Youth Development is a process that prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences which help them gain skills and competencies. Youth leadership is part of that process. In order to control and direct their own lives based on informed decisions, all youth need the following:

  • Mentoring activities designed to establish strong relationships with adults through formal and informal settings
  • Peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities
  • Exposure to role models in a variety of contexts
  • Training in skills such as self-advocacy and conflict resolution
  • Exposure to personal leadership and youth development activities, including community service, and
  • Opportunities that allow youth to exercise leadership and build self-esteem.

Youth with disabilities also need:

  • Mentors and role models including persons with and without disabilities, and
  • An understanding of disability history, culture, and disability public policy issues as well as their rights and responsibilities.


  • Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring
    Mentoring is recognized as one of the most important strategies for assisting youth in making a positive transition into adulthood. This Guide, created by NCWD/Youth, through an agreement with the Office of Disability Employment Policy, is intended for individuals designing mentoring programs for youth, including youth with disabilities, in the transition phase to adulthood.
  • The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities
    A workbook for youth and adults working with them, designed to assist in making informed decisions about whether or not to disclose their disability and how that decision may impact their education, employment, and social lives
  • Youth Development and Youth Leadership in Programs
    A brief for administrators and policymakers on using the concepts of youth development and youth leadership in programs that serve all youth and activities specifically geared toward youth with disabilities.
  • Disability Mentoring Day (DMD)
    A nationwide effort to promote career development for students with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, which is coordinated by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), and partially funded by ODEP.
  • Cultivating Leadership: Mentoring Youth with Disabilities
    ODEP's fact sheet on mentoring
  • National Youth Leadership Network
    An organization of young leaders with disabilities from around the country
  • Youthhood
    Funded by the U.S Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, a youth-oriented website with many resources to assist young people in planning for their future.