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Young disabled campaigners demand a global voice

Day of Disability

One in six people have a disability: it can no longer be ignored in the post-2015 development agenda. © Leonard Cheshire Disability

Disability is noticeably absent from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. Yet 80 per cent of people with disabilities in developing countries live below the poverty line. The goal of universal primary education is at the heart of the MDGs, but in some parts of the developing world, less than two per cent of children with disabilities go to school. For young people involved in Leonard Cheshire Young Voices campaign, a crucial issue is how disability can be included in the post-2015 development agenda.

‘As a young person with a disability, I have very full expectations of the post-2015 agenda,’ says Surya, a Young Voices campaigner in Indonesia. ‘We are hoping that we can participate in realizing the post-2015 programme for reducing poverty and climate change.’

The Young Voices campaign brings together groups of young people with disabilities in over 20 countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas, united in their desire to speak out for the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. Through their campaigns, they have persuaded governments to change laws, introduce new policies, and sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). They have helped communities to realize that people with disabilities are just like everybody else and should not be hidden away or victimized. They have convinced schools, businesses, politicians, community leaders and many others to give people with disabilities the opportunities they deserve.

On 3 December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the campaigners are launching a unique report which has been put together by young people from across the globe. The first of its kind, the publication reports on how governments are implementing the UNCRPD, together with the young people’s recommendations on what they think needs to change.     

The publication also features stories of how Young Voices is making a difference through its campaigns: one group of young campaigners trained members of parliament in Swaziland on the UNCRPD, which resulted in the country ratifying the convention in 2012. In Mauritius, campaigners convinced the Ministry of Education to allow extra time for students with disabilities when sitting exams. In Tanzania, the Minister was persuaded to create a committee to monitor the implementation of the UNCRPD. Campaigning has led to buildings, schools and public transport being made accessible to people with disabilities in India, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and many other countries.

But there is still a lot that needs to change. These young campaigners are some of the lucky ones. There are many young people with disabilities around the world who face doors which are locked, and barriers too high for them to climb without support. Discrimination. Prejudice. Buildings, transport and communications they can’t access. A lack of opportunities to go to school or find a job.

At the UN High Level Meeting on Disability and Development in September, world leaders made a firm commitment that people with disabilities would be a priority in the new post-2015 development goals. We must make sure that this promise becomes a reality, so that people with disabilities have greater opportunities for education and employment, and a real say in decision-making.

3 December is an important day. The day when, more than ever, we encourage the world to remember that if people with disabilities are not included we will never even get close to winning the global fight against poverty. A billion people around the world have a disability. Half of the world’s population is under 25. We must listen to the voices of young disabled people. They are our future.

Tiziana Oliva is the International Director of Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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