APRIL Logo with the words, "The United Voice  of Independent Living in Rural America."

Getting Started

So you have decided you want to work with youth? Congratulations! The hardest part is behind you.... deciding to move forward. Now, the fun begins.

Remember: The key to a successful youth program is creating a culture at your CIL from the very beginning that values and understands the basic principles of youth programs:

Youth are not a service: youth with disabilities is a population with their own culture and needs.

Group of people behind a table

Since youth with disabilities are not only a service, it is important that you create a culture within your organization that prioritizes working with young people as a CIL goal and mission. It cannot just be the youth programs service team that are committed to learning about how to work with young people. Besides, making your programs inclusive for young people doesn't mean that other consumers won't enjoy the new changes. Everyone likes to be engaged, everyone likes fun, and everyone appreciates it when you teach and reteach concepts to them in new and easy to understand ways.  

This isn't rocket science, or anything that should be news shattering to you. What the youth who started the IL movement in the 60's and 70's wanted and needed isn't necessarily the same for  youth of today.

Guess what! Independent Living and the Disability Rights movement was started by young people with disabilities. That excitement, energy, and passion that comes from young people who are out there in the world discovering everything for the first time.... including that they have the dignity of risk to make decisions and choices for themselves, even if the adults in their lives don't agree with those decisions, was what kick started our movement in the early days. We still need that passion.... it just might be that youth of today have different needs and wants than the youth of the 60's and 70's. It is because of the hard work of all you advocates that we have come this far that youth don't have to fight for their right to go to public school or to have access to healthcare. Instead, they can care about attitudinal barriers and making friends, healthy relationships, and being meaningful participants in their community.  So.... let’s bottle up their passion, and find out what it is they want and need and how we can help them find it. Which is one of our most important rules. Your idea of where you want youth to get involved at your organization and their idea of how they want to be involved might not be congruent. Deal with it! We need to meet youth where they are at, and eventually once their immediate needs are met, they will be ready to give back to IL. We just have to be patient.

6 getting ready

6 getting ready




Reference Guide for a Successful Youth Program!



1. Turn sense of control over to the youth (Leadership, give choices whenever possible, get constant feedback, answer a question with a question. Let them discover their own answers and their own voice. Don’t impose on them what YOU think they are capable of. Have them come up with the guidelines (rules) of the group or the class. Give opportunities for them to teach each other or you something)

2. Have FUN! (Turn a lesson into a game when possible. Food, snacks, celebrate, ice breaker and get to know each other. Use age appropriate examples. Use media whenever possible. USE HUMOR!!)

3. Peer Mentoring/Model (Students need successful role models with disabilities. Model disability etiquette, acceptance of other disabilities, attitude and energy.) If possible, team teach with a facilitator with an invisible disability and visible disability. Share your story when appropriate.)

4. Invoke Emotion/Passion (Disability history, current events, activities, model PASSION! Use your anger or your frustration to make positive change. Talk about how certain topics or videos make the students feel)

5. Model Inclusivity and Create Community (Model and preach cross disability, integrate youth into all your Center’s other activities, model no hierarchy of disability (ie make sure activities can be made accessible and that you include everyone). Hit the message home that “You are not alone”, encourage calling on the disability community in times of need. Talk about the community they are creating right now and how if one of them falls, they all fall. Talk about how civil rights is an all or nothing proposition, and that all other races, genders, sexuality etc. should be included. Integrate youth in your Center (see section on Recruitment and Retention), AND integrate seasoned advocates in your youth program to add how ‘it looked and felt in color’, share the experience.)

Strategic Planning: APRIL Youth PTP Strategic Planning Document

A tool to help you get started in your youth programming from needs assessing/brainstorming, internal survey of strengths and weaknesses, Community resource/asset mapping, and plan for evaluation. 

For more information contact Sierra Royster, Youth Programs Coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or by phone at 919-346-3282

Many THANKS to those that have helped make this material a reality!!

ADAPT brothers and sisters, Billy Altom, Josie Badger, Mike Beers, Mike Blatchford, Rebecca Cokely, Mike Collins, Rene Cummins, Justin Dart  Jr., Yoshiko Dart, Ellisa Ellis, Barry Fox-Quamme, Letiah Fraser, Gloria Garton, Chiaki Gonda, Linda Gonzales, Carrie Greenwood, Kathy Hatch, June Hermanson, Judy Heumann, Travis Hoffman, Alex Jackson, Mary Leary, Melissa Madill, Mike Mayer, Jude Monson, Michael Murray, John Nousaine, Tom Olin,  Mary Olson, Sierra Royster, Julia Sain, Tom Seekins, Tim Sheehan, Amber Smock, Julia Thomas, Sarah Triano, Craig Ravesloot, Eddie Rea, Curtis Richards, Ed Roberts, Betsy Valnes, Amber Wallenstein, Glen White, YLF Alumni from Montana, YLF Alumni from North Carolina, YLF Alumni of Oklahoma, ABLE CIL, Erin Weierbach, Center for Independent Living of Central PA, Alie Kriosfske-Manielle, Susan Cerverlla, Dustin Gibson, Moriah Grace, Grant Heffelfinger, and Rachel Kaplan.