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Advocacy Ambassador Program Helps Young Adults with Disabilities Find Their Voices

Mon, 03/08/2021 - 16:48pm | By: Van Arnold

While on the path to adulthood, young people benefit from learning to advocate for themselves as they find their voices. For young people with disabilities, learning to advocate for themselves is crucial in becoming more independent and reaching their life goals. 

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) Transition to Adulthood Programs recognizes the need to promote advocacy at the core of all curriculum and services.

In fall 2020, the Transition of Teens to Adult Life (ToTAL) Program added a new three-month training initiative, Advocacy Ambassador Program, to focus on assisting youth and young adults with disabilities to be advocates and find their voices. The first Advocacy Ambassador cohort consisted of six students, five high school and one college, who began participating in weekly remote learning activities focused on advocacy development.

In February 2021, the second cohort of Advocacy Ambassadors began with 10 participants who, in addition to the weekly remote learning activities, are also receiving peer mentoring form four members of the first cohort. Weekly peer mentoring provides opportunities for one-on-one and small group interaction and focuses on enhancing the development of advocacy skills for both the peer mentor and mentee.

Danielle Parks, IDS Transition Specialist and featured Ambassador Trainer, notes: “Young people with disabilities sometimes do not realize that they have a voice of their own that needs to be heard. The Advocacy Ambassador Program is needed in order to give these participants the confidence to advocate for themselves during this time in their lives.

Parks added, “What has been most rewarding for me as a trainer is seeing the four peer mentors, who were program participants in fall 2020, take what they learned during their time in the program and impact the new participants through their activities and discussions. This shows that the knowledge and skills learned during this program can make a lasting impact on these individuals.”

For more than 40 years, IDS has maintained its mission to "positively affect the lives of Mississippi citizens with developmental and other disabilities and their families across the lifespan and to work toward increasing their independence, productivity, and community inclusion." IDS has four emphasis areas for its programs and services: Early Childhood Inclusion and Education, Housing, Transition to Adulthood, and Wellness. 

The ToTAL Program is funded through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services as part of its pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS). To learn more about the ToTAL Program, the Advocacy Ambassador Training Series or any of the IDS Transition to Adulthood Programs, visit www.usm.edu/ids, call 601.266.5163 or email idsFREEMississippi.