With the January birthday of Ed Roberts , "the father of the disability rights movement," Sara Moussavian reflects on the day she was leaving the Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF) in 2009, and was asked what changes she would like to see in the future.
At the time, she had no idea her answer would be the seed for a statewide campaign. "As a high school student, I was taught about the history of particular movements, such as the African-American and Latino movements, but there was nothing about disability history," said Moussavian. "The impact and leadership of individuals like Ed Roberts have made an impression on me, yet many people, living with and without disabilities, don't know anything about the work of these leaders and aren't aware of our history. I was determined to see that change."
With the help of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers' (CFILC) program Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud (YO!), Moussavian and others initiated an eight-month disabilities campaign in 2009. The campaign resulted in the August 2010 resolution, ACR 162 introduced by Assembly-member Jim Beall , establishing Disability History Week.
"Youth with disabilities have proven to be a significant voice in addressing one of the biggest barriers facing people living with disabilities, that is, lack of awareness," said Liz Pazdral , Executive Director of the California State Independent Living Council. "Their ongoing commitment and leadership is a testament to Ed Roberts Day on January 23."
YO! was launched in March 2009 and is run by youth with disabilities.
At their first summit, attendees 28 years of age and younger established program priorities. Their initial priority was taken from the YLF (calylf.org/about/about-ylf.php). It was an issue that had come up for several years. The Forum is an annual education and vocational awareness event attended by approximately 60 selected California high school students living with disabilities who meet specific criteria, including demonstrating leadership potential.
The timing couldn't have been better.
CFILC had received funding to start a youth-drive program, YO!, which gave them the ability to bring together 40 youth who were committed to seeing Disability History Week become a reality in California. They identified the goal of establishing a California resolution, crafted a community organizing plan and drafted language for legislation.
"Once we had the language, we needed an author," said CFILC Deputy Director Christina N. Mills . "Sara was living in the San Jose area and was in the process of becoming a member of the YO! Volunteer Corps and doing her service at the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center. We encouraged her to reach out to her state representative, Assembly-member Jim Beall . She did, he responded and the rest is history."
On August 6, 2010, just after the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, the California Legislature unanimously passed the bill in both houses establishing the second week in October as Disability History Week.
Today, two years later, youth with disabilities have continued to be actively involved in educating students, teachers and administrators about Disability History Week in grades kindergarten through 12. Every year, members of YO! have provided presentations on disability history in classrooms throughout California, which include, among other components, PowerPoint presentations, Jeopardy-like games, all-school assemblies, storytelling and fact sheets on disability history.
"Although the legislation encourages schools to teach disability history, it doesn't mandate it," said Mills. "YO! members have worked actively to keep the message alive by visiting more than 40 schools statewide and teaching more than 4,000 students, teachers and administrators about the value of Disability History Week."
But more has happened.
In 2011, California Senator Mark Leno authored a bill that passed as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act) mandating, among other things, that disability and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) history be taught as part of social studies yearlong in public school grades kindergarten through 12, not just one week in October.
In light of the fact that California doesn't plan to publish new text books until 2015, YO! is working on a plan to get disability and LGBTQ history taught in schools sooner than later. Youth with disabilities are strategically partnering with LGBTQ community members in working with the Department of Education, school boards and superintendents to better understand what needs to happen to ensure both histories are now taught in school. In December 2012, YO! held a one-day FAIR Education Act Summit at San Francisco State University with educators, academics, LGBTQ youth and youth with disabilities to understand each other's perspectives and talk about how to work together in moving the Act forward. On January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, youth with disabilities and LGBTQ youth in San Diego will spend National Service Day learning about each other's communities and coming up with a strategy to get more youth around the state involved in YO!'s efforts to implement the FAIR Act.
"Our communities are passionate about our history, and we value the incredible contributions leaders of our movements have made," commented Mills. "We're excited to finally have people with and without disabilities learning about it in the classroom with their peers. By educating youth in school and establishing relationships, we will move closer toward creating a more inclusive and accepting environment."
"I am extremely excited about what we've achieved so far in getting people to understand that individuals with disabilities deserve to be recognized for their historical achievements," said Moussavian. "More needs to be done, but I think Ed Roberts would be proud of what we have accomplished."
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