Visually Impaired Teen Creates Community for Disabled Youth to Connect
Meet Daily Point of Light Award honorees Jessica Kim. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
Jessica Kim was born with a visual impairment and didn’t learn how to advocate for her needs for a lot of her life. But this Gen-Z changemaker is working tirelessly to ensure that her situation is not the norm for visually impaired individuals or other youth with disabilities.
That’s why she created I-CREATE YOUTH, an organization that empowers, educates and connects disabled youth through language in its various forms—from poetry to programming. As the founder, Jessica hosts summer research and fellowship programs to learn about disability justice, interviews disabled changemakers, hosts workshops for or in support of the disabled, and publishes stories, essays and poetry by disabled creatives.
ICY serves the disability community by focusing on dismantling stereotypes and inequities faced by disabled individuals, since disability rights are basic human rights. Society is inherently ableist—whether it be in healthcare, employment, social infrastructure or education—but Jessica wants to show that disabled people matter. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, disabled youth in particular often have not received educational and recreational support to continue their education. At ICY, Jessica educates and empowers disabled youth amidst an alienating and ableist society.
Read more about what drives Jessica toward change in her community and beyond.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I did a lot of volunteer and service work with students with disabilities, and I find that really meaningful because I share the same experience. I’m visually impaired, so it’s always been a mission for me to find this community of people who have the same kinds of experiences as me, and I think having a disability and growing up with a disability was a very solitary experience. But through volunteering, I found that disability justice and disability advocacy was possible, so that sense of community and desire to make that community permanent and really accessible for me but also for other people inspired me to volunteer.
Describe what your organization does.
Firstly, we’re dedicated to disability advocacy through language in its various forms, and we like to take language in a cultural sense, but also in a creative sense. So a lot of the different initiatives we host are based on creative writing, like poetry, or even programming, as well as reaching out to individuals from various cultures to think of disability as this universal language that can unite people from different communities. We host workshops centered on this one aspect of language. We’ve mostly focused on creative writing this past year. So we hosted poetry workshops in partnership with visually impaired organizations like the Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles. I hosted a series of workshops using audio materials to write poetry.
In addition to workshops, our second main initiative is a fellowship program for young people to learn more about the different realms of disability in whatever topic they choose. Various fellows have developed a project on various types of disabilities and how they intersect with literature or society in general. Also, programming – we had someone develop an accessible Chrome extension for disabled users online. We had another person research on the representation of disability in children’s literature. We had another project on eco-ableism. In addition, we do have various creative projects where we interview people who are disabled, seek stories from people who are disabled, post information and graphics and various resources for people who are disabled – anything from book recommendations to how to celebrate Disability Pride Month in July.
What’s your favorite part about volunteering with disabled youth?
I struggled to find a sense of community when I was not vocal about my disability, especially in elementary and middle school. But when I first volunteered with disabled students, particularly visually impaired students, I really found a sense of community and camaraderie immediately when I went into a classroom full of blind people and they shared the same struggles I had. I didn’t need to explain myself; I fit naturally into the community.
I remember volunteering in classrooms for disabled students during Saturday programs, making eye models out of candy, talking to a mayoral candidate who was blind, got to talk about our experiences, play Braille Uno. Bringing accessibility into a space showed me how the disability community could be something tangible. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, that kind of physical sense of space with disability advocacy was lost, in a sense. I really wanted to revive that, so it was very imperative to me to continue that volunteer work in an online space, to create a tangible community in a world that was very uncertain and full of unknowns. That kind of unity that I’ve experienced by interacting with disabled people and expanding my volunteer work to reach an audience outside of a classroom, but people worldwide – that was really meaningful to me. So creating this tangible community in a global space, an accessible space, is the reason why disability-focused volunteering is so important to me.
Why is it important for youth to get involved with the causes they care about?
I think youth are, as cliched as it is, the future of the world. Because of that, it’s not too early for youth to be passionate about social issues and involve themselves in their communities. There’s so much youth can do, but they can also be part of a larger community, and they eventually can become individuals leading a large community.
As young people, we approach the world with an open mind and we’re very attuned to the pressing contemporary social issues of the time period. So the youth outlook and voices that youth have can act as the catalyst for change. More than any other demographic, youth will be able to gather resources, gather people, gather a community for this advocacy to be enlarged and eventually integrated into the world.
What’s your advice for people who want to start volunteering?
It’s definitely crucial to reach out for a system of support. Starting an organization or even finding places to volunteer could be very difficult, especially if they’re new to the world of advocacy and volunteerism. My advice would be to reach out to a trusted mentor, or use technology to reach out to other people who have started organizations, or who are able to mentor youth. It’s very daunting to be alone in this world and embark on something new alone. So reach out for support, even if that means you have to be the one who’s vulnerable or take the initiative to ask for guidance.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jessica Kim? Find local volunteer opportunities.