In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provided groundbreaking civil rights protections. Since then, a generation has passed, and a new generation is ready for its collective voice to be heard.
That’s why members of the Youth Advisory Council of the Center for Independent Living (formerly the ILRC) in Jacksonville boarded a bus for a trip to the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee.
They share a common bond and unified quest to make a difference. Some members of the Youth Advisory Council were giddy with excitement. Others were nervous about the task ahead, which included meeting with state political heavyweights.
Jose Morales, a council member, was primed for the moment.
“The Youth Advisory Council is a representation of youth with disabilities who are there to represent their peers, advocate for awareness, for opportunities – whether it’s employment or accessibility,” he explained.
State Sen. Aaron Bean, who represents Jacksonville, came away impressed.
“They felt right at home with other senators and state representatives,” Bean said. “They had a duty. They had a mission to let everyone know they were there and their voice mattered.”
The day resulted in candid conversation and promises for the future.
It’s a first step, a vital step, and one Regions helped bring to fruition. Yet something else from this day might have just as big an impact.
A new generation is finding its voice.
“We have a lot of people that are aging out of disability that were there for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s our responsibility to help keep that torch alive and pass it to the next generation,” said Tyler Lasher Morris, the Executive Director of the Center. “So these are kids that are going to be advocating for themselves.”
Morris pointed to support and participation from Regions to make the day happen.
“Regions helped provide visibility and a voice to so many in our communities,” said Alicia Somers, Regions’ Financial Wellness Relationship Manager in Jacksonville. “By funding the council and their advocacy trip to Tallahassee, Regions helped these young people with disabilities share their voice and speak for things that they need to make their lives better.”
And share, they did.
“What was great for me was that I got to step back and these kids did all the work,” Morris said. “They knew their speaking points. They knew how to address all the representatives and senators. It was natural for them.”
In Jacksonville, there are voices waiting to be heard.
“There are a lot of people who don’t really advocate for themselves,” said Zelina Rodriguez, another Youth Advisory Council Member. “So it’s important for us to get the word out there that it’s OK to advocate for yourself.”
Just as the ADA provided new opportunities for people with disabilities, a new generation is ensuring they are heard loud and clear.
“We are changing perception of disability, one person at a time, whether it be the person within themselves or us trying to access services and allowing the kids to find their voice,” said Angie Miller, the Youth Advisory Council Facilitator.
In Florida’s capital city, there are leaders willing to listen.