We are SO excited to roll out Disability Rights Maine’s grant-funded project, in collaboration with Speaking Up For Us, called Launching & Expanding Youth Self-Advocacy! We want to start by introducing ourselves personally, and then talk about the work we are doing, why it’s important, and how you can get involved!
Left to right: Jaheim, Dan, Aydan
Hello, my name is Jaheim. I am a 2022 graduate of Biddeford High School and I come to DRM as a Self-Advocate Trainer. I have a wealth of experience working with youth populations. I love working with youth because I like helping them with their own lives. I have worked with youth for 6 years. In my free time, I like to watch television, make pottery, read, and travel. I am very excited to join the DRM team. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Hi! My name is Aydan, my pronouns are he/they and I am 18 years old. I am a recent Bangor High School 2023 graduate. Through my personal experience with disability, I am looking forward to connecting with and helping young people express themselves as a Self-Advocate Trainer. I enjoy books, baking with my partner, watching TV, crocheting, and the occasional nap. You can reach me at email@example.com!
Now that you know who we are, we want to tell you a little more about our project! Launching & Expanding Youth Self-Advocacy will address the systemic barriers to self-determination that young people (ages 14-25) with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Maine face. For example, due to ageism and ableism, many adults don’t have high expectations of young people with disabilities, and this can sometimes lead to young people with disabilities not having high expectations of themselves. We believe that self-advocacy is a perfect way to combat this type of thinking, and so our main goal in this project is to increase the capacity for youth self-advocacy in Maine. This will also involve increasing general awareness about, excitement for, and support of self-advocacy among young people and youth-serving adults. This project will also create concrete opportunities for youth to practice self-advocacy individually, as well as to develop relationships within the self-advocacy movement. Finally, these positions and pilots will serve as a model for future youth self-advocacy movement recruitment and engagement in Maine.
But what really is self-advocacy? Self-advocacy can be broken down into three main elements: knowing/ believing in one's self, making decisions, and communicating one’s needs. To us, the first step of self-advocacy involves believing in your own self-worth, your rights, and your ability to make decisions for yourself. The second step involves making a decision, deciding to be the one to advocate for yourself and not let anyone do it for you. The final step is communicating: being able to speak up for your needs and tell others what you need in order to succeed. Everyone uses self-advocacy to some extent – the important thing is to practice it in order to feel comfortable being your own advocate.
We believe it’s important to work with young people on this because there is a real lack of both education about self-advocacy and opportunities for young people to develop self-advocacy skills. And we know that young people have the ability to be self-advocates! We want to invest in young people because we know that they are more likely to grow up to live safer, happier, and more fulfilling lives when they are able to advocate for themselves.
As the oldest person on our team, Dan has a distinct perspective about working with young people. Basically, he loves working with young people because they constantly impress him with their intelligence, curiosity, empathy, and realness. Dan is passionate about creating a world that is free of oppression – ableism, ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. – and he believes in young people’s ability to make the world a better place.
Dan’s job is not to tell young people what to think or do. Instead, his job is to empower young people. This means creating safer spaces for young people to come together bravely, learn from and support one another, and build their individual and collective power. Dan is not the expert in being a young person with a disability – this is where Aydan and Jaheim come in!
Aydan and Jaheim’s job is to energize and organize young people to create a self-advocacy movement, as well as facilitate workshops and groups about self-advocacy and related topics. They would love to facilitate a workshop for any audience (youth-serving adults or young people directly), and would love for any young people to join their groups! We will have one group that is for youth living in southern Maine, as well as one group for youth statewide. We are still deciding what days/times to host these groups, but you can stay up-to-date about these developments by joining our weekly Zoom information sessions at 10:30 on Wednesdays: https://us05web.zoom.us/j/86078852913?pwd=VitNcnJTeERseWk4RHRodlN4VkIyUT09. You can also reach us directly via voice/text at 207-797-3081. We also have social media accounts that you can contact us through, and that we would love for you to follow!
Because this project is for and about young people, our social media presence for this project is very important to us. Considering that most young people today use and are on different platforms we rely on social media to reach the people who might be interested in our group. Even if you don’t want to join our groups, or participate in a workshop with us, we would love to be connected with young people on social media so that y’all can be part of the youth self-advocacy movement here in Maine! You can follow us on Facebook @Ysap_drm and on Instagram @ysap_drm. Who knows, we even might get a TikTok account at some point… 😛