Today is International Youth Day, a special day when full attention is given to young people. But how much attention? How many people will read this piece today? 12 August is a day like any other day. And yet is when most of us are enjoying a well-deserved holiday.
I support the European Disability Forum’s youth work and follow youth policies. I have been working with young people for 20 years. In the beginning, I was myself a young person: full of enthusiasm and grateful for those who believed and supported me. I was lucky to be detected by different project coordinators during my university studies. First, I was involved in promoting sex education and leading such activities among my young visually impaired pupils and students, then in a project promoting employment of young visually impaired persons. Finally, I arrived in Belgium with a European Volunteering Project financed by the Youth Volunteering programme of the moment.
I am not considered young anymore, but I still work with a lot of pleasure with young people. I want to transfer my energy and my knowledge to them and to tell all young people with disabilities that first of all you are young people with your strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. But what is important is to use your strengths, develop them, and to not be afraid of your weaknesses: take them one by one and see what you can do to transform them, if necessary, or just learn to live with them.
I find that the disability movement does not use fully the potential and resources of their youth. They should systematically invest in young people and organisations of persons with disabilities should include young people in their governance. Like for gender balance, there should be attention given to age balance to “youth up” organisations.
Lately I am happy to see that the EU is taking more seriously its task of including young people. In the most important action taking place on EU level, the Conference on the Future of Europe, a third of its plenary is composed of young people up to 25 years. Fantastic! But how many are young people with disabilities? What is done to ensure diversity within the panels? If my organisation had not addressed the Conference demanding to include our persons with disabilities, we would not be in it.
This year, two well-known mobility programmes for young people were renewed: the Erasmus+ Programme (for pupils, students, learners, teachers staff), and the European Solidarity Corps (the programme for volunteering). It is great to see that both have included provisions for young people with disabilities, but they didn’t include the accessibility of their websites, mobile applications or online platforms. Thus these remain inaccessible, and again young people with disabilities, cannot apply without help. Less than 1% of the participants in Higher education exchanges were persons with disabilities, and only 25 percent of the non-formal exchanges were persons with disabilities.
Young people with disabilities should be included in the disability movement, in the youth movement, in decision-making processes. The young people themselves should stand up and claim their place within the movements, within all levels of decision making.
I urge all of you to believe in yourselves. You are important, full of ideas. Claim your rights, stand up for them and bring your part to build this society. It is yours as it is mine and as it is anyone else. Come out of where you are, and make yourself visible!
I wish all young people a very Happy International Youth Day. And may all of us make each day a youth day, a day for everyone, no matter the age, color, religion, origin, disability. We are all citizens of this beautiful world. Let’s cherish it and take care of it!