PYD Selected for Social Innovation Forum 2018 Nonprofit Accelerator

Seal that has a cartoon depiction of Boston's skyline and reads "Social Innovator"Boston, MA (December 8, 2017) – The Social Innovation Forum (SIF) has selected Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) to participate in SIF’s 2018 “Social Innovator Accelerator,” a 24-month capacity-building program that helps nonprofit organizations gain visibility, expand their networks, and accelerate their impact.

As a 2018 Social Innovator, PYD will receive access to more than $150,000 of cash and in-kind services, including training, coaching, and consulting, from SIF and its partners. SIF selected PYD from a pool of 155 applicants based on its unique approach to addressing accessibility and opportunities for young people with disabilities.

“We extend a warm welcome to our newest group of Social Innovators,” said SIF Executive Director Susan Musinsky. “Our team, consultants, in-kind partners, and volunteers are excited to work with you over the next 24 months to help you accelerate the important work your organizations are doing in the local community.”

PYD staff and board member smiling alongside their SIF consultantRegina Snowden, Founder and Executive Director of PYD shared: “We are humbled and honored to be selected as a Social Innovation Forum (SIF) Social Innovator 2018. Our focus as a Social Innovator will be on the bright future of PYD’s YEP Career Readiness Program primed to engage more youth. We are gratified for the ways that mentoring, group mentoring, job training and placement are at the fore of empowering young people with disabilities, a population still under-served. Youth and adults with disabilities are vastly under- and unemployed as compared to persons without a disability. Further, the larger percentage of youth in the juvenile justice system are youth with a disability. Through PYD programs young people gain life skills, career skills, and confidence. They access their rights and realize their abilities. We are grateful to SIF for this extraordinary opportunity. And we are very grateful to Liberty Mutual Insurance, our track sponsor, who leads the way for youth with disabilities and mentoring.”

The full list of organizations selected for the 2018 Social Innovator cohort includes ACT Lawrence, Community Boating Center, Fathers’ Uplift, GreenRoots, PAIR (Political Asylum / Immigration Representation Project), Partners for Youth with Disabilities, Strategies for Youth, and The Renew Collaborative.

The Social Innovator Accelerator is generously supported by the Barr Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, The Boston Foundation, Boston Open Impact, the Devonshire Foundation, Highland Street Foundation, Immigrant and Refugee Funder Collaborative, Liberty Mutual Insurance, the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Foundation, MassMutual Foundation, Schrafft Charitable Trust, and the Stifler Family Foundation.

About the Social Innovator Accelerator
The Social Innovator Accelerator provides small- to mid-sized nonprofit organizations with intensive training over a two-year period, including consulting, coaching, and connections to SIF’s network. On average, nonprofit organizations in the SIF portfolio more than double their revenue within four years after engaging with SIF, growth significantly higher than state and national rates. In the past year, organizations in the SIF portfolio impacted more than 400,000 lives across a spectrum of social issues including early childhood education, environmental sustainability, homelessness, and youth development. For more information, visit www.socialinnovationforum.org.

About PYD
For thirty-two years, Partners for Youth with Disabilities has empowered youth with disabilities to reach their personal, educational, and career goals through unique mentoring, creative arts, life skills development, and career-readiness programs. We also have provided inclusion training and technical assistance to more than 100 organizations across the country to help them become more inclusive towards people living with disabilities. PYD is a founding member of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition and also co-chairs the Mentoring Task Force of the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities. We envision an inclusive global society in which youth with disabilities have the access, support, and confidence to achieve their full potential. We believe that youth with disabilities who are educated, mentored, and empowered have a profoundly positive impact on their communities and the world. With the generous support of many individuals, organizations, foundations, businesses and corporations, our important work with this under-served population of youth will continue to thrive and grow. Partners for Youth with Disabilities, Inc. (PYD) is a designated 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization by the Internal Revenue Service. Follow us on Facebook (pydboston), Twitter and Instagram (@PYDBoston).

What is Inspiration Porn: Exploring Tiny Tim & Weaponized Pity

For those not familiar with it, inspiration porn is a phrase that refers to the way disabled people are frequently used as objects of inspiration for abled people. It was coined by the disabled writer and comedian Stella Young, and once you understand the concept, you can’t help but see it everywhere. Especially on social media.

