I attended the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS) Emerging Young Leaders program in August. I chose to attend the program as I wanted to connect with other disabled young people. I have had learning and hearing disabilities my whole life. However it wasn’t until I became physically disabled at the start of the year and felt quiet isolated that I had a desire to connect with others like me.
Before the program I was heavily involved in leadership through my scouting and school community. It was and still is something I am very passionate about. However, I struggled to find opportunities and events to attend to further my advocacy work. I have attended a multitude of leadership related events and courses, but I gained the most from the Emerging Young Leaders Program.
Most leadership programs focused on the abstract idea of leadership and had a very ridged concept of what it means to be a leader. I often felt othered during these sessions as my perspective was very different from others. These sessions would often be not accessible which resulting in me feeling completely exhausted both mentally and physically after an event. This got to the point where I questioned whether I should have went. I would often be the only disabled person, which is fine. However I often was seen to enrich their experience rather than be there for myself and my own growth. With the Emerging Young Leaders Program, I was able to focus on the skills, traits, and lived experience I currently have and how I can incorporate that into my own leadership journey.
It was inherently accessible; I didn’t have to ask for things. Rather, they asked me which was awesome as it takes the pressure off me and makes feel more included. It also taught me that it’s okay to get my needs met and it’s not a difficult thing to do. I’m not being a burden by asking and using things I need for my own accessibility.
It also taught me that it’s okay to get my needs met and it’s not a difficult thing to do. I’m not being a burden by asking and using things I need for my own accessibility.–Mac
While leadership was the centre, we also talked about self advocacy and our best form of communication. This was super valuable as I haven’t had those conversations before. We learned about how advocacy doesn’t have to be attending major events. It can be about small things, such as making sure your access needs are getting met or talking to your school about issues your facing, which was very beneficial and allowed me to start my advocacy journey.
I absolutely loved the speaker we had each week. Getting to see other disable people and hearing their journeys and experiences was so empowering, especially seeing people who were not too much older than me. When you grow up with a disability there is often a lack of representation which results in young people thinking that their disability is something to be ashamed about and that they should hide it. Getting to see people thriving in life gave me a lot of hope for my own future and is something I took away from the program.
I was a bit cautious at the start on how it would go as it was an online event. I had often found when things were online they weren’t as engaging as compared to as in person. However, I was also super excited for it being online as it meant I could always attend and it didn’t matter if I was having a bad heath day or having a hospital stay.
I found having the event online also allowed me to have control of my environments. As someone who has sensory issues, I often find environments in person overwhelming. But as I was in my room I got to control the volume of people speaking, the lights, where and how I sit. All those little things allowed me to be more engaged and not get exhausted afterward. I’m typically not the person to take breaks during events as I get deeply engaged but having it online and getting to turn my camera off whenever I needed made me feel more comfortable. I could take a break and as I could still hear what was happening I didn’t feel left out. While I was concerned about whether I would like the program online. I have to say after attending it I liked how it was online and would attend it again online rather than in person.
Something I really liked was the follow up after the program. It is as if the program was a stepping stool into leadership and advocacy rather having the program and that’s it. After any program there is a sense of excitement and people are buzzing with ideas however there was never any follow up or information on how to proceed afterwards.
With this program I get weekly notifications of upcoming events and opportunities for advocacy and to share my life experience. This is awesome as I have wanted to get into this type of leadership and advocacy, however, I struggled with staying connected to upcoming events. Through the program I have learnt that I want work on advocacy in education, and with the support of the facilitators of the Emerging Young Leaders Program, I got to be part of the Young People Advisory Group for the 2020 review of the Disability Standards of Education and I got to be a panelist in a national inclusive education roundtable. I have also been part of focus groups, forums, strategy plans, co-design sessions and even presented at a board meeting. These are things I never would have been able to without the program.
The program has set me up and continues to support and encourage me with my advocacy and leadership journey and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Mac is 17 from metro Melbourne and uses he/him pronouns. He is currently attending an alternative high school and hopes to become a mental health specialised OT. He is super passionate about using my lived experiences as a disabled young person to help improve the lives of future young people.