Mobilized to Act: The Power of Young Adult Leaders to Bring About Change
Eye to Eye is national organization whose mission is to improve the educational experience and outcomes of every student who learns differently, including those with specific learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other similar challenges related to learning. Eye to Eye is a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.
Youth voice has always been at the center of everything we do at Eye to Eye. It’s core to our values, the partnerships we make, and the programs we lead. We have a fundamental belief that not only young people but those who have lived experience are the ones who should be guiding our organization and the movement of neurodiverse individuals. That philosophy was never more alive and well than a few weeks ago in Washington DC.
In mid-June, 50 young people from around the United States came together to continue a long history of advocacy toward a more equitable and just society. Young leaders from the National Center for Learning Disabilities Young Adult Leadership Council and young leaders of Eye to Eye Mentoring and Learn Different Alliance (LD Alliance) programs gathered in community to plan, discuss, and prepare for a series of meetings and events. Over two days – June 14-15, 2022, these young leaders met with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, hosted 56 different Congressional meetings, and met with the White House Disability Liaison. They asked difficult questions and told their stories with passion and data. They represented their community with pride and knowledge. They lived up to the phrase given to us by the disability activists of the past “nothing about us without us.”
Their ask of members of Congress was to support the bi-partisan RISE Act. The RISE Act is a crucial piece of legislation that would greatly improve the lives of students with disabilities all over the country. Namely, it would do three key things:
- It would require that colleges accept a student’s IEP, 504 plan, or prior evaluation as sufficient proof of their disability when seeking accommodations.
- It authorizes more funding for a technical assistance center, the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD), that provides students and families with information about available disability services and offers faculty training and resources on best practices to support students with disabilities.
- It requires colleges to report on how many students with disabilities are being served, the accommodations provided, and the outcomes of these students.
Caden, an engineering student with LD/ADHD, met with his Senator’s office (Mitch McConnell) and shared his experience attending public middle and high schools in Kentucky. He pointed out how the in access and inequity he experienced could have been eliminated with the passage and full funding of the provisions of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the RISE Act.
As he shared his experience, he said: “I wasn’t just there to share my LD/ADHD story in overcoming barriers to access education. I was there on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of LD/ADHD students across the country who have stories that are still being written.” In a similar way, another student shared that they “feel the need to help people like me that don’t feel they have a voice.”
Another student shared that her two main takeaways from the event were that individuals are much closer to initiating sizable political change than what is typically perceived and that a community of unique individuals that live similar daily experiences can come from anywhere. The collection of those voices creates a force that is very hard to ignore.
The powerful impact of LD Day of Action showed up in our students’ willingness to see their own power and strength in what they were doing, and their ability to advocate not only for themselves but on behalf of others. At Eye to Eye, we remain committed to providing these types of opportunities and resources for young people to enact change.