Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
— Thomas A. Edison — 

We all have defining moments in our lives. However, much of our development comes through small, incremental steps in which friends, parents, teachers, and counselors play roles. As mentors, caring adults may have established long-term relationships with us and promoted our success. Many seemingly inconsequential interactions shaped who we are now and who we will become.

Although most of this networking develops informally, supportive relationships can be intentionally promoted. This book tells how to create and sustain an electronic community designed to support teens with disabilities. Strategies and content can be easily adapted to other populations.

The personal stories, mentoring tips, and activities for teens with disabilities included in this book can be used in an online mentoring community (also called an electronic mentoring community or e-mentoring community) to promote success in school, careers, and other life experiences. It includes steps that lead to a happy, healthy, successful future for anyone, regardless of the presence of a disability. In the community of young people and mentors described in this book, key questions are asked, but simple answers are not provided. It is a place where everyone can find opinions that reflect their own as well as alternative views. Online discussions help participants more fully understand themselves, as well as individuals and systems with whom they interact, as they chart their own course to success.

The set of strategies presented in this book has its foundation in the large body of research and practice in the areas of:

  • success
  • self-determination
  • transition
  • mentoring
  • peer support
  • community building
  • electronic communication

We know too well that postsecondary academic, career, and independent living outcomes for people with disabilities are discouraging. We often hear about the problems young people with disabilities face—physical obstacles, social rejection, academic failure, unemployment, drug abuse, and medical crises. Much research focuses on identifying these problems and then developing specific strategies for overcoming them. This approach is consistent with research and practice regarding adolescents from other high-risk groups, which concentrate on helping youth avoid identified problems—pregnancy, drug abuse, high school dropout, criminal activity, academic failure, gang membership—or deal with these problems once they exist. In contrast, this book presents strategies that contribute to the overall positive development of youth, which will also help them avoid many types of problems in the future, as well as successfully deal with those they ultimately face.

After all, some people do overcome significant challenges and lead successful lives. What does success mean to them, and how do they achieve it? What internal characteristics do these individuals possess, and what external factors have been present in their lives? What advice do they have for helping young people build personal strengths to overcome the challenges they face now, as well as those they no doubt will face in the future? How can these individuals with relevant insights be brought together with young people with disabilities as they travel the road to adulthood? How can long-term relationships with mentors and peers help young people develop into competent, contributing, and content adults? How can successful strategies be applied in an online forum?