There can sometimes be push-back and confusion around this term, because it makes it sound like no one can ever be inspired by someone with a disability without it being a problem. That’s certainly not true! Just as it’s okay to be inspired by talented, amazing abled people, it’s fine to appreciate and be inspired by real talent and achievements by disabled people as well. That’s okay and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In my book, you can tell if something is inspiration porn because it fails three basic questions:

1) Voice and choice. Is the disabled person choosing to be portrayed as inspirational?

2) Pity. Is this using pity to create a feel-good moment?

3) Real accomplishment. Would this “achievement” still be celebrated to the same extent if the individual was abled?

To get a feel for it, let’s try a few examples on for size. Would this video trailer for the Rio Paralympics be considered inspiration porn?

Are the disabled people in the video choosing to be portrayed this way? Yes, they’re all adults and they obviously consented to being recorded for the video. Does the video use pity to inspire us to feel good about something? No, there’s no pity involved; the video deliberately pushes back against pity and challenges viewers to realize how talented and amazing people with disabilities are. Would these achievements still be celebrated to the same extent if the individuals were abled? Yes, these are Olympic athletes we’re talking about! Of course they would be!

Quick note: While the video above doesn’t fall into the inspiration porn trap, there are some problems with the phrase “superhuman” being used to reference people with disabilities. You win some, you lose some.

On the flip side, here’s a question: is it okay to tell a person in a wheelchair in the grocery store that they’re an inspiration? Answer the questions: is that person consenting to being portrayed as inspirational? No, it’s being ascribed to them and they’ve had no say in the matter. Is pity involved? Oh yes, definitely–why else would shopping at a grocery store be inspirational if pity wasn’t involved? Would this “accomplishment” (i.e. shopping at a grocery store) be celebrated and seen as inspirational if an able-bodied person did it? No, not even close. So I think the answer is clear: that’s inspiration porn, and it’s definitely not okay to approach that person and tell them they’re inspiring.

And now, let’s consider a holiday-themed case! In the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the character Tiny Tim is portrayed as having a disability; he’s depicted as weak, in poor health, and uses a crutch. His character is part of what inspires Ebenezer Scrooge to change his ways and become a generous man.

Tiny Tim is almost always pointed to as the classic example of inspiration porn. And if you consider the three questions, you can understand why:

1) Is Tiny Tim given any personal voice or choice? And was Tiny Tim’s portrayal the choice of a person with a disability?

Charles Dickens was a tremendous author, and considering the time period he was from, there are some positive aspects to his portrayal of Tiny Tim. There are still very few characters with disabilities in literature, nonetheless (relatively) main characters. Visibility is important, and at a time when most people with disabilities were sent off to asylums and not incorporated into society, it was notable that Tiny Tim was shown as living at home and capable of living a full life in the community.

That said, Tiny Tim was not the creation of an author with a disability and he’s not given any agency as a character. He doesn’t get to decide that he wants to try and inspire Scrooge to be a better person; he’s left completely oblivious to Scrooge and the Spirits peering in on his life.

2) Does A Christmas Carol use pity to create a feel-good moment?

100% absolutely. Tiny Tim’s whole narrative purpose is for the reader (and Scrooge) to feel bad for him. He’s such a pure, wonderful person; he doesn’t deserve to be disabled or die. It’s not fair, and showing us a possible future where Tiny Tim dies just ladles on the pity you feel for him. The Spirits freakin’ weaponized pity here to make Scrooge feel the maximal amount of guilt and shame possible.

3) Would his “achievement” still be celebrated to the same extent if the Tiny Tim was abled?

This begs the question: what exactly was Tiny Tim’s “achievement” that was so inspirational to Scrooge? The nearest I can tell, Tiny Tim’s achievement is that he’s a decent human being that cares about others. He’s depicted as so pure of heart and innocent, his mere presence and demeanor is enough to inspire Scrooge to change his ways. You can almost here Scrooge thinking, “If someone disabled can be so happy and generous in spirit despite their struggles, how can I be such a curmudgeon?”

But wait, you ask: why is this such a big deal? I get that it’s a double standard to celebrate when disabled people do everyday things that aren’t a big deal when others do them, but what harm is being done with bringing a little more inspiration into the world?

Look at those three questions one more time. The harm being done is 1) people with disabilities aren’t having their wishes or voices respected, 2) people with disabilities are being viewed as one-dimensional objects of pity (which nobody likes!), and 3) people with disabilities can get so used to having everything they do praised as exceptional, it can make all praise they receive (even for actual accomplishments) feel hollow and fake.

So the next time you’re on Facebook and see a viral video involving a person with a disability making the rounds, think before you automatically click “Share”: is what I’m sharing inspiration porn?

