Module Two: Disability History and Awareness Month

Disability History and Awareness Month

Did you know that the legislation that recognizes October as Virginia Disability History and Awareness Month (DHAM) was enacted as a result of the advocacy and leadership of youth who attended Virginia’s Youth Leadership Forum? Each year the Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), established by The Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD), continues its mission to develop leadership skills in Virginia’s young people with disabilities. From this annual event, additional opportunities have evolved for students to come together and support one another as they become leaders and advocates in their schools and communities. Many of the youth, who participated in YLF, and who have since graduated from high school, have continued to mentor and support those students who attend the YLF each year.

This module highlights the efforts and achievements of Virginia’s student leaders. We will explore the work of the Youth Leadership Forum, the I’m Determined Youth Summit, and the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities. We will also go on a WebQuest to explore the history of disability awareness throughout the nation.

History of the Youth Leadership Forum (YLF)

The Virginia Board for People with Disabilities established the Youth Leadership Forum in Virginia to promote leadership development in young people with disabilities.  The program is based upon the highly successful Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) that was developed and held in California since 1992 by the California Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Due to the California program’s demonstrated success, the National Office of Disability Employment Policy (formerly the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities), endorsed replication of the program across the U.S.

Recognizing that the YLF is an important investment in the future of young Virginians with disabilities, the Board recommended the development of a YLF in Virginia in 1997.  The VBPD has made a long-term commitment to continuing and evaluating the activities of the program.

The first YLF-VA was held from July 24-28, 2000, at Longwood College in Farmville. Twenty-one students with disabilities attended.   YLF’s is currently held on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.

The Board maintains its commitment to provide high school students with disabilities with a unique leadership training experience that focuses on individual abilities as strengths, not disabilities. 


The YLF program seeks to empower young people with disabilities to further develop their leadership skills.  Students, serving as Delegates from communities throughout Virginia, participate in a wide range of activities and learning experiences during the four-day Youth Leadership Forum set on a university campus.

The YLF curriculum includes training and development of individual career and life goals, leadership skills, social skills, and self-esteem.  Delegates benefit from sharing the experience of an energetic and socially enriched environment with other delegates, distinguished guests, mentors and highly motivated volunteer staff.

Program Components:

  • Small working groups to explore and develop self-awareness profiles, personal leadership goals, career and academic plans.
  • Diverse activities including educational, social, artistic, athletic and recreational events that demonstrate to young people the joy of leading a well-rounded life.
  • Guest speakers and faculty that address issues such as disability rights laws, innovations in technology, use of assistive technology, employment opportunities, community volunteerism, advocacy and legislative opportunities in the Commonwealth.
  • Interaction with guest speakers and staff – people with disabilities from the private and public sectors who have successful careers and/or businesses and who have maximized their talents and serve as role models.
  • Field trip to the State Capitol that provides an opportunity to interact with high-level elected officials in Virginia’s state government.

Student delegates demonstrate:

  • Motivation.
  • Acceptance of and interest in diversity.
  • An interest in developing their leadership skills and a plan for their future.
  • A desire to share their thoughts and opinions.

The program targets students with disabilities during their last two years of secondary education.  Students participate in a comfortable, peer-supported environment and address their own concerns about disabilities, as well as have an opportunity to gain pride in their membership in the disability community.  The students are recruited at a key time in their secondary education, making major life decisions about further education, job skill training, and/or careers.


History of the I’m Determined Youth Summit

The Youth Summit is a three-day event held each year in June. Youth with disabilities of transition age (age 13 to 21) from across the Commonwealth meet to network and discuss issues of importance to young people with disabilities.

Delegates work in teams to identify issues and develop action plans that will encourage youth to better advocate for themselves and lead more self-determined lives.

The Youth Summit is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education and the Partnership for People with Disabilities.

The first Youth Summit was held in 2008 with roughly 30 youth. Based on feedback from the original summit, a parent component was added in 2009 and has been tremendously successful as well. The Youth Summit and concurrent Parent Summit is currently held on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg.

The Youth Summit is planned and led by youth. We have a leadership team of approximately twenty-five youth from across Virginia that attend planning meetings with I’m Determined coordinators and follow up via e-mail, text messaging and the private youth run Facebook group created by the leaders. Many of our Youth Leaders are also YLF (Youth Leadership Forum) alumni.

These goals were identified at the first Youth Summit and remain relevant as we try to grow more self-determined youth in Virginia.

  • Develop an understanding and comfort level of one’s own disability label and the disability labels of others by addressing myths and stereotypes.
  • Develop leadership and problem-solving skills that can lead to becoming more self-determined.
  • Create a network of youth leaders to advocate for disability and youth issues.
  • Build involvement in other youth leadership groups, activities, and conferences.
  • Identify specific issues that can be addressed within a year’s time and request assistance form community partners.
  • Understand how even small successes are important.

Please take some time to view our PowerPoints and Youth Voices video from past years’ Youth Summit applicants. You can see the PowerPoints and video programs by clicking on the Youth tab of this website.


Visit the following websites to view the history of disability awareness in the nation and in Virginia, to see examples of ways to integrate DAHM into the curriculum, to visit the Museum of disABILITY, and to read the blog of a young adult with a disability. You can also read an excerpt from “Riding the Bus With My Sister,” written by the sister of an adult with an intellectual disability.

  1. What is DHAM? In Virginia?
    1. Disability History Week
      1. The legislation
  2. Timelines:
    1. Disability History Week
    2. Developmental Disabilities
    3. Resources for integrating the DHAM into the curriculum
      1. Virginia resources
  3. Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True Life Journey by Rachel Simon

Questions for further discussion: After exploring the resources in this module, which had the biggest impression on you? How did the stories make you feel?  If there was one thing that you could do to support teachers as they encourage the development of self-determination skills in their students, what would it be?