Including the Excluded, Prioritise the Participation of Youth with Disabilities
by Aniyamuzaala James Rwampigi
The number of young people with disabilities is estimated to be between 180 and 220 million (UNDESA), representing between 16.3 - 20 per cent of a global youth population of 1.1 billion. The conditions affecting these young people range from intellectual, psychosocial, hearing, visual and physical disabilities, among others. Thus, they are a diverse population with diverse needs.
Youth with disabilities often face similar challenges but their needs can be different depending on the nature of their disability, where they are located and the circumstances of their surrounding environment, such as living in a conflict zone or other challenging situation. While access to information, communication and services are of great importance for all persons with disabilities, the resources needed to address their challenges are not uniform. For example, the needs of hearing-impaired youth, those who are deaf or hard of hearing, can be addressed through the use of sign language interpretation, hearing aids, subtitles or captioning, speech to text services, i.e. communication access real-time translation services (CARTs).
The needs of youth with intellectual disabilities may include supplementary aid and services in a learning environment, understanding information and communication through easy-to-read informational materials and assistance in accessing services. Youth who are visually-impaired may need access to information and communication produced in Braille or text materials in large print with contrast, and assistive devices, for example, text readers, canes, guide dogs, glasses or magnifiers.
Youth with psychosocial disabilities should be given psychosocial support and appropriate healthcare, access to legal justice and other related services without discrimination. They should not be institutionalized. To enable youth with physical disabilities to access services like any other youth without a disability, they may need mobility aids including crutches and wheelchairs, ramps and lifts in buildings. In some situations, personal assistants can be utilized. In addition, particular needs should be taken into consideration in the design of the built environment including buildings, vehicles, and furniture. Apart from their accessibility needs, being different from the general youth population, youth with disabilities, particularly young women, are more marginalized and vulnerable to the social, economic and political challenges of our time than any other youth population
It should be noted that disability is both a cause and outcome of poverty. Ninety-eight per cent of children with disabilities are out of school (Education for All 2010, UNESCO). Limited access to education and high rates of illiteracy among youth with disabilities has resulted in high rates of unemployment causing this group to become the poorest of the poor. Poor households are not able to afford good health care to eliminate diseases that causes disabilities. As a result, poor households are more likely to have members with disabilities than rich households.
James Ochan of South Sudan has a physical disability and is a member of the African Youth with Disabilities Network. When the conflict started in his country, James did not move out of his hiding place for three days. During that time he did not eat and could hardly be reached by the humanitarian workers providing assistance. This example highlights the impact of political conflict on youth with disabilities
Addressing the different categories of needs for youth with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the just thing to do as it is a human rights issue. It begins with understanding their needs and prioritising their participation in decision-making processes at all levels. Based on my experience as a person with a hearing impairment and a disability-rights advocate, the biggest challenge facing youth with disabilities is limited prioritisation of the needs of youth with disabilities in development programmes at all levels as they are the most vulnerable to the challenges. Sometime they are considered as “add-ons” because they exist. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) not only left out persons with disabilities in the designing stages but also in the implementation and monitoring stages as highlighted by the 2010 UN Secretary-General’s report on the review of the MDGs.
The post-2015 development agenda processes and negotiations present an opportunity to prioritise the needs of youth and persons with disabilities in all development plans and processes at all levels. Development-related indicators and targets for persons with disabilities should be included in all of the proposed sustainable development goals to be agreed upon by Member States. Prioritisation means that youth with disabilities are represented in decision-making processes at the international national and grassroots levels, including their representation in National Youth Councils and Parliaments. Furthermore, budget allocations at all levels and in all sectors, such as education, health, trade, and business entrepreneurship, should address the needs of youth with disabilities. It also means that national, local or grassroots development plans and United Nations development assistance frameworks prioritise and address the different categories of needs of youth with disabilities. Of particular importance is the need to reduce the unacceptably high illiteracy rates of children with disabilities who are not in school as well as the high levels of poverty amongst persons with disabilities. Development plans should establish and expand social protection in the form of cash transfers and grants to the marginalized and vulnerable to youth with severe disabilities to improve their welfare.
When I founded the African Youth with Disabilities Network (AYWDN) along with other youth with disabilities across Africa in 2011, we aimed at establishing a unified voice of youth with disabilities to influence policies, laws, programmes and service delivery at all levels to prioritize addressing the diverse needs of all youth with disabilities. AYWDN works closely with the African Union, particularly the Social Affairs Department and Youth Division, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Volunteers, the UN Focal Point on Youth and Secretariat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the UN Secretariat to ensure that the needs of all youth with disabilities are prioritized and addressed in the development programmes at all levels. AYWDN provides technical knowledge to governments and other stakeholders on how they can best include and integrate the diverse accessibility needs of youth with disabilities in national and local government development plans and programmes. AYWDN supports the establishment of a UN Permanent Forum on Youth, which was endorsed by the youth participants at the UN Global Youth Leadership Forum on Inclusive Governance in March 2012. The Forum prioritised the issues of youth including youth with disabilities.
About the Author:
Aniyamuzaala James Rwampigi is a youth advocate currently serving as the president of the African Youth with Disabilities Network (AYWDN), an organization works on rights of youth with disabilities.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) has launched its Mental Health Matters campaign for International Youth Day 2014!
From 12 June -12 August you can help reduce the stigma surrounding youth and mental health conditions by using the #MentalHealthMatters and joining our activities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
We want young people to support the campaign by submitting artwork, poems, photos, illustrations and stories about the positive impact that speaking out about mental health issues has had. Join the campaign on Facebook:
The United Nations Inter-agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) met for its monthly meeting on 4 June at the United Nations Headquarters, New York. The meeting provided an opportunity for members to update and coordinate on youth related work. At the same time, the IANYD sub working group on youth participation in peacebuidling was holding a two day workshop to develop operational guidance for their newly launched ‘guiding principles for young people's participation in peacebuilding'. The Network also discussed plans to celebrate International Youth Day on 12 August, 2014.
You can read the guiding principles by clicking here.
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