Guest Blog: Mentoring and Diversity

The following blog post was written by Bjarne P. Tellmann from the Association of Corporate Counsel, provided through the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC).

Young adult in a suit files papers in an officeOur legal department recently launched an innovative mentoring program for college students and recent graduates with disabilities, some of who were interested in pursuing a legal career. The success of this initiative, launched in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, has revealed how mentoring can be a powerful tool to achieve more diversity.

Diversity is intrinsically desirable from a social justice perspective. But it also makes good business sense. Numerous studies show that diverse teams outperform homogenous ones in many ways. For example, a company’s financial performance improves along with its level of racial, ethnic and gender diversity . Diverse teams are also more innovative and better at solving complex, non-routine problems.

But to achieve such outperformance requires ”cognitive diversity”, which is defined as “the extent to which the group reflects differences in knowledge, including beliefs, preferences and perspectives”. That usually requires seeking diversity beyond race and gender to include educational attainment, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, and other characteristics. The deeper the level of diversity across all dimensions, the more likely a group is to be cognitively diverse. A Harvard study of 1.5 million scientific papers, for instance, found that those written by more diverse groups of authors and associated with greater geographical and intellectual diversity had more citations and higher impact factors.

Mentoring can play a vital role in promoting diversity because it is an easy and cost effective way to attract, retain, and motivate diverse talent. It sends a strong signal to marginalized groups that typically lack optimal support networks that they are valued and desirable.

Mentoring programs can be structured in different ways depending on the specific needs of the company and individuals involved. But for the program to be successful, it must be authentic. It must focus on helping mentees develop their knowledge, networks and careers and (to paraphrase Steve Jobs) how to make their dents in the universe.

At Pearson, our legal professionals are supporting disabled young mentees to develop career plans that reflect their true interests and capabilities, without regard to their disabilities or others’ perceptions of what is ‘appropriate’. The model leverages our internal resources and is innovative, inexpensive and replicable.

We decided to focus on disabled professionals because they are highly marginalized both in our profession and within the job market as a whole. Despite being the largest minority in the US, disabled people have by far the largest unemployment rate. Only 0.38 percent of all lawyers in law firms are disabled.

That is shockingly low, leaving precious few disabled lawyers to act as role models for younger disabled professionals, with the result that pathways for success can seem hard to scale. Many get discouraged. A UK study found that, even though the scope and level of career aspirations of disabled and non-disabled 16 year olds are similar, the gap between unemployed disabled and non-disabled people widens as they age. In the US, 60 percent of all 1.4 million disabled college graduates are unemployed. Those who do find work are 16 percent more likely than nondisabled graduates to be underemployed and working in service-related jobs that do not require a college degree.

A culture of low expectations is pervasive when it comes to disabled professionals. As one disabled senior in-house attorney remarked, “many professionals assume I am unemployed or work from home. Astonished to learn that I am an attorney, many proclaim me “an inspiration,” as if the biggest challenge in law school was negoti¬ating hallways in a wheelchair, not mastering the rule against perpetuities.”

Our mentoring experience has convinced me that success can lie in such simple things as being authentic, challenging self-defeating assumptions, providing gentle encouragement and helping disabled mentees to discover and then harness the power of their own narratives.

The results speak for themselves. Although our program is less than one year old, in that time our mentees have been admitted to Harvard Law School and promoted at Apple, have interviewed for and secured sought-after positions, and decided to attend or apply to great graduate programs. On a human level, this feedback from one mentee says it all: “I was able to ask [my mentor] questions of any kind without feeling silly. She brainstormed with me when I needed to solve a problem, and has also celebrated with me when I have had a success. [She] has truly had an impact on my life….”

So little effort can yield so much. If we all chipped in, we would enjoy a more diverse workforce.

Reprinted with permission of the author and the Association of Corporate Counsel as it originally appeared: Tellmann, Bjarne. “Mentoring and Diversity,” ACC Docket volume 35, issue 9 (Nov. 2017): 22-23. Copyright ©2017, the Association of Corporate Counsel. All rights reserved. If you are interested in joining ACC, please go to www.acc.com, call 202.293.4103 x360, or email membership@acc.com.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” : Mantra for a Movement

This blog post was written by Eli Wolff (Partners for Youth with Disabilities) and Mary Hums (University of Louisville). This article was originally posted on HuffPost Blog.

