Spearheaded by a group of 20 teenagers, a national campaign is kicking off this month designed to reshape youth perceptions of inclusion and ideas about what’s “normal.”
The “I am Norm” campaign is centered on online videos, social networking and a series of advertising buys slated for next year, which organizers say they hope will spark conversation about inclusion of people with disabilities and what it really means to be normal.
“Everywhere I go people say the biggest obstacle to inclusion is attitude,” says Dan Habib, a filmmaker who first brought the teens together while promoting his documentary “Including Samuel,” which follows the experience of Habib’s son who has cerebral palsy. “The first step is challenging perceptions.”
To that end, Habib worked with a handful of organizations to bring together 20 teens from across the country — some with disabilities themselves and some who are typically developing — at a youth summit in January. The group developed the “I am Norm” concept and decided to target middle school-age kids, a demographic where the teenagers felt they could have the biggest impact. Since then, the teens created a series of videos challenging typical ideas of “normal,” developed educational materials and they’ve presented at professional conferences.
The campaign is youth-led and youth-driven, Habib says, but a $25,000 grant and support from groups like the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, the National Inclusion Project and the University of New Hampshire are helping to get things off the ground.
So far, “I am Norm” is starting to generate buzz. A compilation video posted on YouTube in mid-November has been viewed over 3,000 times. And Cara Liebowitz, 18, one of the teens behind “I am Norm,” says she’s garnered attention from her peers who see the campaign button pinned to her motorized scooter.
“We’re really hoping to redefine what inclusion is — it’s accepting people as who they are and as equal human beings,” says Liebowitz who has cerebral palsy and is now a freshman at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. “I want to make things better for kids like me who may be the only disabled kids in their schools.”