The Emerging Number: Youth Leaders with Disabilities
by Abia Akram
A 2010 WHO estimation claims that more than a billion people are living with some form of disability. This amounts to approximately 15% of the world’s population (WHO, WB 2011:7). Can youth with disabilities be seen as active members of society? This is the very question that sparked my interest and subsequent work in the field of disability.
Through my experience on the grassroots’ level in South Asian countries, particularly in Pakistan, I witnessed the shocking difference between my home life and that of others with disabilities. Whereas my parents were encouraging and supportive of my development, other youth were forced to stay at home without social interaction or basic rights, such as health care or education. Particularly affected were young women with disabilities, who were viewed as cursed or too fragile to lead a fruitful life.
In Pakistan, the plight of people with disabilities has long been associated solely within the spectrum of health, when in reality the main issue is more far-reaching than this. The issue is about social and economic acceptance of persons with disabilities, with the ultimate goal of facilitating access to technology, infrastructure, and justice to ensure equal opportunity across the board.
In 1997, using my personal experience, I started working with a group of dedicated persons with disabilities to create awareness in policymaking bodies and increase capacity within NGOs, INGOs, the United Nations, governments, and Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs). The vision was to shift the existing charity-based model with a more economically-driven approach, an approach that can only be successful when the community embraces the notion that people with disabilities can contribute to society.
Working on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), article 6, we have made substantial strides in both raising awareness and strengthening the voice of women with disabilities on an international level. The initiative was focused under the light of the CRPD with the objective of increasing the understanding of issues related to youth with disabilities through networking, partnerships, and collaboration. This group of youth leaders with disabilities explored a myriad of opportunities to connect locally, nationally, regionally and globally through ICTs. ICTs have had a positive role in changing the way persons with disabilities live, work, and engage with development initiatives. Opportunities have been created for them to share experiences, learn good practices, and open new doors for youth to work, study, and contribute in the disability movement and in the development of their countries. The reach of these advancements do have limits, however, as not all people have access to modern technologies.
It is important that youth with disabilities understand that their disability is a different lifestyle, not an inability. By providing access to information and technology, youth with disability can share experiences, such as barriers they are facing, and find solutions within their own cultural contexts.
We believe the change in coming years will be more visible as new youth leaders are emerging as a strong catalyst for change in the area of disability.
About the Author:
Using her personal experiences, Abia Akram has been championing the Disability Movement since 1997. In addition to working with many groups to give a voice to women with disabilities, she personally helped establish the National Forum of Women with Disabilities. Her education includes a British Council's Chevening Scholarship as well as Post-Graduate work in Gender and International Development from the University of Warwick, UK.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014 at the United Nations
This past December 3rd marked, with great success, the 22nd commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Building upon previous themes in order to best encompass the importance of the Day, this year’s theme was “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology” (2-3 December, United Nations Headquarters). Festivities included various panel discussions, the UN Enable Film Festival (UNEFF), and a reception by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations. More information
Members of the Inter-agency Network on Youth Development are collaborating with UN DESA and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in the organization of the ECOSOC Youth Forum which will take place on 2-3 February 2015 in New York. The ECOSOC Youth Forum provides a platform for youth representatives to engage in dialogue on development related issues. This year, the Forum will focus on how to maximize the engagement of young people in the transition from the MDGs to the post-2015 development agenda and identify ways to ensure that the needs of all youth are at the centre of the future development agenda.
UN Entities Highlighted News
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UNDP: The Ibero-American Summit commitments on Youth, December 8-9, 2014
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UN-Habitat: Asker Conference on Youth and Governance
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Youth Service America (YSA) invites your organization to join a global coalition that will organize Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) 17 - 19 April 2015. The world’s challenges are complex and young people have the knowledge, creativity, and commitment to be a part of the solution. Poverty, hunger, gender equality, unemployment, primary education, and climate change are among the Millennium Development Goals youth have addressed through their GYSD events. For more information about the GYSD Community Partner Program, please click here .
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