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Youth with Disabilities Pioneering and Paving the way to an Inclusive Future

The importance of meaningful engagement of Youth with Disabilities ahead of GDS2022 and the GDS Youth

  • 28 January 2022
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The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated economies around the globe, causing significant levels of unemployment. Youth with disabilities have been severely and disproportionately affected. Facing additional stigma and discrimination during this time of crisis, they have often been the first to be pushed out of work. And yet, the COVID-19 recovery presents a unique opportunity to catalyse novel solutions to “build back better” and create an inclusive future where youth with disabilities can live, learn and work, as they choose.

At Leonard Cheshire, we believe that youth with disabilities are experts of their own experiences and must participate fully in solving the problems they face. Youth with disabilities have vital insight and ideas to create change.

We work with and for youth with disabilities to empower them to become involved in the issues that affect their lives. Our youth empowerment projects provide safe spaces and supportive structures to help youth with disabilities understand their rights, build their confidence, and gain new skills and networks. Meaningful engagement is an integral and ongoing process of our projects, which starts by placing youth with disabilities at the forefront, sharing project decision-making and promoting leadership roles.

Global Disability Summit 2022 and the GDS Youth

In preparation for the Global Disability Summit 2022 (GDS22) and the GDS Youth, Leonard Cheshire worked with two youth-led Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) in Kenya – Gifted Community Centre and Njeri Maria Foundation – to consult a diverse range of youth with disabilities to hear their views, realities, and priorities, and in so doing, strengthen their understanding of, and engagement with, GDS22. A pan-disability group of 120 youth with disabilities engaged in four workshops across the country. Intersectionality was a driving factor around recruitment, leading to the majority of those participating (60%) identifying as female.

The consultations found that 99% of youth with disabilities who participated were unaware of GDS18 or the upcoming GDS22. However, 100% of youth with disabilities who participated expressed a desire to get involved in GDS22 and, one month after the consultations, 50% have already registered for the Youth Disability Summit. Inclusive education and employment were among the priority issues for youth with disabilities. Accessible transport was also cited as a vital component for both these priorities, as well as for all community engagement.

Key asks from youth with disabilities include:

  • Engage and involve youth with disabilities in the issues that affect their lives
  • Build awareness and profile of the benefits and contributions that youth with disabilities can bring to communities to reduce stigma and discrimination
  • Key stakeholders, including governments, must fully implement the commitments they have made. Actions must be monitored and reported on.

Building on previous work

Our flagship 2030 and Counting programme develops youth with disabilities into agents of social change by providing practical community engagement through citizen-generated data collection. This project was delivered through a youth-led approach, empowering youth with disabilities to identify issues important to them and link them to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can read more here

In 2021, we engaged youth-led organisations to carry out research into the impact of COVID-19 on youth with disabilities. The resulting report, Crisis Talks, shared the views of over 500 youth with disabilities across India, Indonesia, Kenya, South Sudan and Zambia. You can read the report here

Led by youth with disabilities, Leonard Cheshire has conducted pioneering research into youth with disabilities’ experiences of employment in Thailand. The aim of the Access to Employment (A2E) pilot was to raise awareness and build an understanding of youth with disabilities’ perspectives on the barriers and solutions to inclusive employment. Operating in a similar way to 2030 and Counting, this exciting pilot has mobilised calls to action and contributed to powerful social media campaigns, including the Global Disability Summit’s ‘30 Days of Youth’ campaign and Leonard Cheshire’s Missing Voices series. Watch the videos here.

Youth with disabilities, and the organisations that represent them, must have their perspectives taken into account when setting and responding to commitments made at the GDS. The inaugural GDS Youth summit is a vital opportunity to showcase youth views and help ensure that progress on disability-inclusion strategies are designed and led by everyone, including youth with disabilities.