Licking County residents of all ages have access to self advocacy opportunities
When Travis Bare was invited to a self advocacy training as a teenager, he had doubts that the experience would be worthwhile.
“When I got into it and really listened, it made me who I am today,” he said. “It changed how I say things, how I express things.”
Although he currently lives in Newark, Travis, 26, went through self advocacy training when he was a resident of Franklin County and he became a member of the second class of Project STIR trainers in Ohio.
“I recommend it to everyone,” he said. “It will teach you to stand up for your rights in the right way.”
Like its neighboring counties, Licking County also has numerous opportunities for people of all ages with developmental disabilities to participate in self advocacy.
‘A culture of strong self advocates’
The Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA) defines self advocacy on its website as, “Speaking up for yourself. Asking for what you need, negotiating for yourself, knowing your rights and responsibilities, using resources that you need.”
Many adults supported by the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities (LCBDD) were introduced to the concept in the mid-2000s when the People First movement became prevalent in Ohio.
LCBDD started a People First affiliate in 2010, said Diana Shannon, co-owner of KICKS, who helped organize the program at the county board. Led by a board of adults with disabilities, the group traveled to conferences, visited schools and community groups to do outreach and planned a variety of activities.
The advocacy movement continued with Project STIR (Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility).
Initiated by the OSDA, Project STIR teaches adults with developmental disabilities how to communicate, solve problems and understand their rights. The curriculum was established to allow graduates of the program to train others, Diana said.
“When you see a peer teaching a class, you start thinking, ‘If they can do that, I can do that,'” she said. “It’s more of an inspiration.”
As LCBDD’s role in providing supports has evolved, provider agencies have taken on new roles in supporting self advocacy groups.
Many providers, including KICKS, have self advocacy groups that attend events — such as Legislative Advocacy Day at the Ohio Statehouse — and plan activities.
“I feel like we are really strong in the efforts and training and opportunities we’ve provided,” Diana said.
Founded by Kiwanis International, Aktion Club is a service organization for adults with disabilities. The self advocacy opportunity is open to Licking County residents and is not affiliated with any provider agency.
Seeing an organization centered around community service seems to be a logical next step for self advocacy in Licking County, Diana said.
“We have created a culture of very strong self advocates,” she said. “We have people who know how to use their voices, but now we need to help them find their role in the greater community.”
One example of this is KICKS’ self advocacy group, the Leadership Connection, which has been visiting local non-profit organizations to learn how they meet the needs of community members.
“There are a lot of individuals in our community with great needs,” Diana said. “How can we assist with that?”
Diana said she is interested in planning a self advocacy conference or a Project STIR reunion for adults to continue the forward momentum.
Opportunities for students
Adults aren’t the only age group that has access to self advocacy resources in Licking County.
For the past four years, LCBDD has partnered with Mental Health America of Licking County to provide self advocacy information and Project STIR curriculum to students age 14 to 21 who are supported by the board.
Justina Wade, suicide prevention coordinator at MHA, has a presence in eight county schools. She teaches in classrooms several times a month, discussing communication, self knowledge and future planning.
One of her larger goals is to help students understand the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, process. She’s hoping to help more students feel confident to attend their own IEP meetings and advocate for themselves.
“As they prepare for the future, they need to be able to have their voice and their opinions heard,” Justina said.
Over the summer, Justina visits with some of her students at Camp All for One, a day camp for children and teens with disabilities at the Licking County Family YMCA.
Not only does she offer fun, educational activities but she takes time to get to know the campers before the school year starts.
The students look forward to seeing her, and Justina said she’s enjoyed seeing them apply her lessons to their daily lives.
“I think it’s really important that they learn to be able to use their voice as they transition (to adulthood),” she said. “They will be making life choices, like where to work, where to live and what they want.”
Using advocacy to help others
For Travis, getting involved in self advocacy helped him realize his passion for helping others.
A native of Columbus, Travis was a victim of abuse and was removed from his home when he 7. He went through the foster care system until he was adopted in 1999.
His parents were able to support him and he began to work through his anger issues.
After high school, Travis went through a program to learn landscaping and got involved with self advocacy and the People First movement, as well as Project STIR.
“Through those programs, I learned how to stand up for myself,” Travis said.
He realized that his true calling was helping other people with developmental disabilities.
He took classes in habilitation at Columbus State Community College and later worked at ARC Industries and Goodwill Columbus.
Travis moved to Licking County in 2015, after ending a negative relationship. He got connected with the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities and has spent the last year and a half focused on improving his life.
He is working to find a job, while pursuing his love of music and art. He creates digital art and beats on his computer and also plays the guitar.
“It’s kind of like my therapy,” he said. “It helps me.”
Travis said that although he hasn’t participated in any trainings in several years, the opportunity to get involved in self advocacy and teach others will always have a positive affect on his life.
His ultimate goal is to work with people with disabilities in some capacity.
“I’m just a person that likes to help,” he said. “That’s my gift.”
To learn more about self advocacy and Project STIR contact the Ohio Self Determination Association at 614-562-1375 or osdaohio.org.
For more information about the Aktion Club of Licking County, go to aktionclub.org, or contact David McManus at the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities at 740-349-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.