Self-Advocacy with PEAL’s Youth Leadership Coordinator

PEAL News Fall/Winter 2018

So how does one come to being a self-advocate? Meet Katie Smith, PEAL’s Youth Leadership Coordinator who coaches youth and young adults towards becoming their own best advocate and live the lives that they create for themselves. Here’s Katie’s story…

Hey there! I’m Katie Smith, I work with youth and young adults to help them develop self-advocacy and leadership skills in order to successfully transition into adulthood.

My personal experiences have helped me in this work. I have a physical disability and had to learn how to advocate for myself, especially when it came my healthcare and education. To be honest, it was not an easy journey, but I had guidance and community.

Where my story begins, at the age of 21, I was active and engaged in my community and sports. As a senior in nursing school I was ready to transition into my career and next chapters. That summer I was in a car accident, broke my neck and acquired a spinal cord injury that paralyzed me from the chest down. All of a sudden I was in a body that did not work the way that it used to and did not feel like mine. I had to re-learn how to do everything from dressing and feeding myself to getting around in a wheelchair. It was a huge challenge for my family and me to go through. Instead of just letting things happen to me I decided to take control of my own life! I gained self-awareness—an understanding of my unique needs and supports and found a way to communicate them. I became a self-advocate and regained the independence I had felt before having a disability.

As I took control of my own outcomes, I decided to return to college to become a teacher. This was a change to my original goal of being a nurse, but this choice felt right for me. I graduated from Seton Hill University as a certified elementary and special education teacher, with a degree in psychology. Along the way, I did not forget my love of sports and community engagement. I found different ways to competitively engage and be active including wheelchair rugby, handcycling, adaptive horseback riding, and boccia. I love to cook and garden—I do it all differently than I did before and need support, but I can still do it! I could not have gotten to this point without becoming self-aware and a self-advocate—knowing what I need and how to get it. It was hard work, but worth every challenge that I faced and overcame to feel empowered and have ownership of my life and my choices!

Katie's Tips

If you are interested in learning more about PEAL’s youth training and leadership development activities, submit your info here:, or check out our youth Facebook page:
Read the full Fall/Winter 2018 Newsletter here.

PEAL News Fall/Winter 2018

Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA): Important Information for Families

PSSA and Keystone tests may be familiar to most parents...

PEAL News Fall/Winter 2018

When is a Threat a Threat? The Rights of Students with Disabilities in Schools

With the increase in incidents of school violence across the...