International Youth Day is today, an awareness day designated by the United Nations to the world’s young people. The day primarily hopes to focus on the positives but also highlight the difficulties that some young people are experiencing throughout the world. One particular global community of young people experience more social and stereotypical difficulties than any other, the world’s misunderstood and underrepresented disabled children whose lives are socially always left out of the picture.
According to the WHO, the global number of disabled children currently stands at Between 93 and 150 million. If you think of international youth day as a celebration of all things young and brilliant, then a peek into the world of global youth disability will frankly turn your hair white as the true neglect and disturbing statistics reveal the true reality of being born and living with a disability.
The World Health Organization and the World Bank estimate that in some countries “being born disabled more than doubles the chance of never enrolling in school”. Added to that an estimated one in three out-of-school children has a disability. Globally many countries do not have plans, targets, or even any policies that include children with disabilities, so you can imagine this stretches to the medical and emotional support that these children are no doubt living without.
Here in the UK things are slightly less horrific, but not by much. Of the disabled population in England, 8% are children who, even though born into one of the world’s biggest economies, still see their lives blunted by governmental ignorance and societal prejudice. Many British children with a disability are also excluded from School and are also living without a plan or policy due to cuts and more besides. They are seemingly an afterthought and politically thought of as a financial black hole. The Mental Health Foundation reports that around 70% of children who experience mental health have not had appropriate intervention at a sufficiently early age, and as recently as 2019, The DCP (Disabled Children’s Partnership) found that there was an annual funding gap of £434 million for children’s social care services. This is hardly what can be called a “celebration” of youth, and if this is England alone, the thought of this repetitive ignorance being acted out globally is horrific and borders on ability apartheid.
It seems time and time again that disabled children are easy targets for cuts, why? Well because historically disability has been seen as “non-productive” I.e. disabled people cannot work, so are less valued by the state, so why bother to educate and support disabled people when they (apparently) cannot contribute to the wheezing and bloated global consumerist, capitalist economy? This shallow, negative and wholly false prevarication needs to be consigned to the dark ages along with the perpetually awful media representation and stereotype-branding of our children from the well-meaning but ignorance breeding Children in Need. Disabled children are only victims of ignorance, not their disability, they are so much more than the charity cases the BBC perceives them to be.
“To understand potential one needs to clearly understand or have a vision of what or with whom one is dealing” Wise words from Fadila Lagadien there, and of course absolute truth. So to fully appreciate the young disabled people of today, to right the wrongs constantly bought to light by parents and charities, then full and unbiased dialogue is needed. This means that a clean slate is demanded culturally and socially. I cannot remember my child being asked or engaged with on a one-to-one level as to what should be in place to improve her life and then that conversation taken seriously enough to be put into legislative practice. If the theme of this year’s international day of youth is “youth innovation”, then listening to the world’s disabled children is paramount. Innovation is in itself, simply not a linear process. There may be brief periods when a project such as the wants of the young proceeds logically and sequentially for a while, but then something will happen that will send it off in a completely different direction, that something being the world’s disabled community of children and their rightful needs and powerful voices. Our children see the faults of the world through perhaps the most open eyes as most of what happens globally affects them greater than anyone else.
The young within the disabled community are achieving great things to the height of their abilities, but who apart from us are watching and appreciating? (For instance, my child was published at 12 years old) Sport, art, music and writing are all there being created by disabled children and young adults but blunted by the social model of disability and a lack of belief in their combined talents and skills that keeps that greatness behind closed doors. The entire country needs a re-boot, and if indeed it is time to “Build Back Better” then the mantra will mean nothing if every child is not thought off and engaged with.
The complete inclusion of disabled children will have such positive impacts. The physical and mental health of our children will improve, right across the globe. Life chances will improve, the understanding of knowing how a child with a disability can contribute will grow across cultures and socities. Putting those plans in place will see the country, indeed the world, change its tired and loathsome stereotypical stance. Everyone can achieve if given the right tools, achieve to the best of their abilities, everyone can progress when not veiled behind the continuing false narratives that perpetuate all around the planet from culture to culture.
Our children are more than objects of fascination, more than just pity-porn and needy. We need to get over what makes a human, what makes a society. With disability increasing year on year, and with long Covid bringing a legacy of disability in its wake, then it’s time for our children to become innovators of their own destinies and be given the tools without impediment to do it..the future demands it. They need to be talked to as equals, language barriers have to be consigned to history, permanently, starting right now on this day of celebration. Demographics show there are more children than adults in the world today, so the power balance is in their favor. So make International Youth Day a celebration of all youth with no stereotypes, no pity just long overdue global disability youth inclusion. We cannot continue to treat the disabled youth of the world as an afterthought, this generation must be the last to want and the first to receive. Let our children grow in potential and power.