Investing in Youth with Disabilities

Students with disabilities working in a community garden
Empowerment of the next generation of leaders is vital to sustainable DPOs and successful disability rights movements.

Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs) must engage, prioritize and invest in the potential of youth with disabilities to become positive, powerful citizens and advocates. Many of you are working on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 7 specifically addresses children with disabilities, and language in seven other Articles also discuss the rights of children with disabilities to education, health, freedom of movement, and sport/play.

Here are some strategies recommended to support the development of strong young leaders with disabilities.

Build disability pride

Teach young people with disabilities that they are part of a powerful worldwide disability rights movement, and educate them on their rights. Provide positive role models and mentors: successful, confident adults with disabilities. Offer youth with disabilities leadership, community, and challenge activities that push through preconceived ideas of their own limitations, and build confidence, support networks, and pride.

Create leadership positions for youth in your DPO

Involve youth advisory boards, offer youth groups, and support youth-led initiatives within the framework of your organization. Reach out to successful non-disability youth-led organizations, for collaboration and to learn from their experiences and expertise about best practices.

Bring together youth with diverse disabilities

Meeting youth with types of disabilities different from one’s own is often a powerful, enlightening, and empowering experience. Connect with other DPOs representing different disability types, to pursue opportunities to partner and/or collaborate.

Make education a priority

Join and support parents to advocate for children and youth with disabilities to have equal access to quality education. Teach parents and disabled youth about their rights to education. Work with teachers and education professionals to find creative solutions to successfully include children with disabilities in schools. Encourage children with disabilities to stay in school, and support university students to advocate for access and to succeed in higher education, including study abroad opportunities. Lobby policymakers to ensure that legislation is implemented and resources provided to make schools inclusive.

Teach children and youth with disabilities to be active and play

Provide adapted sport and recreation programs for skill-building, competition, and fun. Reach out to non-disability sport, recreation, and fitness professionals, to partner, collaborate, and share their expertise with youth with disabilities. Train physical educators to adapt activities to include students with and without disabilities. Partner with community groups to make parks and playgrounds accessible, and provide opportunities for children with and without disabilities to play together. Offer role models and mentors: adults with disabilities who are active and enjoy recreation and sports.

Mentor youth with disabilities to join youth programs 

Accompany youth with disabilities to participate in the many invaluable youth programs available in your community. Teach young people with disabilities that youth programs are their programs, and support them to take advantage of opportunities focused on leadership, volunteer service, girls’ empowerment, education, sports, and recreation.  Reach out to non-disability youth programs, and offer your expertise and assistance to make their programs inclusive of all youth in your community.

Encourage youth with disabilities to participate in international exchange

International experience builds independence, competence, and confidence for leadership. There is a world of opportunities available to youth to study and volunteer abroad.  Encourage youth with disabilities to learn another language, and to expand future opportunities for study, career, and leadership opportunities.