Community Connections Podcast | Episode 3 Transcript

Independence and Our Youth

A conversation with Disability Network Executive Director Jim Moore and Independent Living Program Specialist Katy Fisher and George Gray.
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Jim

What key skills must young people with disabilities have to make a successful transition from school to adulthood?

George

So, within our programs we work to empower students to be as independent as possible, which, as we know, looks differently for everyone.

To accomplish this, our LIFE and Community LIFE programs teach skills such as self-advocacy, pre-employment skills, communication and working with others, transportation, and exploring housing options.

Jim

How does the Disability Network help youth develop independent living skills?

Katy

We have worked diligently to develop both virtual and in-person activities for successful transition into employment and independent living. This includes bringing in hands-on, engaging activities to the classroom to provide students the opportunity to learn and practice things like budgeting, how to rent an apartment, navigating difficult social situations, as well as interviewing for a job and learning what local employers are looking for in their employees. This is all done in a nurturing and supportive environment within the classroom. However, we also facilitate programs, such as Community LIFE, that lends students more authentic opportunities to both practice the skills learned and have a staff within earshot to discuss the experiences in detail while out in their community.

Jim

What are some of the programs that you offer young people through the Disability Network?

George

We offer LIFE it is offered during the school year and is incorporated into the students’ school day  this is done with the collaboration of the ISD, Disability Network, and Michigan Rehabilitation Services Community LIFE is offered both during the school year as well as during our 4 or 8 week summer programs. We have offered this program virtually in the past as well. Some other programs we offer are virtual gaming groups, Spirit Club – which an accessible fitness program and TEVO- exploring post-secondary education options.

Jim

How do LIFE and Community LIFE support the development of these skills?

Katy

When students are engaged in hands-on activities within a group setting of their peers they build on each other’s knowledge and skill and get involved in discussions they might not otherwise have during a lecture or while completing worksheets/reading books. Each topic in the LIFE curriculum builds on the next and is referenced during the entire program. Community LIFE provides students the opportunity to experience the community in a supportive manner to practice the skills learned within the classroom setting. The community is a great place for them to learn as they experience authentic interactions with other people and staff can use those opportunities as teachable moments.

Jim

How do youth become involved in community life and LIFE?

George

Our staff participate in a collaborative meeting with Michigan Rehabilitation Services or Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, the ISD, and district teachers to determine the students who would be appropriate and would most benefit from our programs We appreciate the team effort of our partner agencies to support the youth in northern Michigan.

Jim

In your experience, what are some of the challenges facing young persons with disabilities?

Katy

Bullying and the stigma attached to having a disability are significant. This lowers self-esteem and directly influences their self-advocacy skills. We especially see this in our students who lack support. Many students are lacking appropriate and effective communication skills as well – they are growing up in the age of technology and rely on text message and virtual communication and therefore lack those face-to-face connections then people prior to their generation.

We're Here to Help!

Disability Network is the first stop for people with disabilities and their families in northern Michigan. Our mission is to promote personal empowerment and positive social change for people with disabilities. We educate and connect people with disabilities to resources while advocating for social change in an accessible and welcoming community. Disability Network is  providing services to customers and community members via phone, email and online. We welcome you to virtually join us for peer support and connection with our weekly online Zoom events at www.disabilitynetwork.org