Youth Speak is taking the idea of "nothing about youth without youth" to the next level. It's not just including youth, but allowing young people a place at the table and giving them the opportunity to speak their mind. This is a key element of youth development and one that youth with developmental disabilities often are not afforded, as people often try to talk for them, not with them.

This page will be a place to hear the thoughts and dreams of the leaders of our project, all of whom are youth and emerging leaders with developmental disabilities. As they attend conferences, grown and develop as leaders, and experience life they will submit writings to this part of the site, where you and everyone else can experience Youthspeak first hand.

Hollywood Comes to Minnesota

by Aaron Westendorp, Steering Committee member

There was major gossip being thrown in the city of Saint Paul last week. Rumor had it that stars such as Meryl Streep, Lindsey Logan, and Kevin Kline were going to appear in town for the premeire of A Prairie Home Companion. The film was directed by Robert Altman, and written by Garrison Keillor. I got to the red carpet two hours before any stars showed up. It was an amazing night for St. Paul, the fans were packed in like sardeans. I was squeezed with a nice 14 year old who didnt really want to be there. Her mom dragged her down to see the stars. She didn't know any of the people on the carpet. The interesting thing was, however, was on the way back, I spotted a woman in a wheelchair with a sign that read " A Prarie Home Companion banned people with disabilities from the crew." I found this reasonable, because a lot of liability rules apply to the set. They were fiming at the Fitzerald Theatre, where there isn't a lot of room for wheelchairs when a huge film set is there. Members of the crew who were disabled had every right to be there but logicallty, it was risky. People with disabilities should be allowed to work anywhere as long as they are safe. So Hollywood shined brightly a week ago, but nobody saw the woman who was in her chair, shining in her own way.

MEAF/AAPD Congressional Internship

by Kati Seymour, Steering Committee member

The summer of 2004 was definitely a time where I had many perspective altering experiences in my work and through the friendships that were formed with the other interns in the group that the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and the American Association of People with Disabilities sponsored. I worked in the Congressional Intern part of the program.

From the moment I met my roommates, the staff with whom I would be working, and Senator Gregg I had an "a-ha" moment that I spent the majority of the summer trying to wrap my brain around. For the first time in my 24 years, I realized and understood that the world is so much bigger than just me and that there is so much out there to explore beyond the borders of South Dakota . One of my favorite quotes is by St. Thomas Moore, "We are all part of one race. Humanity." I now have better knowledge of what he meant and how we are all connected.

I worked for Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire , who is the former chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions committee. Specifically I worked with the labor and disability policy areas of the committee.

I loved the technical and historical aspects to the research I was assigned. I worked on a variety of issues. Issues that were causing unions to strike; the Fair Labor Standards Act Section 14 (c) and how that applied to people with disabilities, the Assistive Technology Act; and Higher Education Act, specifically TRIO and GEAR UP programs as they relate to employment.

There were so many highlights to my job beyond the research. There was working with constituents. There were many events that my superiors invited me to off the Hill. There were many great committee hearings and watching the Senate Floor in person.

Through this experience I realized that working on policy development and legislative action has the potential to affect many more lives than just those here and now. Therefore, I have changed my major emphasis from Vocational Rehabilitation Client Assessment and Counseling to Social Policy Analysis and Pre-Law.

Previous to my congressional internship, I was wishy-washy about a career in government and public service. Now, I know it's in my blood and is my passion, although its a behind the scenes type of thing, and not in an elected official capacity.