The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) turns 30 at the end of July. Throughout the year there will be commemorations of progress in access and inclusion. A legacy of the 25th anniversary of the ADA is the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. Another Disability Awareness Player and former No Boundaries participant, Brian Rohde, became a Fellow this past year. He tells us about his experience as a Fellow below:
Q: Tell us, in your own words, about the Leadership Institute:
A: ADA 25 Advancing Leadership is a program that began 5 years ago to celebrate 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 (including individuals with physical, intellectual or mental disabilities).The Leadership Institute educates and trains Fellows to advocate for equality and develop working skills in the community based on enhancing their strengths. The importance of the Leadership Institute is that it allows individuals who have a disability to enhance their leadership and communication skills, which enables them to push beyond obstacles of having a disability.
Q: Why did you choose to participate in this program?
A: I chose to participate in the Leadership Institute because I have struggled to gain professional connections because of my disability. I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to expand my networking skills, build self-confidence, gain connections, and learn about challenges that other participants with disabilities face.
Q: What are the expectations of Fellows?
A: The Fellows are expected to attend the orientation and the two training sessions which last 2 – 3 days. In addition, Fellows are expected to connect with their mentor at least 4 times throughout the year, contribute to group discussions, and create their own career and civic leadership goals.
Q: What has been the most challenging thing for you during your time as a Fellow?
A: The most challenging aspect for me during my time as a Fellow is taking in and processing all the information discussed in the sessions. The group discussions can be intense, as the material gets discussed in great depth. For example, in the first session we had guest speakers discuss the history of disability rights and also on intersectionality of race, gender, class and disability. However, I am grateful that we covered inter-sectionality in our session because it taught me that understanding diversity is a key asset in allowing myself to be able to be open and share my experience growing up with a disability and how it relates to the other Fellows.
Q: What do you think are the benefits of this program?
A: For me, the benefits of the Leadership Institute include networking, becoming familiar with the different learning styles of people with disabilities, creating friendships, learning to plan, setting goals, and developing the tools needed to be active in volunteering for non-profit or charity organizations.
Q: How have you personally benefited so far from being a Fellow?
A: The greatest benefit from being a Fellow for me has been learning that, despite having a disability, I have strong qualities and am able to self-advocate when needed. Being a Fellow and working with my mentor has also helped me be more independent and increase my time-management, goal-setting and communication skills.
Q: How did involvement in this program help you during Covid-19 stay-at-home order?
A: The Program has helped me a lot. The goal setting work has kept me motivated and allowed me to practice coping skills of dealing with stress and anxiety in these unprecedented times. Mock interviews with my mentor have built my confidence in applying for jobs and working harder to achieve success. Also, the Leadership Institute has made me be more knowledgeable and comfortable with online platforms like Zoom.
A: I would highly recommend others to apply to be a Fellow for 2021. It is a valuable experience for individuals who struggle to find resources and tools to serve in leadership roles. It’s also a good way to get involved with the community.