Browne attends KU forum
LAWRENCE The first Kansas Youth Leadership Forum for High School Students with Disabilities took place June 19-23 at the University of Kansas when 33 Kansas high school juniors and seniors with disabilities explored leadership, career options, disability rights and new assistive technology.
Baldwin City's Cole Browne, who just graduated from Baldwin High School in May, was one of those in attendance.
Most of the forum's speakers, trainers and mentors are successful Kansans with disabilities. Brenda Eddy, coordinator of the forum, said one of the major goals was to provide role models for students with disabilities.
"Exposing kids to adults with disabilities is an opportunity to provide leadership by example," she said. "We want them to see that they can achieve great things and that the disability does not need to limit their dreams."
The forum began with a speech on positive and negative messages by Glen White, assistant director of the KU Institute for Life Span Studies' Research Training Center on Independent Living.
Wednesday, Pamela Cress, research assistant for the life span institute in Parsons, coordinated a session on assistive technology and other resources.
On Thursday morning, the group visited the state Capitol to meet legislators and participate in a mock debate of a bill in the Senate chambers. Eddy said the forum highlighted the history of the disability rights movement and showed students how they can influence the political process by working as a group.
"We want to instill in them a sense of pride that they are part of a larger group a very accomplished group," Eddy said.
During lunch Thursday, students were paired with mentors. The lunch speaker was Sarah Triano, a founder of the Disabled Students Union at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Disabled Students Union.
Thursday evening, there was a talent show in KU's Burge Union.
Friday's activities began with a large group session on "Becoming a Leader in Your Community," given by state Rep. Jeff Peterson, R-Manhattan.
Also Friday, Ohio writer and artist Dan Wilkins talked on "Nurturing the Power Within." Wilkins uses humor to dispel myths about people with disabilities.
Friday evening, there was a dance at the Burge Union.
The forum, based on a highly successful California model, will be an annual event in Kansas, provided that the organization can secure future funding.
Under the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, any state interested in replicating the forum model can apply for a $10,000 grant to be used for startup costs. Kansas received the grant this year along with in-kind donations from various state and local organizations.
An additional $80,000 was given by the Resource Center for Independent Living Inc. of Osage City, with the understanding that the forum would seek public and private funds to cover the event in the future.