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Creating Opportunities for Disabled Youth

On Monday, 3rd Dec 2018, the world observed the annual World Disability Day with the theme being “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. It is critical to ensure, in this regard, the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and create enabling environments by, for and with persons with disabilities. This also means the inclusion of disabled youth in all youth programs and activities.

Youth with disabilities are amongst the most marginalized and poorest of all the world’s youth. They commonly face more discrimination and severe social, economic, and civic disparities as compared with those without disabilities, especially in developing countries. Yet, youth programs seldom address issues of youth with disabilities, much less include them into activities.

Key facts about youth with disabilities:

  • The World Report on Disability estimates that 220 million youth with disabilities in the world today are marginalized and largely invisible in society, especially in education and the labor market; nearly 80% live in developing countries.
  • UNESCO estimates that 98% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school and 99% of girls with disabilities are illiterate.
  • A disproportionate number of youth with disabilities will find themselves on the street, with one estimate suggesting that 30% of street youth have a disability.

When youth with disabilities can fully participate alongside peers without disabilities, they have an opportunity to gain skills and experiences, demonstrate their capabilities and change attitudes.  Inclusive youth programming benefits not only youth with disabilities, but will ensure that all youth can contribute fully to their country’s development and economic growth.

The following essential strategies can be used to ensure inclusiveness:

  1. Provide mentorship for youth with disabilities. Mentors and role models can break down preconceived notions for what is possible, challenge stereotypes and change community perceptions. There are many adults and youth with disabilities who can serve as mentors and role models. They are leading change as social entrepreneurs, citizen diplomats and community activists.  Non-disabled adults can also be powerful mentors for youth with disabilities.
  2. Use the Internet, social media, software adaptations and other technological innovations to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to break down barriers and increase their sense of belonging and interaction with their peers.
  3. Empower youth with disabilities through sport and recreation programs. Remember to use the twin-track approach. You can offer disability-specific adapted programs, as well as sport and recreation programs for youth with and without disabilities.
  4. Recruit youth with disabilities as volunteers. Youth with disabilities should have opportunities to contribute their skills and gain valuable work experience.
  5. Collaborate with families of youth with disabilities to conduct successful outreach strategies, and to educate them about the importance of youth with disabilities’ participation.
  6. Ask for input from youth with disabilities in the planning of both inclusive and disability-focused programs.