It is the position of the Statewide Independent Living Council that every Center for Independent Living (CIL) in the state of Illinois should provide a Youth Advocate Program for children with disabilities and their parents. We have two strong and valid reasons for holding this position:
The first reason for our position is that most parents/guardians of children with disabilities are uninformed of their child’s education rights and their own rights as parents of a child with a disability. Parents/guardians and older children should be equally involved in the development of the child’s education decision regarding the child. We believe that persons with disabilities, or the parents/guardians of young children with disabilities, should have equal input in that person’s education. No institution, including a school, should continue to have such total control over an individual’s life and future.
Secondly, we believe that children with disabilities need to relate to adults with disabilities as role models. Most children with disabilities grow up not relating to any adults with disabilities and consequently grow into adulthood perceiving themselves as unequal, less valuable, and less capable than their non-disabled peers. A Youth Advocate with a disability, working as a strong and independent adult, helps a disabled child to gain a broader, more positive insight into adulthood with a disability.
Less frequently considered, but equally important, is the positive impact of a disabled Youth Advocate on the parents of a child with a disability. Far too many non-disabled parents also believe disabled adults are less capable and less valuable to society, and these negative perceptions can easily be relayed to their disabled children. Parents who, possibly for the first time, meet adults with disabilities who are independent, involved, and active members of society also have the opportunity to view disability from a new and more positive perspective. This improved perspective of the disability experience is easily translated into an increased acceptance of their own child’s disability and a more positive perception and understanding of their child’s potential and future.
Therefore, we would encourage that the Department of Human Services (DHS) fund all Centers for Independent Living in the state to implement a Youth Advocate Program. Both the CILs and DHS espouse and encourage independence for people with disabilities, but people with disabilities must be given the tools to help them reach this goal. Backing up our words with actions is the only way we can prove our commitment to independence and an end to dependence and inequality for people with disabilities.