Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Virginia Disability Summit works to empower young people with disabilities


It's a conference empowering disabled people to advocate for changes they want to see, and about 85 teens and young adults are meeting in Staunton, Va.,Nov. 15-16 for that purpose.

The individuals have intellectual, physical, emotional or learning disabilities, but they say, no matter what the disability, they all have the same goal.

Tori Saylor is a 25 year old who works at a vet's office in Harrisonburg.

She has Aspergers and says this youth summit has empowered her to be a self-advocate.

"Your disability is a part of you, but it's not the whole you. And so being proud of it just opens your eyes to a whole new world," says Saylor.

Matthew Shapiro,a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair all his life.

He says it's frustrating to see people working on legislation or change who don't have a disability.

"And they try and tell us what we need, but they have no idea what I, as a person in a wheelchair, go through on a daily basis," says Shapiro.

He says things like easier accessibility help, but awareness is key.

"If you don't know that much about disabilities, it doesn't help if you know, down the road we need you to do something," says Shapiro.

Both Saylor and Shapiro say they want to be in classrooms and workplaces with others, because while they may have disabilities, they do have other strengths.

"There's a lot of talk about inclusion and including everybody. And it's not just helping us understand our disability, but it's helping them understand us and helping us understand them, so it helps all of us," says Saylor.

"People with disabilities can do amazing things, if we're given a fair chance to do them," says Shapiro.

Many of the youth at the conference say the event is also opening their eyes to services available to them.