By LINDA HUGHES This past week, nine students with disabilities participated in a program designed to ease their transition to adulthood. Mireille Sayaf, the new Executive Director of the Ocean State Center for Independent Living, recently established
This past week, nine students with disabilities participated in a program designed to ease their transition to adulthood. Mireille Sayaf, the new Executive Director of the Ocean State Center for Independent Living, recently established the Youth Transition Program to provide an outlet for education, recreation and peer support. Participants slept in the bunk rooms and ate in the dining hall of a larger camp sponsor by the RI Lions Sight Foundation. When not in seminars, they were chaperones for the younger students with visual impairments.
On the first day of the program, they shared details about how their disabilities have affected their lives. Although each story was unique, hardships, misunderstandings, underestimation, and prejudices were central themes. One student recounted how people try to help him without asking if he needs help, often pushing him in a different direction than he wanted to go. Another girl with a speech impediment spoke of how other people speak for her as though she cannot speak for herself because it is quicker than taking the time to let her speak for herself. For several students, this was the first time they shared information with someone else with a disability and as each camper shared his or her story, heads were nodding in agreement around the room.
A seminar for financial management was of interest to the students, and basic information was provided on banking, budgeting, and the use of credit cards to fulfill a person’s “needs”, not necessarily his or her “wants”. Matt DeLillo, an Independent Living Specialist from OSCIL who led the group, remarked that he wished it was a lesson he had learned at their age, rather than deal with the ramifications of over-spending when he was a young adult.
Transportation issues for individuals with disabilities around the state continues to be problematic. Although the RIDE program at RIPTA provides the best option at a $4 cost to people who live within 3/4 of a mile of a bus stop, this program is not statewide and leaves those who live in more rural areas without access to independent transportation. The alternate option of using UBER or Lyft can be cost prohibitive for young adults without a job. The group decided to advocate for more resources in this area.
In discussing housing options, one camper deliberated the pros and cons of living at home with her parents. She does not like to follow their rules but has no other option if she wants to continue living there. A student at URI described living in the dorms, which he loved initially, but which became chaotic with the onset of COVID. Although he was initially able to settle in, his world was soon turned upside down when the dorms were closed. The discussion of future housing took a dark turn, with everyone discussing the difficulties finding apartments that they could afford. Although Section 8 Housing for the elderly and handicapped is an option, current waitlists for such facilities are five or more years.
To get at issues beyond their own needs, there was a discussion about the needs of others in the community. Reasoning that serious housing issues can lead to homelessness, the participants used the knowledge they gained about nutrition to fill bags of food for those living on the streets. Assisted by Amanda Reed, an Independent Living Specialist from OSCIL, almost two hundred bags were filled with fruits in the form of mandarin oranges and applesauce, grains in the form of granola bars and crackers, and proteins in the form of peanut butter and tuna fish were completed and placed in totes to be distributed to the homeless at the Church Beyond Walls in Providence.
Those who were already in college gave advice to those thinking about attending college. With encouragement to think outside the box, employment goals were shared, with students identifying an interest in jobs in teaching, politics, weather forecasting, and animal care.
A highlight of the program was a visit from Rob Rock from the Secretary of State’s office who brought the Automark voting machine with him. Participants, thrilled that they could keep their vote private by not needing assistance, practiced submitting their own votes using this accessible device.
Students, several from inner city neighborhoods, also enjoyed kayaking, swimming, adaptive archery and adaptive soccer. Singing around the campfire at night and roasting marshmallows was also a favorite activity.
At the end of the week, participants left with a newfound appreciation for what they can do with the proper accommodations, and for what they will be able to do as adults in the future.