October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Over a year ago, Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) partnered with Momentum WORK Inc. a local nonprofit whose mission is to provide individuals with disabilities employment and vocational opportunities.

Thanks to Jake Lowry, the organization’s Individual Employment Services coordinator, IVCSD hired Sophia Lee-Park, the first community engagement intern and accessibility advocate.

Lee-Park and IVCSD’s community engagement director Sydney Casler have been working to ensure the Isla Vista community and surrounding communities have access to resources for people with disabilities/disabled people to thrive and fully participate in community affairs.

Lee-Park’s first-hand experiences living with disabilities and accessibility research have fueled her commitment to ensuring others like her know they are knowledgeable and valuable contributing members of their local community and society, and thus, must be given the opportunities to be leaders themselves.

Lee-Park compiled a comprehensive list of community resources for disabled residents and their families on IVCSD’s website. Including transportation services, life skills or independent living support, community wellness, adaptive recreation, housing services, emergency preparedness directions, and more. The compilation of resources can be found here and the searchable Google Document is here

Upholding their obligation to ensure no one’s experiences are left behind, Lee-Park hopes employers will allow other individuals in the disability community to continue to be the leaders they deserve. In doing this, board members of other local governments can ensure these individuals’ concerns are validated and are included in the conversation.

Ultimately, Lee-Park hopes the accessibility advocate or coordinator positions become permanent and that they are implemented beyond Isla Vista, in every city in Santa Barbara County. 

Lee-Park has continued to grow her understanding of the challenges and benefits of navigating California’s and Santa Barbara’s community programs. During her internship, she aspires to work with and for residents living with disabilities and otherwise marginalized communities to assure they feel empowered.

Lee-Park is working to provide a clear path to acquiring these essential support services for themselves, their family, or their peers. She believes all people with disabilities, regardless of where they are in their disability journey, have the right to be informed and connected to the many organizations in Santa Barbara and Isla Vista that may provide life-changing support. 

“One of the most rewarding parts of my position is that I get to reassure disabled residents of all ages that they are valuable and knowledgeable contributors in their community. I love that I can use their knowledge to ensure tangible progress in real-time,” Lee-Park said.

“I commend the IVSCD for being municipal leaders in our county in providing valuable and necessary information for its residents with disabilities and their families. It is critical for the disability community to have easily accessible resource guides at their disposal to participate in California’s many life-changing social programs and gain support to enter the workforce or receive care in the comfort of their own homes. As Sophia has demonstrated, these programs are truly an investment in the future and have a tremendously positive impact on the community at large,” said Lowry.

“Working alongside Sophia, I have immense gratitude for the efforts she puts forth to ensure people are educated and have a deeper understanding of dignity-infused community engagement. I will continue to advocate for other municipalities to take inspiration from the importance of this work. I’m excited to see all that Sophia will continue to accomplish,” said Casler.

IVCSD, Isla Vista’s first broad-based local government, is empowered to provide eight key services, including public safety, housing mediation, community facilities, parking, graffiti abatement, lighting and sidewalks, and both a municipal advisory council and area planning commission. The coard is composed of five publicly elected directors and two directors appointed by UCSB and Santa Barbara County.