What active participation means for young people with disabilities
True access to equal opportunities.
‘Inclusion’, is simply defined as the act of including or involving someone as a part of the group or a list. The definition does not only gives an extremely limited explanation of the word, but in fact, narrows down its implications by restricting it to what it literally says. In other words, it remains limited to including, and in fact, counting, everyone as a part of a group, when, in fact, in practice, it might be excluding certain people from the same group.
Being a young person with disability, I often find myself explaining to people what inclusion is, or what does it mean to include children or young people with disabilities. I move away from the very definition I gave above; it needs to be modified both in our vocabulary as well as work, if we do intend to include young people with disabilities.
My response, thus is, inclusion is not limited to only placing young people with disabilities in the mainstream setting, where, for example, in a group of ten, the other nine are the non-disabled, but it is rather, ensuring that young people with disabilities are allowed and enabled to access the same facilities, participate in the same activities, and have the same privileges as their non-disabled peers.
Today, I’d explain Inclusion the same way I did few years back to high school students, while conducting a workshop to sensitize them towards their peers with disabilities. “Step in the shoes of a person with disability, and ask yourself, that if you had the same disability, and were to be a member of the group in question, what changes you would like, or how would you like things to work in this group? Your answer, I can guarantee, is the response to what should you do to ensure inclusive participation of young people with disabilities”.
The Sustainable Development Goals stress on full and equal inclusion of people with disabilities, while the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, through its preamble, asserts that everyone has the same rights without any distinction, and through article 3, mandates a full and effective participation and inclusion. But while the international policies manifest this notion of inclusion, it is far from being practiced. Children with disabilities remain out of schools.
I would like to share one of my most recent experiences, that highlight the spirit of inclusion, and how is it achieved.
I have recently been chosen a Global Board member by UNICEF HQ for its Generation Unlimited Partnership, which is aimed at achieving the SDGs, by ensuring that all young people, especially, the marginalized, are in education, skill development and employment by 2030. UNICEF organized two meetings of the board members, and being one of them, I was invited. Since I am visually impaired, I was provided with certain accommodation’s. What? And, most importantly, how? I was given all relevant documents in an accessible format, and I was provided with a Personal Support Assistant, who would assist me navigate the conference venues. Now if I was to be told, that they couldn’t accommodate my need to provide me with a Personal Support Assistant, and hence, I should attend and contribute to the meetings remotely, it would have been far from being inclusive. But what makes my experience standout, and the Generation Unlimited meetings inclusive, is the willingness, the readiness of the organizers to be able to understand my needs and respond accordingly.
There is, in fact, a very thin distinction between mainstreaming and inclusion, with the latter implying that young people with disabilities should not only be accepted as everyone else but should rather be given an equal opportunity with appropriate provisions that enable equality and give them an equal access as everyone else. Merely placing children with disabilities in mainstream school settings, without meeting their needs for access, is far from inclusive education, and so is denying them employment based on their disability, and so is denying them the information generally accorded to young non-disabled people. Combined, these inhibit their inclusive participation, even though, they might be mainstreamed.
In conclusion, I would highlight that inclusive participation for young people with disabilities is achieved , when there are not only equal opportunities, but also an adequate provision to access those opportunities, and in identifying these provisions, young people with disabilities themselves have a key role to play by voicing their concerns and being the agents of change, and thus, being empowered and empowering everyone who believes in inclusivity for young people with disabilities.