The JJs List Blog

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership – a Q&A with Fellow Molly Wiesman

Posted by on July 12, 2019 - 0 Comments

Mentor Melissa Reishus and Molly Wiesman, 2019 Fellow

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership launched the legacy project of ADA 25 Chicago, a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The mission of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership is to increase civic engagement and diverse leadership in the Chicago region by developing and building a network of leaders with disabilities — consistent with the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Since 2015, Advancing Leadership has grown the Members Network to 113 Members and Fellows. Fellows come from all walks of life and job sectors, bring a multitude of ideas for change and include a wide range of disabilities. Applications for 2020 Leadership Institute are open now. 

JJsList interviewed our own Disability Awareness Player and  2019 Fellow, Molly Wiesman. Below is a short Q&A with Molly where you can learn more about the program:   

Q: How long have you been involved with the Leadership Institute.

A: I have been involved with the Leadership Institute for about 7 months. I applied to the Leadership Institute in the Fall of 2018 and began my fellowship in December of 2018.

Q: How long will you be involved? 

A: The program is technically a year long, which sounds like a more daunting time commitment than it is. There are two retreats which are the bulk of the program. The first retreat lasts three days and the second retreat is two days long. These are full days, running from 8:30 am-5:30 pm and sometimes a little bit longer. There are a few other events throughout the year, including a Symposium and graduation, but those five days are the main time commitment Fellows have to make. You can find out more details about the program here.

Q: What other commitments do you need to make to be a part of this?    

A:  Personal leadership plans developed through the retreat guide Fellows’ activities for the year. All our trainings were held down town, so you have to be able to travel into Chicago.  I live in the suburbs and took the Metra.  

Q: Do you get paid for participating in the Leadership Institute?  

A: Fellows are not paid for participating in the Leadership Institute. In fact, there is a tuition for participating, but financial support is available. 

Q: What are the benefits of participating in the Leadership Institute? 

A: There are a lot of benefits of participating in the program. Many of these will continue after the year commitment:  

  • Education:

It’s a great opportunity to learn about the disability rights movement.  

  • Networking:

2019 Fellows and Advancing Leadership Board Chairs

It’s an amazing opportunity to network with other professionals with disabilities. It was great to meet other people with disabilities who are interested in advocacy and advancing their civic engagement. In the Fall we may have the opportunity to network with other leaders in the public sector at a symposium we’re doing.   

  • Inspiration:

It’s an opportunity to brainstorm and share ideas with others. During one of the Leadership Institute’s training sessions, I was inspired to start a blog entirely around disability. The blog is called 1in4 (because 1 in 4 people have a disability). My goal with the blog is to feature many different people with disabilities writing about having a disability.  

  • Confidence Building 

You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make connections! Networking is very intimidating for me because I do have a disability and I tend to want to shrivel up in the corner in large group situations.  But you just can’t do it if you want to accomplish your goals and you want to help others. The Leadership Institute made me better at networking and communicating because one of the exercises we had to do was writing elevator speeches. Then we had to practice them with people in our class. This preparation helped me be more confident when introducing myself at networking events. 

There is also a standalone program called BoardLead, which serves as a matchmaking program to boards of directors. Fellows can participate in this program at no additional cost.

Q: What kind of connections have you met by participating in the Leadership Institute?

A: I made all sorts of connections through the program. I met a lot of peers, as well as a professor in the Disability Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He and I have been Facebook friends but had never met face to face! I also met a lawyer with a disability who had a lot of wonderful perspectives about disability.  And my mentor at the Leadership Institute has her own business helping others with disabilities find employment.   

Q: As an adult with a disability, what kind of change would you like to bring about in your community?

A: There are so many things I want to change.

  •  I want sub-minimum wages to be eliminated because I believe if you have a disability and you have a job, you should be able to use your income to support yourself.  You can’t do that when you only make pennies an hour. I will try to make change around this issue by blogging about it, emailing legislators and sharing articles about it on my blog page.
  • I would like to make every building accessible. If I encounter an inaccessible building I will contact building management to see what can be done.  
  • Another thing too is that I feel like more awareness and acceptance is needed around invisible disabilities. This isn’t something I thought too much of before because I have Cerebral Palsy and it’s very apparent that I do. But people with invisible disabilities need to have their experiences heard and validated.

At the moment, I am very busy with several disability-related activities, including the JJsList.com Disability Awareness Players, Tellin’ Tales Theatre, and Best Buddies.

Q: What have you learned about leadership in the last year?

A: I have learned that often times people with different leadership styles working together to accomplish things are most effective in getting them done. We studied different leadership styles in the class and learned that each style brought something different to a project.

I’ve also learned about civic engagement and the need for people with disabilities to be   actively involved by working in conjunction with the local government or volunteering for an organization. We’ve been given this opportunity by Advancing Leadership to be involved in a program that gives us the opportunity to serve on nonprofit boards.  

Q: Have you done any public speaking?  

A: The extent of the public speaking I’ve done for the program has been limited to speaking during group discussions, both large and small groups.

Q: Would you recommend others to apply?  

A: I would encourage others to apply to the Leadership Institute because you get to be a part of the amazing network of leaders with disabilities. You will have an opportunity to have conversations about and around disability that you might not have elsewhere. Also, disability representation is often lacking in the civic sector and anyone who applies to be a Fellow will have the opportunity to change that.

The Leadership Institute is looking for 2020 Leadership Institute Fellows who are energetic, aspiring leaders with disabilities passionate about making change. Applications for 2020 Leadership Institute can be found here.

For more detailed information about ADA 25 Advancing Leadership click here.

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