Rhode Island: Empowering Youth Living with Disabilities

The 2013 Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 21% of high school students in the state had a disability. Compared to peers without disabilities, Rhode Island high school students with disabilities are more likely to have multiple health problems, such as low self-esteem and engaging in risky behaviors. To address these health challenges, the Rhode Island Department of Health used Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant funds to create the Rhode Island Youth Advisory Council.

The Rhode Island Youth Advisory Council consists of youth and young adults, aged 14 to 24 years, who have disabilities and have demonstrated leadership through their involvement with the Dare to Dream leadership conference and other statewide youth initiatives and who want to help peers improve their schools and communities. The Council provides insights from young people’s perspectives to the health department’s Office of Special Needs and collaborates on various activities, programs, policies, and resources that affect the health, wellness, and transitional needs of youth in the state.

The Council uses an evidence-based framework as a model. The framework helps address health risk behaviors by supporting adolescents with the resources and opportunities they need to become successful adults. Meeting monthly, members discuss the effects of disability programs and policies on their lives. Council participants also can get involved in leadership and assist the Office of Special Needs by providing feedback to improve the office’s effectiveness.

Adolescents serving on the Council also participate in the state’s Dare to Dream annual leadership conference in varying capacities—including master of ceremony, workshop presenters, and photographers. The conference brings 8th- through 12th-grade students who have diverse learning and special needs together with their peers and mentors. This event gives students opportunities to examine the concepts of transition from adolescence to adulthood and to share experiences with other students. The primary goal of the conference is to help students gain leadership skills and self-determination. Dare to Dream has inspired thousands of students to find their voice in self-advocacy, set personal achievement goals, and prepare for the tasks of adulthood.

Beginning with 23 participants in the 2015–2016 academic year, the Council grew to 28 by fall 2016. In 2018, the Council plans to co-host seminars providing information on jobs and community and health services for Rhode Island youth. PHHS Block Grant funding of the Rhode Island Youth Advisory Council has improved the lives of adolescents living with special needs statewide.

Story year: 2017

A group of teenagers socializing in a school library

Rhode Island used PHHS Block Grant funds to create the Rhode Island Youth Advisory Council, improving the lives of adolescents living with special needs statewide.

Page last reviewed: December 13, 2018, 03:40 PM