Over the last few years ENIL Youth, as young disability rights activists, have followed the announcements that different groups have made on International Youth Day. We have noticed that those messages reflect current policies and official goals of different institutions. These goals are justifiable, but not easy to achieve. There is always a gap between the current status of young people and our desired one. When it comes to young disabled people, that gap is bigger depending on the social and economic situation of each state and the desire of society for prevention of discrimination, fighting stereotypes, and campaigning against prejudice.
We are all aware of this, but for this International Youth Day we would like to focus on the things that are important to young disabled people and the thoughts they would like to share with everyone. We recently asked ENIL Youth Network members the following three questions:
- What is one thing you would like non-disabled young people to know about you and your life?
- What assumptions do non-disabled young people have about you, and your community?
- What are your hopes for the future?
Young disabled people, from several European states, provided interesting insights and perspectives. One thing that respondents felt non-disabled young people should know is that there is a common assumption disabled people are different, and that others know what we can and (more often) what we cannot do. For example, work, have sex, drive a car etc – and that when we can do something, we are “sooo inspiring”. From our perspective, this is not the case. As one respondent from Serbia said: “I can do all or almost all the things my non-disabled peers do, in my own way, or the same way, when I’m provided with some help and support”.
Young disabled people wanted others to know that our lives are not as tragic and dramatic as non disabled people think, but rather “normal”. As another young man from Serbia said: “Life with disability doesn’t mean hardship and suffering. Our lives could be fulfilling and happy and having an impairment is not a tragic thing”.
However, young disabled people do face many challenges. “I have to work twice as hard, for equal recognition. Most days I am met with prejudice, discrimination and narrow-minded attitudes”, a young woman from Norway said, “but not because of my disability, rather because of barriers which exist in our societies”, a young woman from Montenegro added. This reflection, that barriers and attitudes are the thing that disables us, is a common theme.
As for hopes, we hope that we will live in societies without barriers and prejudices, where the social model of disability is a reality and we are equally represented in media and politics in the future. That there will be no segregation in education and employment between non-disabled people, and youth with disabilities, and we will all have solidarity with one another. Lastly, we hope that everyone will get the support needed to live an independent, fulfilling and happy life.
Regardless of differences, we have more things in common. The hopes, wishes and messages of young disabled people are similar to those of other young people. The reason we wanted to share these questions, and these perspectives, is to promote understanding, and empower solidarity, between all. Imagine what we could do together, by sharing, reflecting and supporting one another.
The ENIL Youth Network Board
*We would like to thank people from Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK for their input!