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Making connections: Teens gather to create newsletter highlighting disability issues

Twice a year, they come from different locations throughout the state. They are different ages and from different groups of friends, but they all leave as friends.

The teens from across the state come together for a two-day workshop at New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Headquarters, in Latham, in which they walk in, sometimes, knowing little about writing and each other and walking out as great friends and with a full-color newsletter they produced.

The newsletter is circulated to every high school throughout the state. Topics inside cover the issues that affect most high school students, primarily students with disabilities. Students write about all sorts of disabilities, and not necessarily ones they are familiar with.

The group, called "Connect-ability" has been sponsored NYSUT since 2006 when NYSUT Vice President Maria Niera saw a need for the program to continue operating after its previous sponsors ended their participation.

"It was my staff who brought the issue to my attention immediately and we, right away, made a decision that we would pick up the publication of this newsletter," Niera said.

The newsletter, which was originally called "Disability Awareness Newsletter" became "Connect-ability," by recommendation of the students.

The students, in fact, call most of the shots when it comes to the newsletter because it is written, and edited, by them.

According to Niera, the entire two-day event is sponsored by NYSUT, which covers the costs of the hotel accommodations, food, transportation and workshops. The teachers who help the students develop the newsletter volunteer their time.

"Our staff donates their time working with the students," said Neira. "They take time off from their jobs to come here to work with the students.

And it's the special attention the students receive that makes the newsletter a quality publication, according to Neira.

The group is unique in another way: It blends together students with disabilities and those without, making it an educational experience for teens of different backgrounds.

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