We are the leaders of today

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"We are the leaders of today. We have broken the status quo. And within the next 5-10 years you will see persons with disabilities being leaders, being ministers, and ultimately holding the position of president in our countries."

Seray Bangura, Sierra Leone Young Voices

"The Young Voices are the front line of the disability rights movement. They are taking the crucial agenda of inclusion into the 21st Century." Tanya Barron, LCD

Over the last few days, 21 young activists from across the world have fought jet lag, culture shock and defied communication barriers to take part in an internationalconference about how to draw people with disabilities into the heart of international development.

They are the LCD’s ‘Young voices’ (http://youngvoices.lcdisability.org) who work in 22 countries across the world. Using social media, viral videos, and state of the art music production tools, they have brought the disability rights campaign into the digital era.

In a conference of senior representatives from over 100 development UN agencies and NGOs, the Young Voices have been heralded as the leaders of the future. But as Seray Bangura, of Young Voices Sierra Leone, corrected: they are also the leaders of today.

In China, Young Voices have used social media site QQ to make the Forbidden City less ‘forbidden’ and more accessible to people with disabilities (http://www.lcdisability.org/?lid=22355)

Meanwhile Young Voices from across 13 countries, who attended a unique training workshop in Zambia with Adele’s award-winning producer, Robin Millar, are now working to create ‘virtual studio’ to trigger change (http://www.lcdisability.org/?lid=20652)

Seray’s flagship speech, on belhalf of Young Voices, closed the Bangkok conference and set the tone for the future of inclusive development.

Listen to his speech below.

Over the last few days, 21 young activists from across the world have fought jet lag, culture shock and defied communication barriers to share their ideas about how to draw people with disabilities into the heart of international development. They are LCD’s Young Voices and as Tanya Barron, LCD, said: they are the leaders of the future. But Seray Bangura, of Young Voices, corrected: they are also the leaders of today.

Listen to Seray’s 4 min speech 

As women with disabilities we have been misused, abused, raped

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"First of all we are marginalised as women, and secondly due to our disability. It has become really difficult. There is risk of sexual harassment, exploitation and, really, there has been no voice or response to that.

It is especially difficult  to make it to school with a lack of appliances. There may be ramps in place but they are often not in good condition. It’s like they’ve been put there as a formality. However, as Young Voices, it is our role to keep on reminding the concerned parties to make proper provisions. 

As women with disabilities we have been misused, abused, raped. 

There is little concern towards women with disabilities and because of that we often become victims and miss our chance for a future. We would like to have the kind of life that we choose, just like other people, because I do believe there is no difference between us and other people. 

Maybe we cannot walk from one place to another. However, we can perform in other areas. As Young Voices, we say - “Hold me by my hand, then I can reach to wherever I want to go”. If you hold us, if you help us, we can really perform it and we can forget about all other issues.”

Josephine Namirimu, Vice Chairperson, Young Voices, Uganda

There is no excuse for exclusion

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I am a member of the Young Voices Malaysia. I turned 18 on Sunday and being able to travel here to be a part of the conference was the best birthday present I could have asked for.

I am a wheelchair user and it is just so hard for a wheelchair user to go places if there are no accessibility provisions. When I was in high school, my friends and I wanted to go to the library but it had a revolving door and my friends had to lift me up so that I could pass through the door. Every day I had to be lifted up. Finally the library manager found out and realised how hard it was for a wheelchair user to visit. As a result they made the library accessible. 

My message is this: We are all humans. We all have the same rights. There is no excuse for exclude anyone. 

Ludwina Isidore 

There are two Young Voices groups in Malaysia. They do a lot of work campaigning for rights and empowerment. They also have a band and play regularly at functions.

Find them on facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Leonard-Cheshire-Disability-Young-Voices

'The commitment to mobile, internet and social media technology such as Facebook is crucial for young people, but even more crucial for young people with disabilities, who depend on this technology to communicate. Communicating this message to funders of a different generation is challenging, but crucial.'
Young Voices Leonard Cheshire

Focusing on the MDGs - more harm than good?

Weh Yeoh from WhyDev.org blogs for us from the conference:

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At the conference, there has been much discussion around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Specifically, the lack of mention around disability was seen as a lost opportunity for those working in mainstreaming disability issues into development.

On day three, Professor Nora Groce, Director at Leonard Cheshire Disability Inclusive Development Centre at University College of London, gave some background on the formation of the MDGs. In 2000, many of the world’s governments decided that they should come together around a set of measurable goals. This was not to say that there were not other goals previously, however, previous work had divided resources between competing issues and agendas.

The aim of the MDGs was to promote unified action. However, there are many examples discussed during the conference that have indicated that the MDGs have instead promoted inaction, especially around disability.

On day one, AHM Noman Khan from the Centre for Disability in Development in Bangladesh, found that within the Bangladeshi context, there were no mentionable initiatives taken by disability actors to mainstream with MDG specific efforts of the government or UN system. In terms of disability, there was little to no reflection in planning or implementation. Fundamentally, his view was that this inaction occurred because the MDGs did not include disability as a priority.

Although there is much hope that when the MDGs are revisited in 2015, there will be some focus on disability, anecdotally at least, many initiatives are being stifled in the meantime. As Professor Groce notes, funders are not willing to support programs that target disability, as it is yet not a fundamental part of the MDGs.