Do you know an emerging leader with a disability? Nominate them and encourage them to apply.
“More than just one weekend, the experience is about something much bigger than the classes. It is about community, connection, network and opportunity. It is about being seen as a leader and being able to draw strength from others.” – ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Inaugural Fellow
Emerging leaders in the Chicago region have a unique opportunity to join a network of people with disabilities who are committed to participating in volunteer leadership position while they grow professionally. Applications and nominations to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s next leadership development retreat will be open until August 31.
About 20% of our population has a disability. While disability is a natural part of the human experience, the under employment of people with disabilities, high poverty levels, and absence of people who disclose their disabilities in leadership positions demonstrate the continued exclusion of this minority group from the mainstream. This is where ADA 25 Advancing Leadership comes in. The long term goal is to ensure that the perspectives and talents of people with disabilities of all kinds are included in the Chicago region’s rich civic life.
The idea behind Advancing Leadership is the same idea behind the Americans with Disabilities Act – that people with disabilities have the right to equal opportunity and full participation in society. In fact, the program came out of last year’s celebration of this civil rights legislation’s 25th anniversary, and retains the name ADA 25 in its name. We use the broad definition of disability under the ADA – inclusive of disabilities that are apparent and those that are non-apparent, such as mental health and learning disabilities.
ADA 25 Advancing Leadership kicked off at the end of last year with 25 competitively selected members. Sixteen of these are emerging leaders participated in a 3 day retreat in December. These inaugural Fellows embraced the leadership training experience as a unique opportunity to connect disability identity, the social barriers to inclusion, and leadership training. They forged deep bonds with each other, learned from Chicago’s leaders, and established personal plans for long-term leadership.
Our Fellows and members are creating a network and participate in educational opportunities around key issues such as employment and education; but beyond being a network of support and learning, they are beginning to fulfill Advancing Leadership’s long term vision. We have created the Civic Connections Project, and are starting to see our members increase their involvement. In the past 9 months, 9 have joined new advisory committees, task forces and boards, and another 13 connections are pending. These range from participation in cultural and disability rights organizations, young professionals councils, to a position on the board of a regional non-profit organization focused on fair housing, to public sector advisory task forces at state, regional, and municipal levels.
This program is the first of its kind in the nation and thanks to the involvement of The Chicago Community Trust, Exelon, and other corporate leaders we can keep moving forward on this final frontier of civil rights. To quote one of our inaugural Fellows, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership was “a life changing and transformative experience” that allowed our members to emerge with the skills necessary to become the next generation of leaders.
Last year, we were greater together; this year, we keep advancing together.
Applications for the next Leadership Institute retreat for emerging leaders with disabilities are NOW OPEN; the deadline is August 31. For details, application and nomination forms, please visit www.ada25chicago.org.
Emily Harris is a Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust and the Executive Direct of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. She was the Executive Director of ADA 25 Chicago, a one-year initiative to leverage the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to advance full participation of people with disabilities in metropolitan Chicago.