and broke down the barriers that can result from a fear of the unknown. A one-on-one aide helped Mallory feel comfortable communicating with her teachers and expressing her needs as well as making sure she got her assignments when she was absent because of illness.

Above all, Mallory believes that to achieve inclusive education, it's not in the hands of one party. The entire community, including parents, students, and educators, need to collaborate and communicate with each other in order to make success possible.

Emily Bill (20) from MA is committed to supporting youth with disabilities in making their own decisions and doing things for themselves. She is a strong believer that technology is a great way to enhance services for children with disabilities. In high school Emily used assistive technology devices, including an adaptive desk and chair so that she could sit at a desk like the other kids. She said it is important for the schools to focus on each student's strengths, not just their disabilities, and that the teacher's attitude toward the student, which is ideally positive, is contagious. She described her involvement with Best Buddies, a National non-profit organization that provides one-on-one relationships with a "Peer Buddy," as a positive influence in her life.

Hamza Kaza (16) from Wisconsin spoke about how commitment from all areas of a child or youth's support system is important. Hamza believes that his high school is very progressive and that his aide, Mrs. "Z," and his teachers and school administrators are committed to him and his education. They are always ready to help and go well beyond what is usually expected.

Hamza is a national advocate and is committed to changing the attitudes of the community. He said you need to be willing to go the extra mile to change the community, be strong, never give up, and look for new solutions. Hamza is currently the statistician for his high school football team, and is a member of a community theater group called the Adaptive Community Approach Program (ACAP) Players.

The powerful stories told by each of these youth are proof that the input of young people is crucial when developing community-based systems of care in communities. Because much of the care is being designed for and around them, their opinion should perhaps be the most valued. KASA Director Naomi Ortiz emphasizes that for youth to be successful advocates, they need to be interdependent and learn from their peers, older adults with disabilities, and other allies about how to successfully transition into adulthood. It is important to educate young people about the community they live in, the history of disability, and the leaders who came before them in the Disability Rights Movement.

KASA has made much progress in youth self-advocacy. Their website is filled with information written by youth with disabilities on a variety of issues. According to Ms. Ortiz, they are also currently developing a toolkit around working with paraprofessionals that will be finished by March 2009. Because KASA is a National project, they use technology and "virtual" meetings as a way to work on a national disability youth agenda. KASA currently has one state chapter and works to assist them and other state groups by sharing resources and updates about what is going on in different states.

LRE Part B Community of Practice, the other participant in the teleconference, is committed to making all schools more inclusive and ensuring that children and youth with disabilities have access to the same quality instruction curriculum as those without disabilities. Information is also available on the LRE Part B community of practice website about KASA and KASA products.

For more information about LRE Part B, contact Diana Autin.
For more information about KASA, contact
Naomi Ortiz.
This article and
the recorded teleconference (MP3 audio recording) are available online from Champions for Inclusive Communities.