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Many years ago self-advocates with disabilities and organizations for self-advocacy groups were not invited at conferences or talked about. The term self-advocacy was original meant for people with disabilities making decisions for themselves; this term, however, is now also used for people who want to become advocates for their community.
Since 2011, I witnessed an increment in the number of conferences including people with disabilities and parents as panelists, speakers and even as keynote speakers. Educational institutions are starting to organize student leadership conferences for current college students, alumni and high school students as well; this gives students an opportunity to network with other students and to learn about what is possible.
I took part in the Western Carolina University (WCU) University Participants (UP) Program and I was offered the chance to write articles and given the opportunity to speak in classrooms and at conferences in different states in the USA; I soon realized that I wanted to seek more speaking opportunities.
After graduating from WCU in 2014 I began working for The Arc of The Triangle as a part time administrative and I would also go out to the local high schools and speak to students with disabilities about inclusive post-secondary education opportunities and setting high expectations.
I was also able to work with the Alliance of Disability Advocates as a youth peer mentor with tech students with disabilities. The focus on disability history and advocacy training really helped me with learning more about history and with knowing how to speak with different audiences.
As an advocate with disabilities I manage my own public Facebook page Kenneth Kelty Public Speaker and Author, where I share my blogs about my life with autism and the positive effects of inclusive participation in society. I have spoken at many regional and national conferences and even online talks with professionals.
In November of 2017 I was the recipient of the Laura Lee Self-Advocate Leadership Award at The State of The Art Conference at Syracuse University. Here is a description of the award: the Laura Lee Self-Advocate Leadership Award is given to a trailblazer who currently attends or has graduated within the last five years from a post-secondary education program for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The Laura Lee Self-Advocate Leadership Award is in honor of Laura Lee who was a pioneer in inclusive education at the national level. She passed away unexpectedly in 2016.
On the morning of my award ceremony I gave a twenty-five minute keynote speech about my experiences with inclusive post-secondary education, leadership in advocacy, and life after college. I spoke in a room with 350 people from across the country, and the audience members from the student leadership conference were there too.
We’ve come quite far in acceptance of autism and disability, but there is still a lot of work to do. Through my advocacy, I hope to support the creation of more post-secondary education options and opportunities for self-advocates sharing their story through presentations, blogging and sharing photos.
Kenneth Kelty was born and raised in South Florida and is currently a part time administrative assistant at the arc of the triangle in Raleigh NC. Kenneth is a motivational public speaker on his experience with autism and social inclusion on a college campus. He loves traveling and would love to do international advocacy work for social inclusion on a college campus. When Kenneth was three and a half years old he was diagnosed with autism and told he would never talk, but has pushed his limits ever since.