After 50 years of people with disabilities fighting for an equal voice in issues affecting their lives, and equal access to opportunities, young people with disabilities are building off those efforts to ensure they are authentically and meaningfully involved in all decisions that affect them.
The Young Leaders and Advocates Network (YLAN), whose statewide efforts ensures the voices of young people with disabilities will be heard in the development and implementation of programs and services set up to assist them, has become the sixth member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc.’s (WNYIL) Family of Agencies; who themselves have a 40-year history in fighting for equal access to opportunities for people with disabilities.
Though based in Albany, YLAN’s affiliation with WNYIL will allow them to have a greater impact in Western New York’s eight counties, where more than 35,000 people 14 to 30 years of age live with a disability. WNYIL Inc. will assist YLAN in their local, as well as statewide initiatives, to ensure young people with disabilities have a “seat at the table."
Young people are uniting to change systems, so they get the support and services they need with the respect and dignity they deserve. YLAN provides a safe and empowering space for youth-organizing, supports young people with disabilities to speak up for themselves, and assists partners to effectively engage and support young people with disabilities.
YLAN Director, Brianna Gower, points out, "Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, we are leaders of today. We are strong, resilient, and capable of more than we are often given credit for. Through this Network we are going to bring youth voice and create change. Not only following national best practices but setting them.”
Who is YLAN for? Young people, ages 14-30, residing anywhere in New York State who self-identify as having a disability, or experience in state systems such as Special Education, Mental Health, Juvenile Justice, Foster Care, or Addiction Recovery, can become a member, join our statewide groups, and participate in other opportunities offered by the Network. Additionally, partners and adult allies who work with young people with disabilities can request training and technical assistance to support their efforts.
How can they participate? Members can join virtual statewide working groups that will be meeting monthly (details to be announced). In light of current COVID-19 regulations, events and opportunities for young people and partners will be provided virtually, shared through our listserv and social media. People can join our listserv by visiting our website at www.YLANetworkNY.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @YLANetworkNY. They can also email [email protected] or contact (518) 258-4006 for additional information.
YLAN will be hosting focus groups and other events throughout the year to empower young people with disabilities and hear directly from them on their experiences and issues that are important to them to guide our statewide advocacy efforts.
The Western New York Independent Living Inc. Family of Agencies offer an expanding array of services to aid individuals with disabilities to take control of their own lives.