A History: Connecting and Contributing to Communities
About 57 million of 350 million people in the United States reported that they have some type of disability. However, less than half of one percent of government leadership roles are held by people who have disabilities (Community Leadership Academy, 2016). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was intended to guarantee equality for people who have disabilities. Yet, four decades after its implementation, equal opportunity issues remain. People who have disabilities continue to earn less income, face higher rates of unemployment, and have lower educational attainment. Additionally, people who have disabilities make up a significant part of the general population, but do not have an equal voice in planning policy and legislative decision making.
About 6 years ago, the Board of Directors at Resources for Independence Central Valley (RICV), a Center for Independent Living in California, set a goal to change that. RICV wanted people who have disabilities to be full participants in their communities, going beyond just making specific buildings or services accessible.
To prepare people to represent their communities, RICV started the first Community Leadership Academy (CLA). The CLA develops and encourages people who have disabilities to become community leaders, and teaches: parliamentary procedure, open meeting laws, and various leadership skills, with the intended outcome being to increase the number of well-trained people who have disabilities contributing to their communities by taking active leadership roles through service on local nonprofit boards, governments, committees, and councils.
AZCLA Background: Building Capacity
Every three years, the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council (AZSILC) submits the State Plan for Independent Living (State Plan), to the Administration for Community Living, under the Department of Health and Human Services. The State Plan includes goals, objectives, and strategies for the state’s Independent Living Network and the process that will be used to monitor, evaluate and report on State Plan activities. With the start of the 2017-2019 State Plan last October, the SILC and several partner organizations have begun to work on a number of activities that will have a direct impact on people who have disabilities in the state.
The new Arizona State Plan includes a number of objectives related to advocacy, community organizing and building capacity among people who have disabilities across Arizona. Specifically, Arizona’s IL Network will be initiating a statewide effort with the long-term objective of increasing awareness and participation in community and policy advocacy among people who have disabilities, across the state. This effort will be titled Arizona Community Leadership Academy and will be modeled after RICV’s Community Leadership Academy (CLA).
Arizona Community Leadership Academy is in direct response to input received from the needs assessment surveys and public forums held across the state in 2015. During these forums, individuals stated that: they do not feel connected to the disability community in Arizona, they do not receive information about policy and legislative issues, they do not understand how to get involved, and they lack the knowledge and tools to be effective advocates in their communities.