Tuesday, October 3, 2023

disAbility Resource Center wants youths with disabilities to know their rights

Though it’s required by law, the disAbilty Resource Center says local schools are not properly educating the disabled about their rights

WILMINGTON—The only center for independent living for 100 miles wants to address a community void; the Center for Independent Living (CIL) is educating young, disabled adults about their rights.

While Wilmington’s disAbility Resource Center, which runs the CIL, says it is being overlooked by the state’s southeastern schools, it is still putting together programs for those in need.

It is unlawful for schools to fail to educate disabled students of their rights, but Youth Transition Coordinator Stevie Toole said she has seen countless students that have no clue what ADA means.

RELATED: disAbility Resource Center extends the invite for partnership with a new location and open house

Casting a wide net, only catch a few

As disAbilty Resource Center’s youth transition coordinator, it’s Toole’s job to help young people with disabilities learn their rights and skills.

Though educating students with disabilities of their rights is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Senate Bill 753 of the North Carolina General Assembly 2007 session, she said a majority of the schools Toole contacts in five counties–New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow and Columbus–do not follow through in allowing her to educate students with disabilities of their rights.

When Toole does get access to schools, she finds students are not aware of the laws that protect them: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“If you say ADA to a lot of these teenagers that have disabilities, they’ll look at you like, huh?” Toole said. “I’ve seen that so many times and it’s like, ‘Really?’ They’re getting ready to graduate in a couple years and they don’t know the main law that’s going to protect them.”

Still truckin’

Since the Obama administration’s stimulus package in 2009, funds for centers for independent living (CIL) have dried up. Toole said Wilmington’s Center for Independent Living disAbility Resource Center, is the area’s only free resource that provides services to help people with disabilities fully integrate into society.

“We’ve been sustaining and patchworking things together to still provide those services but it’s becoming more and more difficult to sustain the level that we have been with the resources that we have,” Chris Bell, disAbility Resource Center’s community resource development coordinator, said.

At least 51 percent of disAbility Resource Center’s employees have a disability and can help guide people toward an integrated, independent mindset.

Bell, like the majority of the center’s staff, works part-time. If all of the hours of the non-profit’s staff were added together, it’s the equivalent of 3.5 full-time employees to service people with disabilities in over a 100-mile radius.

“Somehow we piecemeal it together and we’re able to help people,” Bell said. Even with limited resources, disAbility Resource Center’s objective is to help people with disabilities understand their rights and integrate into society.

At least 51 percent of disAbility Resource Center’s employees have a disability and can help guide people toward an integrated, independent mindset.

“The independent living philosophy is we empower them to allow them to think about the things that they can do and not the things they can’t do,” Gloria Garton, the center’s executive director, said.

Toole, disAbility Resource Center’s youth transition coordinator, works part-time for the non-profit. She’d work full-time “if my body would allow, which it doesn’t because of my disability,” Toole said. “To maintain consistency, and being able to work and not wear myself out.”

Garton, along with Toole, help people with disabilities based on their own personal experiences.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions and there’s a lot of stereotypes out there that need to be obliterated,” Toole said.

Through Toole’s intervention efforts in the school system of five counties, she works to keep disabled people from being isolated.

Youth summer series

“They want to put us in categories,” Garton said.

They want to put us in a box,” Toole said.

Between sports leagues, housing, job interviews and classrooms, disAbility Resource Center’s staff members find that people with disabilities are too often isolated from society.
“We want you to be integrated,” Garton said. “You don’t have to be segregated.”

Stevie Toole, disAbility Resource Center's youth transition coordinator (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Stevie Toole, disAbility Resource Center’s youth transition coordinator (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Outside of Toole’s attempts to target schools, she has created an eight-week summer youth series beginning June 19.

The weekly classes are designed for young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 with disabilities.

On Tuesdays through Aug. 7, she will teach “time management, budgeting, just general life skills” during the free classes this summer.

“I’m just trying to get them ready for the real world,” Toole said. “They’re not going to have the safety net of a classroom for the rest of their life, there’s a real world out there.”

“Which ironically should be taught to all students,” Garton added.

Integrated, not isolated

In the absence of widespread access to schools, the center is attempting to veer people with disabilities toward an independent and integrated lifestyle.

“We as a person with a disability do not want to be isolated to a specific group of people with disabilities,” Garton said. We want to be treated equally, not specially. Sometimes they’re not taught that in school.”

Garton said Toole’s upcoming youth series will be the first of its kind in Wilmington.
“We’re really trying to build that foundation for them to be able to go out independently and feel confident enough to stand up for themselves and most importantly, their rights,” Garton said.

The disAbilty Resource Center’s free Summer Youth Leadership Series for Young Adults is open for registration and will run from June 19 through Aug. 7 on Tuesdays, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Register at the disAbility Resource Center’s website.

For more information, contact Stevie Toole at 910-815-6618 or at Stevie.Toole@drc-cil.org.

Senate Bill 753 – Disability History by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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