News From DAC NW

By Guest Editor Davi Kallmandavi

“What do we want? Independence. When do we want it? NOW!” These are the words that could be heard throughout the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada. The synchronous chant could be heard between the slot machines and card tables, it was incredible. This is what welcomed me at my first APRIL Conference.

My name is Davi Kallman and I am a doctoral candidate in health communication at Washington State University (WSU). As an individual with a learning disability, I see a lot of the prejudice and bias toward individuals with disabilities. Too often, people with disabilities are categorized by the medical definition of disability, which focuses on disability as a physical or mental impairment as a problem of the person. Negative stereotypes of people with disabilities have led to many undesirable consequences such as discrimination in the workplace and academia. More recently this community has seen discrimination in the form of healthcare as well as living conditions. It is clear, there is still much to be done to change perceptions of disability, but there is some movement in the right direction.

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Youth Mentor Dustin Gibson giving a motivational speech to the youth conference participants. Dustin is the Linda Gonzales award winner for outstanding rural youth and the Director of Independent Living Services at the local CIL in Pittsburgh and was recently elected to serve as the Diversity Chair for the National Council on Independent Living.

As a disability researcher at WSU, I have been able to work with incredible organizations and disability advocacy groups within the states of Washington and Idaho. One of the groups I work with is the Disability Action Center (DAC NW), an independent living center in Moscow Idaho that works on advocating independence and equality for people with disabilities. This past October I was invited by DAC NW to attend the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) 2016 Conference in Reno, Nevada. APRIL is a national organization that consists of centers for independent living concerned with independent living issues of people with disabilities in rural America. I was very excited to attend this conference, especially the youth part of the conference, which focused primarily on voting and advocacy. It was amazing to see so many young people in one place. As soon as I walked into the youth conference it was apparent that these students wanted to be here, their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. From their colorful tie-dye shirts to their fun games and group discussions, it became apparent that the power in the disability rights movement lies in the voices of tomorrow.

I chose to be an observer during the youth conference to listen to the conversations taking place within each group. The first session of the day focused on superheroes. This session started with highlighting superheroes with disabilities. One by one, students were able to categorize a trait with a superhero. This analogy was very fitting as it gave students a platform to become their own superhero/ advocate for others in the community. In one of the youth forums that I attended on advocacy, students had the opportunity to create an action plan on where to go from here as advocates. As a whole, they voted on depictions of disability in media and workplace discrimination as being the biggest obstacles that people with disabilities face. They worked as a group to determine what realistic steps could be done to make changes and who their target audience would be.

One of my favorite elements of the youth conference was the presentation on youth advocacy and voting. The keynote speaker at this session encouraged these young people to register to vote and vote for a candidate that represents their rights as an individual with a disability. More importantly the speaker pointed out the rights that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed when voting. In the past, people with disabilities experienced difficulty voting due to many physical and societal barriers, such as lack of transportation to voting stations, legal barriers, and of course physical barriers. This presentation gave students tips and an action plan on how to help their independent living centers spread this information with their clients.

Of course one of the most important issues discussed at the conference was the Disability Integration Act which would establish a new federal law (similar to the ADA) that would provide community-based services first and would offer home and community based services to people currently in institutions. Simply stated, it would give those people who need long term services and supports a choice for their own living arrangements.

I was completely impressed with the services and activities being provided by independent living centers across the United States. Based on what I saw in Reno; I know we are moving in the right direction. If the youth leaders at the conference are any indication of the type of disability advocacy we can expect moving forward, I know that this community is in good hands.