Reaching out to youth
No one understands the premises of “The cost of murder” (Nov. 30, 2009, p. 6) better than Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital’s In My Shoes facilitators. In My Shoes is the award-winning violence prevention program staffed by young African-American and Latino adults with violently acquired disabilities.
In 1997, Schwab case manager Kris Vertiz and spinal cord injury physiatrist Michelle Gittler could no longer stand seeing the constant influx of teens with freshly acquired disabilities resulting from community violence. They knew they had to do something. Gittler and Vertiz began the process of identifying patients whose outlooks about their street lives seemed to change when they acquired a disability.
These individuals would form a core group of facilitators for the violence-prevention program In My Shoes. They visit schools and community groups, telling the stories of their lives, how they acquired their disabilities and what it is like to live with a disability.
In My Shoes presenters do not tell their audience members what to do or what not to do. They do tell them what to expect based on the choices they make. The audience members—young teens from Chicago inner-city neighborhoods—know that they could die from street violence. But they never think about becoming disabled even though there are 3.3 instances of disability for every homicide resulting from gunshot wounds.
During its 12-year history, In My Shoes facilitators have touched the lives of 65,000 youths. They have shared their stories as well as the reality of being in a wheelchair, catheterized constantly, subject to pressure sores and challenged in terms of sexual activity. In postpresentation surveys, 91% of In My Shoes audience participants stated that after the presentation, they would think regularly about the consequences of the choices they make.