Traveling through an airport and being left on a plane because no one informs the airport mobility accessibility attendants that an arriving passenger needs assistance. Relocating accessible parking spaces without consulting anyone with a disability working in the closest building. Construction workers leaving equipment in hallways and elevators, blocking a student with a disability using a mobility device from passing through, and navigating the building to get to class.

These are typical everyday issues persons with a disability encounter that persons without a disability may never even think about. Over the course of time and life, these occurrences add up, resulting in people with disabilities feeling disrespected, disenfranchised and – ultimately – powerless.

But it does not have to be this way. People with disabilities have a voice that should and must be at the table from the beginning of any planning process and should never simply be an after-thought. Language, words, and actions can help us fight some of these daily battles. One example of words that can help insure people with disabilities are not cast aside is the phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us.”

These empowering words form a mantra that has fueled the disability rights movement over the years. To quote James Charlton who authored a book by this same title, the term “Nothing About Us Without Us,” “expresses the conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is best for them.” This mantra became the rallying call for the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and continues to have relevance and significance more than ever. But why does it matter?

It matters because people with disabilities must be front and center as visible leaders to share our voice and our experience. It matters because it reinforces the role of people without disabilities as allies and partners who share the road toward inclusion and equality.  It matters because it unites us with all the marginalized and invisible individuals and groups who are demanding a seat at the table. Most of all, however, it matters because we as people with disabilities need to be the ones whose voices must lead the way.

“Nothing about Us Without Us” emphasizes how people with disabilities must be valued as integral and essential contributors to every sector, industry and community including entertainment, fashion, education, sports, medicine, business and law. While people with disabilities need to be leaders of disability-focused organizations, that is not enough. We also need to be front and center in mainstream local, national and international organizations.

For example, in the entertainment industry, people with disabilities need to represent themselves and be visible in movies, TV and advertising. Similarly in the world of sports, people with disabilities need to be leading the Paralympic, Special Olympic, and Deaflympic Movements, but also need to be front and center within the Olympic Movement, professional sport, intercollegiate athletics and youth sports.

The powerful phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” ignites a vision for people with disabilities that represents pride and power rather than stigma and pity. It helps us realize that the disability community is an empowering and uplifting community that unites us and works for our rights and dignity. The phrase reinforces the possibilities for people with disabilities to be meaningfully included, and if we wish to, seamlessly become leaders in every type of organization and institution. We need to have a valued voice in every facet of daily life.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” moves us to re-define, re-imagine and transform what it means to be a person with a disability in all aspects and all avenues of our global society. It inspires a movement that extends beyond the status quo while demanding progress toward equality and justice. Hopefully “Nothing About Us Without Us” will continue to serve as a social justice call to action in mobilizing future generations.

Maria Town inducted into the Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame

The Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame was established by the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) to honor those individuals who are making a significant difference in the lives of youth and adults with disabilities through mentoring and to raise awareness about the importance of mentoring for individuals with disabilities.

We are proud to induct Maria Town into the Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.

Maria Town is the Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for the City of Houston. In this role, she advocates for the rights and needs of citizens with disabilities, serves as a liaison between the mayor, city council, city departments and other public and private entities on matters pertaining to people with disabilities in Houston, and establishes local and national partnerships to advance inclusion. Town is the former Senior Associate Director in the Obama White House Office of Public Engagement where she managed the White House’s engagement with the disability community and older Americans. She also managed the place-based portfolio and coordinated engagement across Federal agencies. Prior to this, Town was a Policy Advisor at the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. While at ODEP, Town led and coordinated numerous efforts to improve employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities. She has particular expertise in areas of youth development and leadership and promoting college and career readiness for all youth.

Before moving to Washington, DC to work in public service, Town graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. At Emory, Town was a Community and Diversity Fellow at the Emory University Office of the Provost where she aided in oversight, policy formulation, program development, and management to improve access, equity, and inclusion on Emory’s campus. While a student at Emory, she also served as the University-wide Student Government Association President. In addition to her disability policy work, Town is the creator of the popular “CP Shoes” blog where she writes about fashion, design, and disability. She is an alumna of both the New Leaders Council Fellowship program and the Mobility International USA Professional Exchange Program. She hails from Louisiana, where her family still resides.

Why mentoring matters to her:
“Life is so much harder without quality mentors. Mentoring relationships can make individuals feel valued, help them discover their potential, and can challenge individuals in ways that encourage growth. I have benefited personally and professionally from mentors and consider it my responsibility to make sure others can do the same.”

Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame: Information and Inductees

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