Disability Pride Month and serving youth with disabilities

It’s important that we create inclusive and accessible environments for people with disabilities.

July is Disability Pride Month, a time to celebrate disability as an identity by sharing the experiences of the disabled community and their important and vibrant role in our society.

Disability Pride Month coincides with National Disability Independence Day on July 26, commemorating the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

Disabilities can be both visible and invisible, physical and psychological. Unfortunately, our society has a long way to go in making things accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. The signing of the ADA was a huge step, but just one step. People with disabilities continue to fight for inclusivity and equity daily.

Because many disabilities are invisible, it’s incredibly important that we create inclusive environments because we don’t always know or see all the things that our teammates might be dealing with. The same goes for our youth — I’ll share more on that in a minute.

Learning resources

Here are several resources we recommend for learning more about disability independence, the ADA, and the interaction between people with disabilities and the justice system.

Disabilities in the juvenile justice system

A large percentage of the youth at OYA have some sort of disability. To give just a few examples from the 2020 Youth Biopsychosocial Summary: 8% of our youth have been referred for developmental disability eligibility, 23% have been diagnosed with a learning disorder, 43% have an ADHD or ADD diagnosis, and 36% have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) due to needing special education services.

Nationally, research shows that young people with learning and behavioral disabilities end up in the juvenile justice system much more frequently than their peers due to increased chance of suspension and falling behind in school. Although this group makes up less than 13% of all public school students, they represent up to 85% of youth in juvenile detention centers, according to a 2015 report. Not surprisingly, this same report showed that a disproportionate percentage of these detained youth are youth of color.

It’s incredibly important that we do what we can to address these disparities by giving youth with disabilities the proper supports. That starts by recognizing and destigmatizing disabilities, and considering how youth with disabilities might need more or different services from their peers. Here are a few examples:

  • Many of the skills we teach all our youth — including self-regulation, processing emotions effectively, and reacting in a constructive way to stressful situations — are especially important for youth who have a disability that may prevent them from doing these things easily. Keep in mind that sometimes a youth’s seeming inability to learn or their “defiant” behavior may be related directly to a disability.
  • Remember that one size does not fit all in our approach to youth. Youth with disabilities may need different interactions or more supports than their peers, whether that’s providing them with physical accommodations, communicating with them in a different way that they can process (verbally instead of in writing, for example), or giving them extra time for certain activities.
  • We need to continue ensuring that youth with disabilities receive the services they are entitled to by law, and in a timely manner, including special education services, mental health services, and ADA accommodations. This applies to our own facility schools, but also to the community schools and programs that serve our youth on probation or parole.
  • Extra supports for finding and keeping employment may also be necessary for youth who have disabilities. This could include extra career counseling, more workplace readiness training, and direct job preparation through job shadowing or internships.

Free webinar series

If you’re able, we recommend you check out this weekly webinar series in July on the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are open to the public, and are hosted by the Oregon Disabilities Commission, Northwest ADA Center and Disability Rights Oregon.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., every Tuesday in July

  • July 19: Dangerous Assumptions – Understanding Audism and Changing Perspectives About Communication
  • July 26: Evolution of the ADA – Past, Present, and Future

Accessibility: The series will include Spanish translation, captioning, and American Sign Language interpretation. To request an accommodation, contact OregonDisabilities.Commission@dhsoha.state.or.us.

Register: Please register in advance through the event web page on Zoom.

Thanks for reading, and for taking the time this month to educate yourself so that we can move toward equity for all people with disabilities and provide better care to the youth in our custody who are impacted.

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